Language Loss

As we increasingly realize that our own self-destruction is inevitable in the destruction of the planet, the insular notion of Western modernity as the height of human progress is finally being questioned. However, the resultant paradox is that although we realize the resultant flaws of depending on one form of progress, the only alternatives that we could turn to are dying off of the face of the earth. Thus the global trend of language loss is an issue incredibly worthy of long overdue attention; it may in fact be our last meaningful alternative to rescue the plight of humanity’s survival.
As a repository of knowledge, an expression of culture, and a symbolic embodiment of a way of life, the loss of a language speaks for itself. Although some Aboriginal languages are on the brink of extinction in Canada, regrettably, not many people are listening to the last cries of the voices that are quickly vanishing. I will explore the reasons why this is the case. Firstly I will delve into the roots of language, as a vehicle by which the essence of each particular culture comes into coherence in the material world and how its culture’s level of conceit that sustains its insularity.
The history of Western culture, as a product of European colonialism and industrial capitalism, clearly exemplifies that its essence and more importantly its arrogance, is fundamentally at odds with a harmonious relationship with the natural world, currently leading to its own detriment. With this colonial mentality in mind, a second aspect I will explore is the stark alternative to this one way of thinking that is exemplified the in the culture of the Squamish people of Vancouver.

Thus thirdly, the settlement, industrialization, and current urbanization transforming Vancouver, is arguably augmenting the divide between both ways of being, perpetuating the self-destruction of all people who are at the mercy of the dominant culture’s conceit. Thus I will argue that in contrast to Vancouver’s Aboriginal people’s way of life, the current level of arrogance sustaining the dependence on Western modernity will ultimately, inevitably be the demise of humanity. It is undeniable that language, like all things that humanity has created, is ultimately an invention of natural world.
As a watershed of imagination, language tries to make sense of the world and may be understood as the symbolization of the human thought in trying to grapple with the nature of existence. Although these symbols were created in order to mediate and make sense of humanity’s place in the universe, since their creation they have transformed and pervaded human cognition to such an extreme extent as to actually replace inexplicable nature of existence with a false sense of ‘rational’ reality. Symbols, now meaning speech, are a cultural phenomenon fundamental to encompassing what define civilization (Zerzan Language: 237).
As much as symbols in any culture try to grapple with their reality in a complex scientific, or rational sense, due to their inherent detachment from the natural world and intrinsic reductionist nature, all attempts to find the answers of the universe, to fit harmoniously with mother earth will ultimately be at odds with what is in fact, incomprehensible. The seemingly rational is ultimately irrational. The layers of complexity now sustaining the process of symbolization account for an ongoing need to label and thus control what ultimately could never be comprehensively defined. SOURCE). An important element in this process of symbolization is the man-made conception of time. Time is one the earliest layers of symbolization’s complexity that enhanced a constructed nature of reality. John Zerzan notes that time’s fruition accounts for the need to define a sense of ‘progress’ that would dominate man’s sense of history, further alienating him away from the natural world. In a cycle of their own creation and perpetuation, the purpose of civilization has therefore, only been to reinforce itself.
The perpetual construction of this notion of progress has ultimately led to the self-induced domestication of the mind, enhancing man’s estrangement from the natural (Zerzan Book: 25). Instead of surrendering to man’s harmonious connection to the inexplicable cosmos and thus accepting his own visceral nature, this false notion of progress has been perceived as an inevitable part of human development. Progress is now out of human control and thus alternative ways of existence are seen as backwards and illogical. Future Primitive: PAGE). The zenith of this sense of progress, is encompassed in the current notion of modernity as it is both the height of this civilization and yet the worst reality that the natural world has yet to endure. The sense of progress has always been subjected to the dictatorial role of arrogance and economics, what Williams calls the “inherent dominative mode of thinking”(SOURCE). Economics narrates man’s conception of property in an alchemical mix of human labor on the earth’s soil in the pursuit of material wealth.
Excessive material wealth superficially bolsters the sense of privildege, evolving to be better understood as their hubris. The Western cultural lineage that has pushed humanity ‘forward’ depends strict on this mentality, and now there exists a common belief that as Westerners works diligently towards the height of modernity, somehow other cultures in the world have become intellectually idle (Davis 2009: 166). Progress is largely perceived as a rushing current of vim and vigor, with an unstoppable momentum carrying all of us in its wake.
Upon arrival in North America, with superiority imbued in their mentality, European colonialists brought a sense of progress to the New World. As both a by-product of their amalgamated colonial imagination and their equally delusional scientific minds, Canada became a laboratory to be poked, measured, defined and prepared for extraction back to continue the fervent industrialization of Europe (Rigney 1999: 109). The colonial mentality is highlighted in their sense of property. Colonialists believed that property had to be enacted; it is as much a physical reality as it is constant aspiration to control.
In their minds, property is a verb that must be put to work in order to define it (Blomley: 566). This is in accordance of the influential perspective of John Locke, who helped to ingrain the belief that if the land was not being used, it is being wasted. Thus the divine commons was rendered private property, “Eden sank to grief” and our natural world was at the mercy of man’s endless attempt to control and accrue all that they could from their surroundings (Blomey: 561). Just as Language is a creation of the natural world, it is the architect of sustaining meaning for a culture.
Therefore in its use, language is also a system of power that allows the meanings imparted by cultural hegemony to endure and endure themselves (Focault: 22). Although this cultural lineage now dominates the world’s sense of progress, not all people believe in this once sense of reality. On the margins of modernity, some people’s resilient existence stands as testimony that this one insular mode of thinking is not be the only way of being, nor is it the best way for humanity to survive (Davis: PAGE).
Such people do not feel the need to subjugate and try to feebly control the wonders of the natural world, but rather their existence is at the will of what they realize they cannot control. Instead of feebly trying to control the world around them, they would rather be spiritually submerged in nature’s all-encompassing, inexplicable power (Davis: Page). The Coast Salish indigenous people that have historically dwelled in what is now defined as the city-limits of Vancouver are just one example of such a people who’s underlying purpose in life is arguably not at odds with the natural order of the universe.
Coast Salish is there common name, however within this label are a number of different cultural heritages that are uniquely defined by both their geographic location and correspondingly, their language. In Vancouver’s major reservations today, such identities as the Musqueam, Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh peoples still dwell in a miniscule enclosure of their ancient homelands. Although their lands are being encroached on from all sides, they try to uphold the ways of their ancestors as a more visceral reality, that was once so harmoniously in balance with British Columbia’s ecosystem (Baloy: 520).
Because of their ancient history of being so intimately tied with their surrounding terrain, these peoples distinct cultures, embodied in their in their oral traditions and expressions of art, encapsulate their belief in humanity’s divine connection with the land. Living adjacent to the Pacific, what is mentioned in more than one of these peoples’ creation stories is the belief that the land around them sprung from the rich expanse of water on which they heavily rely (Blomey:). In stark contrast to the European’s colonial conception of the property as Terra Nullius, or that it was there for the taking.
The resultant boundaries that European’s created in this region are deeply embedded cultural experiences that had specific meanings for colonist. The concept to divide territories on the ground set limits marking distinct social groups and provide a mental template for categories of control (180). In contrast, Coast Salish peoples believe that the land that they gratefully depend upon came into being for a higher purpose. It was not inanimately waiting for humans to define it or bring it to life, but rather its very existence would be what defined them.
Following the creation of land from the ‘mud of the ocean,’ the Squamish Coast Salish speak of an extended period of silence that enveloped the earth, in which humans, if they existed at all, only touched lightly on the land (Hill-Tout 1978: 20). The world in their sense was pure and if humans were there, they did not leave any traces of their settlement along the coast nor did they turn on their environment to accrue a sense of history via material wealth. Their ancestors quietly followed the nomadic paths of existence, dictated by the rhythms of life (566). Territorial connections are underwritten by heir relational epistemology- a way of knowing the world through relations. Their knowledge, use, control and even ownership of the land is based on complex relationship with ancestors and spirits which go to the heart of indigenous experiences of dwelling in that place (Thom 2000: 179). Today anthropologist remark on the sophistication of the Coast Salish economy, political structure and way of life. Virgina Crawford attributed their civil aptitude to the security of their marine substance, as it allowed them to develop a complicated social system based on inherited or acquired clan rank (299).
Although Crawford’s perspective gives credit to the Coast Salish people’s intelligence, it is expressed as both a novelty for Indigenous peoples and is tinged with Western lens of progress as if Coast Salish resource extraction was evidence to their efforts to civilize their society. Ultimately this perspective actually reduces the true intelligence of these peoples, which is beyond what Western science can coherently understand. Due to the fact that their existence is imbued with a spiritual understanding of the cosmos, every aspect of their daily lives revolves around ritual (Crawford: 299).
Their devout survival is perhaps best captured in their most visible expression of culture, their art. In correlation to the Coast Salish creation story, their rich motifs are an attempt to imbue the awesome aura of the natural world into an implicit design. ………………….. The main thrust behind the degradation of human diversity is the crude face of privilege. The sense of superiority that some cultures have over others because they see world through a monochromatic lens, and persist in interpreting what their perception through a single cultural paradigm, their own (WF-Davis: 6).
Vancouver’s Indigenous Community: Squamish: History, Creation, Art, Knowledge, Colonial Encounter Colonial Encounter: Mentality, Property, Language, ProgressSignificance of Urban environment Each word of even the most remote language is the a resounding testimony of cultural identity, and serves to act as a link connecting people with their past, their social, emotion and spiritual vitality (Norris: 12). (Norris 1998: 8) means of communication, but a link which connects people with their past and grounds their social, emotional and spiritual vitality. Norris 1998: 8) Although loss of language doesn’t necessarily lead to the death of a culture, it can severely handicap transmission of that culture. Modernization vs. Language vitality Without doubt, the forces of dominant languages and modernization exert a strong influence on any minority language. In the case of Aboriginal languages, historical events such as the prohibition of indigenous language use in residential schools have also contributed to this process. In addition, the fact that most Aboriginal languages were predominantly oral may also have diminished, in an already difficult environment, their chances of survival. Norris 1998: 8) Facts as of 1996- The current 50 languages of Canada’s indigenous peoples belong to 11 major language families- 10 first Nation and Inuktitut. Several major dialects within them. (Norris 1998: 9) Largest Language in Canada is Algonquin- 147,000 people Geography contributes to size, distribution of Aboriginal Languages Research: M. Dale Kinkade 1991 “The Decline of Native Languages in Canada” Root of Language- Geography of Canada- Plains accommodate a large group of people.
Soaring mountains and deep gorges tend to restrict settlement to small pockets of isolated groups in B. C- small languages. Salish, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Haida, Tlingit, Kutenai- could not develop as large a population as dispersed Algonquin. (Norris 1998: 9)- Isolation can also play a part (Indigenous Issue) Mother tongue population: those people who first language learned at home, and still understood is an Aboriginal Language. (Norris 1998: 10) Index of ability (Kn/MT)1: compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language as a mother tongue.
If for every 100 people with a specific Aboriginal mother tongue , more than 100 person in the overall population are able to speak that language, some clearly learned it as a second language either in school or later in life. This may indicate language revival. (Norris 1998: 10) (Stat) Because unlike other minority groups, Aboriginals cannot rely on new immigrant to maintain or increase their population of speakers, passing on the language from parent to children is critical for all indigenous languages’ survival (Norris 1998: 11) (Indigenous issue)
Canada’s Aboriginal languages are amongst the most endangered in the world- significant numbers of languages have either already disappeared or are close to extinction (Norris 1998: 15). Among the languages spoken today 2 out of 50 are viable with a large population base- Large or small viable languages (Norris 1998: 15) (Stat) Research: How the English Language Became the World’s Language- Robert Crum Globish. Revival- Sacred Ways of Life: Knowledge. Chelsea Crowshoe- crowshoe consulting Inc.
Everyone is a community or culture, hold traditional knowledge because it is collective- WHO: defines traditional medicine- the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as the prevention diagnosis, improvement of treatment of physical and mental illness Traditional knowledge is shared through ways of exchanging cultural and traditional information such as storytelling- (Crowshoe: 2)
Language and culture are the foundation of nationhood of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis people. Canada’s cultural wealth is not merely its official bilingualism- or its multicultural tapestry- Aboriginal languages re part of the our mosaic- A number o Aboriginal languages have died (WHICH ONES? ) and more are at risk- 29% of First Nations people can converse in their language- only a few are flourishing: Cree, 85,000 speakers, Ojibway, 30,000 speakers, Anishiimowin 12,5000- Montagais0Naskapi 11,000.
Most Inuit can speak one of the dialects of Inuktitut but statistic Canada report a decreasing number using it as the main language at home- Michif- traditional language of the Metis These values are associated, amongst other things, with economic reductionism, mechanistic modes of thinking, aggressive individualism and the destruction of community. (Bennett 2010: 9) The residential school system, mobility and more recently, television, internet are responsible for the loss of language. Canada does well on Global Standards- All of Caribbean languages are extinct- half of the indigenous Central and South American languages-
Last ten speakers of Nitinat (Ditidaht) or Comox spearks of Vancouver Island 100 Seneca Cayuga or Onodaga speakers of the nearly 4,000 in south Western Ontario Baloy, Natalie J. K. We Can’t Feel our Language: Making Places in the City for Aboriginal Language Revitalization Language Revitalization efforts are overwhelmingly located in rural environment despite the fact that aboriginal people are increasingly choosing to live and rasie their families in urban settings. Youth are anxious to learn language (Baloy 2011: 515) Emerging language ideologies of urban aboriginal people
Strong Aboriginal identity and urban lifestyle are mutually exclusive Land, language and identity- how can this be fostered and nutured in urban spaces (Bayol: 516) The sduy of language ideology-has emerged as a mediating link between social structures and forms of talk. Language ideology refers to the social connection people make with the own or other’s languages, dialects of language variations. The fate of many minority language is likely determined to a large extent by ideology (Baloy 2011: 517) Language ideology- rich possibilities for understanding how people think about and value language.
Identifying how language ideologies are constructed, maintained and contested can meaningfully inform strategies for language documentation, planning education and revitalization in contexts of language loss. Ideological clarification (Baloy 2011: 517) Contemporary language ideologies evolve out of historical experiences and are shaped by mainstream attitudes towards language, government policies and demographic changes (Baloy 2011: 517) Government policies perpetuated mainstream ideologies that position English as a powerful international lingua franca and aboriginal languages as outmoded.
Aboriginal languages are often unrecognized, unknown, unappreciated by non-aboriginal society. Sensitive to multingualism- most highly educated and politically influential, largely ignorant of the sheer diversity and complexity, the cognitive and cultural richness of the native languages of the First Nations peoples (Baloy 2011: 517) Historical policies and processes have contributed to the devaluation of aboriginal languages in Canada- continue to resonate today.
Residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, galvanizce gnificanation of aboriginal- (Baloy 2011: 517) As a result, many aboriginal parents refrained from speaking their heritage languages to their children in efforts to boost their chances for success in mainstream society- a generation of young Aboriginal children grew up monolingual in English- drop after residential schools. (Baloy 2011: 518) Angered by the loss of language, community leaders seek redress as the loss of language has become a symbol of government oppression and assimilation policies. Baloy 2011: 518) Reclamation of Native identity, pride, decolonization, assertion of sovereignty (Baloy 2011: 518) Henry Davis stated: “If you talk to anybody on the reserve, the chiefs will stand up and say two things of utmost importance: language and land” Dual significance What bout about Urban Aboriginals? (Baloy 2011: 518) Urban vs. Remote comparison, similarities, contrasts Urban Example: Vancouver Diversity of British Columbia- Western Canada Vancouver is located in the traditional lands of the Musequea, Squamish, Tsleil-Watuth. The Katzie, Kwantlen, Sto:lo, Tswassan- recognized as local First nations.
Umbrella Coast Salish- Squaimish and Musqueam have urban reserves- Musqueam’s language: Henqeminem- no fluent speakers though there are some semifluent speakers- efforts to restore and revitalize language- Squamish: Skwxwu7mesh Snichim- some fluent speakers, working toward language revival (Baloy 2011: 519) From beginning Vancouver’s development aboriginal nonlocal aboriginal people have made the city for temporary or long-term settlement. Great diversity of aboriginal people living on traditional Coast Salish homelands. Vancouver jobs, education and services. Baloy 2011: 520)There are over thirty five First nations groups represented in the city. First Nations groups are represented in the city in additional to Metis and Inuit peoples. There are now over forty thousand people who identify as aboriginal in the Metro Vancouver area. 1/5 of the total aboriginal population in the province. (Baloy 2011: 520) The number of Aboriginal people has risen in Vancouver- 30% since 1996. Aboriginal peoples living in the city continue to grow- (Baloy 2011: 520)In the early 1950’s 7% of aboriginal people in Canada lived in urban settings- Today approximately 54% of aboriginal people now living in cities. 0% in B. C Moving back and forth between city and reserve. Though many identify with a particular Native heritage and homeland, their aboriginal life is situated in city life (Baloy 2011: 520) Despite urbanization- language revitalization work has maintained mostly an on-reserve focus- reflects wider trends in social science research on aboriginal people as well as mainstream understandings of aboriginal identity (520) Cities or places that had the potential for economic development Why the city has been ignored for so long? Rural aboriginal homelands- rural bound up in colonial histories- Themes of genocide, dispossession of land, and aboriginal government relations emphasize these geo-demographic patterns Reserves are native space- Colonial practice placed reserves in their favor. By interrogating these processes scholars can avoid reifying colonial practices that have contributed to trop of rural aboriginal homelands. Peoples from communities across B. C and Canada have ow moved to Vancouver to live dwell on Coast Salish homelands an urban environment (524) negotiating cultural protocol in such diverse context can become somewhat impler when local people are emphaisized. Outsiders still honor the Coast Salish homelands and attempts to rvitalize language. Some people believe that the world would be a better place if we all spoke the same language. If this is true, and the world’s sole language somehow ended up being Arabic for instance, I wonder what life would be like not being able to converse with someone else in my mother tongue.
My world would be inevitably enveloped in silence, I would not be able to coherently articulate stories of my heritage nor utter words that could cohesively encompass the full expression of who I am. It is undeniable that this would possibly be one of the loneliest states of existence imaginable. Unfortunately, such an unthinkable condition is in fact a stark reality for some peoples in the world. This phenomenon has mainly tightened its grasp on to weakened Indigenous communities whose dying tongues have been systematically forced to the edge of extinction on a global scale.
As languages continue to disappear from the face of humanity’s cultural diversity, the need to address this issue becomes increasingly more pertinent. Unlike learning French or Spanish, within Indigenous communities, learning a language is ultimately a spiritual process. It gives peace, a sense of reality, a sense of peace. In an urban setting, learning an aboriginal language can enrich one’s links with other people from the same nation or strengthen connections to one’s aboriginal heritage on deeper personal level. Meeting these language goals requires approaches different from long-term language learning.
The most intensive projects for language workers and learners aim to develop conversational, everyday use of language. (530) New words in the urban setting- like the internet, or the elevator that are not readily at hand for aboriginal peoples. This fast pace, changing the modern world is almost impossible for English to keep up with. (530) Many of their words are obsolete. Conversely, words that aboriginal langues do have in abundance, such as vocabulary related to local food procurement and specfic land features have limited relevance in the urban setting. Language is obsolete in that sense. 530) It’s now up to the community to change language to fit the city-dwellers needs. Thus making IDEOLOGICAL places for language in the city involves identifying how aboriginal languages can fit into urban people’s lives, integrating how aboriginal languages (531) What is offered in the inclusion of Native Languages in the lives of urban aboriginal people. Research participants suggest that urban language learning can have wide-ranging effects: it can strengthen individuals bonds with their own identity and their test to homelands, community building efforts.
We can’t feel our mother, we can’t feel our language. Being cut from the land they are literally cut from all meaning language. (537) Musqueam, Squamish and other local nations- resilience, connections between land, language and identity remain strong and resilient. The close connection between language and the land. Have developed by geography. Getting out in the wilderness is where language makes sense- where language is manifested. Noting that sounds emulate the land. The diversity of languages in BC- physical geography of B. C (324)

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