issues and experts

First Nations language preservation

June 16, 2015

First Nations Languages in the 21st Century: Looking back, looking forward

With more than 30 First Nations languages and 60 dialects, British Columbia is the most linguistically diverse province in Canada. However, with few fluent speakers left, this diversity is critically endangered, and every elder death represents a loss of traditional knowledge and of Canada’s shared heritage. With financial support from the federal government, First Nations language champions have taken up the call to action and in recent years, the number of semi-fluent speakers has been rising. Leading the effort, in both spirit and practice, is SFU professor Marianne Ignace. She coordinates language revitalization efforts across B.C. as the director of SFU’s First Nations Language Centre. And she taught her own children, from the Shuswap Nation, the Secwepemc language.

Ignace heads a $2.5 million, seven-year SSHRC partnership project to stem the tide of First Nations language loss in B.C. and the Yukon. She has brought together 23 grassroots First Nations groups and community language practitioners with academic researchers to document and preserve languages, and produce new tools and resources for language learning. The emerging best practices for local language revitalization may also be applicable to the revival of other endangered languages around the world.

So far the project has led to an amazing amount of documentation of 12 diverse languages, ranging from the speech of the last, now deceased 100-year-old speaker of Downriver Halkomelem to preparing significant collections of Haida, Tsimshian, and Secwepemc narratives. Dictionaries and user-friendly grammars for learners are under development. Pilot language tutor-apps will be launched this fall.

For more, see this SSHRC video profile of the project.

Due to extensive travelling this week, Ignace can be reached:

  • June 16: 5 to 9 p.m., 250.373.2259;
  • June 17: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 778.782.4774/5995
  • June 18: 8 a.m. to 9 a.m./11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 250.574.3869