"I see my role as a conduit for the language, and I want to give students the tools and confidence to learn their language and become language teachers themselves," says James Crippen.

Indigenous Languages Program, Linguistics, Research

New postdoctoral fellow, James Crippen (Dzéiwsh), aims to break down myths around Indigenous languages

June 19, 2020
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James Crippen (Dzéiwsh) of the Tlingit Nation is the first postdoctoral fellow of SFU's Indigenous Languages Program(formerly the First Nations Languages Program). He aims to make linguistics research more accessible and empower language learners to become more confident. 

By mobilizing his linguistics knowledge into an “intellectual toolbox”, Crippen hopes to dispel the myths around Indigenous languages, make linguistics research more accessible, and empower language learners to become more connected with their language.

"The historical ways of 'othering' First Nations languages has created a lot of misconceptions about its complexity," says Crippen. "This ideology from the outsider unfortunately has permeated the community, and creates a mental block for language learners. With my research, I hope to change that by educating community members and other linguists." 

Crippen continues, "I see my role as a conduit for the language, and I want to give students the tools and confidence to learn their language and become language teachers themselves."

Crippen obtained his doctoral degree in linguistics last year at the University of British Columbia after completing his dissertation on the Tlingit verb complex. When a postdoctoral fellow position with SFU's First Nations Languages Program became available, Crippen jumped at the opportunity.

"Research is contingent on establishing ongoing relationships with the community," says Crippen. "I was attracted to joining SFU because of the university's long-standing tradition of community-engaged research especially with First Nations communities."

Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Crippen didn’t grow up speaking the Tlingit language but he reconnected with his mother tongue in university. Since then, he has expanded his interest in Indigenous languages to include the Na-Dene languages and Pacific Northwest languages such as Haida and Chinook Jargon. 

A member of the Kaaḵáakʼw Hít (‘Basket/Arch House’) of the Deisheetaan clan, Crippen worked closely with speakers in his community to study and document the Tlingit language. Since the passing of one of his community’s few remaining native speakers, Crippen has established partnerships with other communities to further his research. 

"Community partnerships require a lot of relationship building," says Crippen. "As an Indigenous linguist, having the contextual knowledge to the culture gives me an advantage in building those connections."

"I am proud to be able to work with communities on their language, and I hope to use my research to spread knowledge to the community, and help language learners feel more confident."