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Zeziikizit Kchinchinaabe: a relational understanding of Anishinaabemowin history

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Relationships are the heart of Anishinaabeg culture and language. This research proposes understanding Anishinaabemowin, the language of Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi peoples, as a living, historical, and spiritual member of

Relationships are the heart of Anishinaabeg culture and language. This research proposes understanding Anishinaabemowin, the language of Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi peoples, as a living, historical, and spiritual member of the cultural community. As a community member, the language is the Oldest Elder. This understanding provides a relational lens through which one can understand language history from an Indigenous perspective. Recent scholarship on Indigenous languages often focuses on the boarding school experiences or shapes the narrative in terms of language loss. A relational understanding explores the language in terms of connections. This dissertation argues that the strength of language programs is dependent on the strength of reciprocal relationships between the individuals and institutions involved. This research examines the history of Anishinaabemowin classes and programs at three higher educational institutions: Bemidji State University, University of Michigan, and Central Michigan University. At each institution, the advocates and allies of Oldest Elder fought and struggled to carve space for American Indian people and the language. Key relationships between advocates and allies in the American Indian and academic communities found ways to bring Oldest Elder into the classroom. When the relationships were healthy, Oldest Elder thrived, but when the relationships shifted or weakened, so did Oldest Elder's presence. This dissertation offers a construct for understanding Indigenous language efforts that can be utilized by others engaged in language revitalization. The narrative of Oldest Elder shifts the conversation from one of loss to one of possibilities and responsibilities.

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  • 2014

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Intergenerational language ideologies, practices, and management: an ethnographic study in a Nahuatl community

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Although there are millions of Nahuatl speakers, the language is highly threatened. The dominant language of Coatepec de los Costales, a small village in Guerrero, Mexico, was historically Nahuatl, a

Although there are millions of Nahuatl speakers, the language is highly threatened. The dominant language of Coatepec de los Costales, a small village in Guerrero, Mexico, was historically Nahuatl, a Uto-Aztecan language, referred to by some as “Mexicano” (Messing, 2009). In the last 50 years, there has been a pronounced shift from Mexicano to Spanish in the village, and fewer than 10% of the residents currently speak Mexicano. Without intervention, the language will be lost in the village. The ultimate cause of language shift is a disconnect in transferring the Indigenous language from the older to the younger generations. In Coatepec, older Nahuatl speakers are not teaching their children the language. This recurring theme appears in case studies of language shift around the world. Using a conceptual framework that combines (1) a critical sociocultural approach to language policy; (2) Spolsky’s (2004) definition of language policy as language practices, ideologies or beliefs, and management; (3) the ethnography of language policy, and (3) Indigenous knowledges, I collected and analyzed data from a six-month ethnographic study of language loss and reclamation in Coatepec. Specifically, I looked closely at the mechanisms by which language ideologies, management, and practices were enacted among members of different generations, using a combination of observation, archival analysis, and in-depth ethnographic interviews. Seidman’s (2013) three-part interview sequence, which includes a focused life history, details of experience, and reflections on meaning, provided the framework for the interviews. What are the language ideologies and practices within and across generations in this setting? What language management strategies – tacit and official – do community members of different generations employ? This in-depth examination of language ideologies, practices, and management strategies is designed to illuminate not only how and why language shift is occurring, but the possibilities for reversing language shift as well.

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  • 2016