History of Indigenous Peoples

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language nest alternatives

H. Russell Bernard (alv16@rs1.rrz.uni-koeln.de)
Sun, 8 Jan 1995 14:39:59 +0100

some time back, sheila shigley made the interesting remark
that head-start teachers wouldn't speak in full sentences to
the indian children in their classes. i wonder whether this is
because the teachers are not theselves fluent speakers of their
ancestral language. since the 1940s, many american indians have
grown up under conditions that were inimical to maintaining their
ancestral languages. if teachers have only partial control of the
ancestral language, it's understandable if they are reluctant to
converse naturally with children.

the elders of many tribes are still fluent in the ancestral
language, but until very recently, they were not certifiable as
teachers. allen taylor made this point in 1989 in his article (on
the gros ventre) in nancy dorian's edited volume on language
obsolescence. this has apparently changed recently with the
passage of new legislation, but in the past, some of those who
could teach didn't know the ancestral language well, while many
of those who knew the language were not allowed to teach.

the language nest programs in new zealand and in hawaii have been
successful because they offer children early and sustained
exposure to an indigenous language. it may be difficult to create
language-nest style programs in many places, but i think there is
an alternative that might work nearly as well: placing preschool
children of working mothers into day care with the elders. if the
elders simply speak their native language naturally, the children
will become true bilinguals. moreover, young working mothers
would get much needed, competent day care and elders would get
much needed employment -- employment that only they can perform.
perhaps this kind of program already exists. if it does, i'd
appreciate hearing about it.
russ bernard

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