If you found our episode on Rez English interesting, we have more information below. If you haven’t heard it yet, you can find it here.
Some features that may be common across Rez English:
- contour pitch accent (sometimes called “sing-song” pitch; Coggshall 2008; Leap 1993)
- syllable timing (every syllable is of the same length; most dialects of English have syllables of different lengths; Newmark, Walker and Stanford 2015)
These features are a marker of identity. Different communities have different features: Navajo Rez English has some unique features, as does Lumbee. These features should not be treated as pathological (Ball and Bernhardt 2008).
How about boarding schools/residential schools? Yes, there are many sources. I list only a few here:
(Australia has a similar history, as do other countries.)
Boarding/residential schools are one of the worst parts of North American history and their history is not taught in most schools. But just like slavery, it’s a history we cannot ignore.
What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? The first Truth and Reconciliation Commission occurred in South Africa, as a way to account for all the harm apartheid had done to the black population. It was a recognition that a country cannot heal unless it fully accepts its past. Canada had one as well, this time to account for all the harm Canada and Canadians had done to the indigenous peoples. The process led to 94 calls to action/recommendations, including better funding and support for indigenous languages and cultures.
I’m confused by all the different names for the peoples of North America. Yes, it’s confusing. There’s no good catch-all, so indigenous is used for all peoples who inhabited North America before contact. (Canada used to – and still does in many cases – use the term Aboriginal instead, but there has been a call to move to indigenous.) There are three main subgroups in Canada: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. In the United States, the equivalent to First Nations is Native American or American Indian. The Inuit are usually called Eskimo in the US, but in Canada that is considered to be a slur. (*Cough* Edmonton Eskimos *cough*) It’s usually better to be more specific when possible – so if you’re only talking about one First Nation/”tribe” (tribe is a problematic word that I avoid), name the nation. And if possible, use the community’s name for themselves. For example, I try to use Diné for the Navajo Nation or people, and Diné Bizaad for the language, but there are certain things that have Navajo in the name, like Navajo English or the Navajo reservation. But sometimes it’s very difficult for an English speaker (without some training) to pronounce the community name, so it’s not always possible/easy. If in doubt, ask someone in the community!
How many indigenous languages are spoken in North America today? That’s a tricky question, because there are some speakers of languages that don’t make themselves known and because it depends on what you count as a language (vs. a dialect). It’s important to note that at time of contact, there were over 300 languages (north of Mexico). Approximately half of those are no longer spoken, but there are around 165 still spoken today. (As you’ll see below, the US reports 169 languages, so this number is either too low, or counts differently from the census.) This includes languages from many different language families (18 alone in California), and many language isolates (languages that have no known relative).
Created by ish ishwar in 2005, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Each language family is extremely different from each other. And within families, languages can be as different from one another as Sanskrit is from English. So please, for the love of all things holy, don’t call indigenous languages “Native American dialects”.
Can you provide me with more resources on language revitalization? Sure. There are many places to get more information. This is the most important thing that a linguist can do, and I hope to be able to do more revitalization work in the future. (Hit me up if you need a linguist on your team.)
If you have any questions or comments – especially if something isn’t clear – please let us know here, or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on twitter @VocalFriesPod or instagram @vocalfriespodor on facebook at Vocal Fries Pod. Send us your questions or suggestions for possible topics!