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Barbra A. Meek

Respecting the Language of Elders: Ideological Shift and Linguistic Discontinuity in a Northern Athapascan Community
This article examines an ideological shift related to and affecting language shift, focusing especially on childrens experiences. I show that while elders retained their status as intellectual authorities responsible for passing their knowledge on to younger community members, their knowledge became limited to practices conceptualized as traditionally Kaska, of which language was an integral part. As a result, the acquisition of Kaska became subject to the same social practices that organized other forms of traditional indigenous or specialized knowledge such that speaking Kaska became the domain of elders. Childrens and youths commentary and practices articulated and solidified this ideological transformation. [socialization, revitalization, age, North America, American Indians]


esearch on language shift and loss often emphasizes the emerging discontinuity in minority language situations, the gap between generations of speakers where adults still speak the ancestral language but children do not, resulting in a (sudden) break or a disruption of everyday language practices. Interestingly, while children are the gauge by which stages of language loss and the reversal of language shift are assessed (Krauss 1998; see also Fishman 1991), adults, as both learners and teachers, are charged with the task of revitalization.1 Commonly in this literature of adult responsibility children are portrayed as passive observers rather than active participants in a shifting sociolinguistic landscape, especially children who are in the process of acquiring language. Hinton makes apparent the underrepresented agency of children when she remarks that it takes only one overheard negative evaluation by a (monolingual) majority language speaker, such as Why dont they give the job to someone who speaks English! . . . to make someone, especially a child, reject his or her language (2001:3, emphasis added). Language loss is not simply a matter of children being socialized out of speaking such languages by the attitudes of majority language speakers; rejection of their heritage language is but one possible consequence of how children themselves engage with their sociolinguistic environments. The goal of this article is to elucidate the multiple effects of language socializing discourse and practices among a group of people who speak an endangered

Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Vol. 17, Issue 1, pp. 2343, ISSN 1055-1360, EISSN 1548-1395. 2007 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Direct requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Presss Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/jlin.2007.17.1.23.



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language in the Yukon Territory, Canada, focusing in particular on childrens experiences and emergent conceptualizations of their own sociolinguistic environments. The data presented were collected during two and a half years of fieldwork in the Watson Lake area from 1998 to 2000. This is an area politically affiliated with the Liard River First Nation (which they abbreviate LFN), whose officially recognized ancestral language is Kaska, a Northern Athapascan language. Although my emphasis is on children, this article is as equally concerned with the socializing language practices and attitudes of adults as it is with those of younger generations. By framing language endangerment and revitalization as a language socialization issue in the same way that Clifton Pye (1992) and Don Kulick (1992, 1993) reframed language shift, it becomes imperative to consider how language shift and loss are theorized by speakers of different and variable competencies. My point is that a childs view is not simply an incomplete version of an adults, and I would argue that an exploration of this difference is critical to understanding, and perhaps even predicting, future linguistic practices, including practices seminal to the preservation and maintenance of any endangered language variety. By examining sociocultural precedents and ongoing discourses about language, the ways in which the language ideological landscape emerges and shifts are made apparent. Central to these changes are the experiences of novice participants, especially children. To understand some of the subtle ways in which children can affect or transform language ideologies, below I describe some of the everyday linguistic experiences of Kaska childrentheir socializing narrativesand the social positions inhabited by those who produce these narratives. Then I examine the unique ways in which children conceptualize their shifting sociolinguistic environment in relation to adult practices and conceptions. In particular, I show how LFN children created continuity in an otherwise linguistically discontinuous scenario by reconceptualizing patterns of Kaska language use as a progression through social statuses rather than one through stages of language development. Language Development, Language Change and the Role of Children In recent years, several complementary approaches have explored language change in relation to children. Early work in linguistic anthropology focused on language development in terms of socialization practices in the tradition of the ethnography of speaking or communication (Hymes 1962; Bauman and Sherzer 1974; SavilleTroike 1989). Such work emphasized the agentive role of children in the acquisition of communicative competence (Hymes 1972 [1971]; Sidnell 1999), or sociolinguistic knowledge indicating or indexical of a childs understanding of his or her social relationships during a particular interactive moment. This research explored two aspects of development, linguistic or pragmatic acquisition (socialization of language, Schieffelin and Ochs 1986; for examples, see Ochs and Schieffelin 1979, 1984; Andersen 1990; Goodwin 1990) and sociocultural knowledge (socialization through language, Schieffelin and Ochs 1986; for examples, see Ochs 1988; Goodwin 1990; Schieffelin 1990; Kulick 1992). In part, this research was a reaction to language acquisition research (Ochs and Schieffelin 1984, 1995; see also Garrett and BaquedanoLpez 2002), a paradigm that analyzed childrens utterances in relation to adult utterances judged to be grammatical, rather than being concerned with the communicative intentions of all interlocutors no matter what their acquisitional stage or amount of linguistic experience (Ochs 1999:231). Early child research also focused on education, emphasizing group differences in relation to institutional practices, such as literacy (Scollon and Scollon 1981; Heath 1982, 1983) and communication (Cazden et al. 1972; Scollon and Scollon 1979; Philips 1983). With few exceptions (Kulick 1992, 1993), little of this research specifically addressed language change and the role of children. More recently, linguistic anthropologists and others have become interested in children as participants in language change.2 With rare exception (Pye 1992; Field 1998, 2001), this emerging interest has not been as prominent in American Indian

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language research. However, such research is crucial because so many, if not all, American Indian languages are endangered, and many American Indian communities, often in collaboration with institutions, are engaged in developing and implementing their own language revitalization projects. Much of the work on American Indian languages pertaining to the relationship between language socialization practices and language shift has had two foci: interactions and ideologies. Early ethnographies in the ethnography of speaking or the ethnography of communication traditions focused predominantly on interactional practices distributed across adults and children (Philips 1972, 1983; Scollon and Scollon 1979, 1981; Crago et al. 1993). Much of this work emphasized inter-ethnic communicative differences and resulting miscommunications in terms of English interactions and paralinguistic or kinesic differences. More recent work in this area has focused on indigenous languages and multilingual interactions (Kroskrity 1993; Valentine 1995; Field 1998, 2001; Samuels 2001, 2004; Trechter 2001). For example, Margaret Fields (1998, 2001) research on Navajo communicative strategies showed that while the grammatical and lexical elements of a language may be shifting out of use, pragmatic elements are being maintained. While this research has certainly examined some of the ideological dimensions of communication, other ethnographic accounts have directly addressed the ideological components of socialization and shift (Moore 1988; Pye 1992; Collins 1998, 2003; Kroskrity 1998; House 2002; Nevins 2004; see also Basso 1984). For example, M. Eleanor Nevins (2004) shows how conflicting ideological approaches resulted in the termination of a language maintenance program for a contemporary White Mountain Apache community. On the other hand, Robert Moore (1988) presents an ethnographic account of language fossilization (cf. Han 2004) where speakers of Kiksht had begun to conceptualize this American Indian language in terms of words and phrases, or linguistic memories that had become disconnected from the morpho-syntactic structure of these forms, and grammatical knowledge more generally. Similar to these two examples, the linguistic scenario in the Yukon shows evidence of comparable language ideological elements, a mismatch between community-external and community-internal (Hinton 2002) approaches to language revitalization, and an emphasis on documentation and memorization leading toward the iconization (Irvine and Gal 2000) of linguistic forms. Remaining unexplored are the ways in which these ideological elements are affecting younger generations of potential speakers. How are novices, especially children and youth, interpreting or conceptualizing the sociolinguistic conditions of their ancestral languages? Language Shift in Watson Lake Language shift is affected by several factors, ranging from linguistic deprivation as a result of boarding school practices to individual goals and choices constrained or motivated by family or peer commentary and criticism. In the literature on language shift and loss, several scholars have remarked upon and studied the shifting value or prestige associated with particular minority languages (for a critique of this research, see Mufwene 2003). Such research claims that people can often refrain from or stop speaking their ancestral languages because of the discourses of shame that surround the use of such languages. This section examines the contexts where such ideological commentary might emerge within the LFN community, especially in terms of language correction, and considers the potential impact such corrective commentary could have on childrens linguistic practices. The town of Watson Lake is located in the southeast corner of the Yukon Territory along the Alaska Highway. The total population in this area, based on the 1996 Canadian Census, was approximately 1,250, with a population of First Nation peoples estimated at 470, or 38 percent of the population. This was a higher percentage than the national average of three percent First Nation peoples and the


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territorial average of 20 percent. Most of these individuals self-identified as Kaska and were members of the Ross River, Lower Post, Good Hope Lake or Liard River First Nations. The band office for the Liard River First Nation is located in the town of Watson Lake, as is the Kaska Tribal Council (KTC) office. The Kaska Tribal Council links together all Kaska First Nations for purposes of land claims negotiations, language planning, and other enterprises requiring interaction with national and territorial-level governments. The British Columbian counterpart, the Kaska Dene Council, looks after the Kaska First Nations interests in the provincial government of British Columbia. Official membership in a First Nation, as defined by the federal government, is determined through either ones mother or ones father. Like other Northern Athapascan peoples, the LFN people have a moiety system, the two parts of which are called Crow and Wolf in English across the territory. This clan membership, which is not controlled by the government, is strictly matrilineal. These memberships regulate marital choice (the moieties are exogamous) and funerary responsibilities. Beneath the level of the moiety are family groups, which serve as economic units as well. Historically, the typical family group was often the nuclear family, but could include extended family members such as maternal grandparents or maternal sisters and their families. These family groups had headmen who were typically the oldest adult males or male elders (Honigmann 1949, 1954). Contemporary family organization often reflects this arrangement as well. Family group affiliation is important here because it parallels culturally-recognized linguistic divisions within the community, what I have referred to elsewhere (Meek 2001) as family dialects of Kaska following McClellan (1975).3 According to the Kaska Tribal Council (1997), there are approximately nine dialects. Defining a familys dialect is complicated. In most cases, the family dialect is the one spoken by the mother, following a matrilineal pattern. A womans husband often speaks his wifes own dialect along with his own mothers family dialect (or language), and the children are exposed to both parents linguistic varieties. Among the speakers with whom I worked, three family dialects were clearly identified. They were labeled original, Pelly Banks and Stone Mountain dialects.4 In addition to these linguistic distinctions, two other general code choices were present: a standard Canadian English variety and a Kaska English variety. Unlike Kaska sociolinguistic differences, the varieties of English spoken do not correlate with family divisions. In everyday interactions, community members used varieties of English, Kaska or both. Expectedly, the languages spoken and the varieties chosen were neither completely random nor entirely predictable. Some patterns did emerge. Code-mixing, using English words, especially nouns, in Kaska utterances, was an everyday affair. During a language game I developed to reveal peoples grammatical knowledge of handling verbs, one young adult participant revealed knowledge of all the verb forms, but not all of the nouns, being more familiar with English nominal lexemes than Kaska ones. Code-switching was also acceptable and frequently went unnoticed. At times a code-switch was clearly intentional. One such example occurred during an interview I taped of three elders talking about their respective childhoods. One elder, who had spoken only Kaska during the interview, switched to English to discuss an urgent personal family matter with me, a matter that she wanted me to report back to a particular individual. On another occasion, a friend of mine reported a switch from English to Kaska during a band meeting, interpreting the switch to be an affront to her. My friend believed the switch to be an attempt to intentionally exclude her from the discussion, even though she understood the conversation. In these cases, participants did not interpret the code-switches (or code-mixes) as being indicative of a speakers (compromised) ability or fluency. If anything, such switches were unremarkable, except in the personal and political ways just described. Codemixing, code-switching, and correction suggest that community-internal theories of language purism differ from those found elsewhere, such as for Tewa (Kroskrity

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1998) or English (Crawford 1992; Silverstein 1996b), where tenets of linguistic purism may prohibit the use of any foreign elements. There were instances of correction as well, mostly directed at a persons word choice or pronunciation. Given that word choice and pronunciation were the most salient indices of family dialects, an act of correction signaled that a person hadnt spoken in an appropriate ancestral variety. This sociolinguistic correspondence also emerged in discussions about the public schools Kaska language curriculum, where children were not always being taught their own familys dialect. Unsurprisingly, students were taught the dialect of their teacher, and this caused some parents to complain to the administration. Correction also appeared when a person spoke a non-familial variety. On such occasions, a family member (matrilineal relative) would correct the speaker. This situation also contrasts with other documented cases of purist language ideology where one dialect may supersede all others as the standard form (see Heller and Martin-Jones 2001) or where linguistic deviations are inappropriate (Kroskrity 1993, 1998). Because Kaska linguistic varieties corresponded with kinship organization, language correction, then, was not about speaking the Kaska language in a grammatically standard way. It was about speaking the dialect appropriate to ones ancestry. This is very important for speakers in the context of ongoing land claims negotiations. Public performances of historical narratives (Cruikshank 1997, 1998), evidence of land use, and the documentation of kinship (Nadasdy 2003) were all pertinent to these negotiations. Since these language varieties indexed family relationships and alliances, alliances which came to have legal and material consequences, the act of correcting someones pronunciation became a proprietary act that re-aligned the errant speaker with his or her own family and their right to particular material assets. While a childs Kaska speech may be amended for these reasons, a childs spoken English was seldom, if ever, corrected. This may have been in part due to the fact that English was a first language for these children whereas their parents and grandparents first language usually had been Kaska. Additionally, schools were considered to be the authoritative prescriptive source for English, not the home. And within the First Nations community, English language varieties were less political than Kaska language varieties because they did not map directly onto kinship groups, but were indicative of generational differences instead. Direct linguistic corrections tell us more about group membership, social networks and institutional expectations than grammatical competence or conversational routines. Such exchanges also do not directly discourage children from learning or speaking Kaska. Are these sentiments, then, the factors influencing childrens linguistic repertoires? Were children refraining from speaking Kaska because they feared misidentification through the production of a non-family variety or did they just not know any Kaska? While such sentiments may account in part for adult patterns of use, children were having different experiences, ones that can and have led to different theoretical or ideological accounts. To understand these theoretical differences, the next section begins by describing childrens knowledge of Kaska and their everyday linguistic experiences. Sociolinguistic Experiences of LFN Children Children acquire knowledge of and about the language varieties they hear spoken through both the linguistic practices of the people around them as well as through statements about language use. One source is the frequent activities associated with language revitalization efforts across the Yukon. For example, children often hear elders tell stories in Kaska about their childhoods (while being tape recorded or having these recordings played in their classrooms). Through such experiences, these children begin to associate the Kaska language solely with their grandparents and other elders. For instance, while playing taped recordings of elders telling stories at the Aboriginal


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Head Start, children occasionally remarked that what they were listening to was my grandmas language (4/28/1999; see also 5/10/1999 and 2/11/1999).5 They might also have begun to realize that, with few exceptions, elders were the only people being tape recorded (I will return to this observation below). These stories were not the only opportunities LFN children had to hear and acquire Kaska. Public LFN and KTC events, such as the community assembly for the unveiling of the Kaska narratives collection, also included speeches in Kaska or translated into Kaska, as well as opportunities to converse with other people in Kaska. Language instruction in the public schools provided basic lexical and phrasal knowledge for students. Most importantly, however, was the home environment. Many of the LFN children with whom I worked regularly heard Kaska spoken in the home, overhearing adult conversations or being the recipients of commands. These children revealed their own emergent knowledge in several ways: by responding appropriately to a command, by issuing directives themselves to parents and other children, by code-mixing, by listening and asking questions, and by understanding novel utterances presented to them during a picture-pointing game. Through this task I was able to determine that most of them were acquiring at least a limited competence in their ancestral language. For this article, the more intriguing development was the way in which these developing competencies became theorized by these children growing up amidst the language shift. Central to this ideology were the childrens own linguistic observations and experiences regarding people and their code choices. For Liard First Nation citizens, the distribution of Kaska and English varieties corresponded most obviously with age or generational differences, but also entailed status differences. While this initial correspondence with age was not surprising, these age-related practices became ideologically mapped onto the social positions inhabited by elders such that speaking Kaska not only emerged as an index of generational differences, but hierarchical or status differences as well. The correspondence between language choice and age is exemplified by the following transcription. It was recorded at the Aboriginal Head Start building (in Upper Liard), which was previously a residential home for elders and is located in a recognized traditional use area. This day, Ileana (age two) and Joy (age three) arrived and were directed to sit down and listen to elders Rose and Ann teach them about sewing and beading. To foreground Kaska utterances, I have put them in bold, with glosses underneath in italics.6 Two Elders and Two Preschool Age Children 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. Ann: Rose: Joy: Barb: Ann: Rose: Ann: Rose: Joy, ni ((addressing Joy across the room)) Joy, come here. h. dentsk, nga N, na nesta Here, you all are going to start to sew, I will show you. ni . Come here. Na nustsg, come on. I will sew for you all, come on. Joy, edntsek! ni! Joy, listen! Come here! (to Ann)/I dont think she understand me and you./ /Ive got to get some blocks./ You can do that later. ((over by Joy)) de mets Megrandma sa w e i gudedh, dtada? Her grandma always talks to her (in Kaska), doesnt she? Assa . Yes. a Megrandma dene kh d ul gutie gudedh s aet ane, neni h i ?

Respecting the Language of Elders


Her grandma doesnt speak Kaska very well like it was done long ago, do you agree? 12. Ann: mhm. ((Joy and Ileana are finally seated on the floor in front of Rose and Ann.)) nentsk k 13. Rose: N e enhin. ((to Ileana and Joy)) You all should sew like that. 14. I tell you to sew, sew ((shows them beadwork)) like that. 15. Ann: okay, Joy, say k at ak. 16. Joy: k at ak. 17. Rose: mhm. ((sound of approval)) 18. Ann: neni hi ? ((to Ileana)) And you? 19. Say k at ak. 20. Ileana: [ka:ta:]. 21. Ann: /oooh./ ((sound of approval)) 22. Rose: /mmm./ ((sound of approval)) The elders began by using Kaska with Joy, commanding her to sit down and listen, then switched to a combination of English and Kaska when they began showing the children how to bead. The initial instructions were given in Kaska, but then the intert a k (moccasin action switched to English when the elders elicited the Kaska word ka tongue) from the children. The first exchange by Rose also illustrates a common technique used when conversing with children within or outside of the classroom, the practice of following Kaska utterances with English translations. This practice of KaskaEnglish translation pairs reinforces the elders roles as Kaska language experts and teachers. Even when talking to a teaching assistant who understood Kaska fluently, Ann used this translation pair practice, indirectly reinforcing her own status as a fluent, competent speaker of Kaska. Two other linguistic phenomena are worthy of note here. The first is that the elders switched back and forth between producing utterances entirely in Kaska and producing mixed English and Kaska utterances while I sat with them. The variability of this pattern suggests that my presence did not discourage either elder from speaking Kaska. The second is the interaction taking place from line 5 to line 12, where the two elders account for Joys unresponsiveness in terms of the Kaska variety that her grandmother speaks at home rather than in terms of Joys age or her interest in the activity. While this type of analysis doesnt happen on every such occasion, an LFN childs unresponsiveness to a Kaska utterance is often interpreted by adults, and elders especially, as being a sign of incomprehension and lack of linguistic competence rather than a sign of inattention or unheard address. When elders alternate between Kaska and English in their interactions with adults and children, their code-switches linguistically highlight expected differences in competence, competence that usually varies by age. In contrast, Kaska-only interactions indicate an equal status relationship between interlocutors. Given that such interactions were typical of LFN childrens linguistic experiences, the next question is, how were children being socialized to understand these linguistic maneuvers and language shift overall? LFN Elders as Kaska Experts Rather than being socialized into a discourse of language endangerment, childrens ideas about indigenous language socialization emerged through discourses about elders and practices of respect. Discourse about language frequently coincides with discourse about other practices. For example, much of the Yukon Governments rhetoric about language revitalization and preservation entails references to identity, culture, and historical cultural practices. The governments discourse also emphasizes


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the role of elders in these efforts, constructing elders as the primary sources of authentic knowledge about these past practices and the foremost experts on all things Indian (see also Nadasdy 2003). This conceptualization of elders knowledge as quintessentially indigenous has been documented outside the Yukon as well (e.g., Kuipers 1990; Stebbins 2002). Since First Nations elders in the Yukon Territory are constructed institutionally, especially by the territorial and federal governments, as experts on being Indian, it is necessary to reflect momentarily on the educational history of LFN and the impact of Euro-Canadian conquest. The LFN community has undergone a tremendous shift, from a bush lifestyle to a Euro-Canadian lifestyle within the last 50 years or so. In particular, education is no longer the responsibility of First Nations elders; it is now mandated and controlled by the Canadian government. As a result, community-internal educational priorities have shifted from socializing children as Indian (Dene) to socializing them as Canadian Indians (DeneCanadian). The impact this has had on the role of elders has been to limit their authority to specific cultural activitiessuch as moosehide tanning, snowshoe and drum making, and storytellingthat reflect some kind of indigenous otherness, knowledge that school children would not have access to within the confines of the Canadian educational system. This then automatically focuses attention away from the ordinary and the mundane, and emphasizes (and fetishizes) practices associated with Indianness in the Euro-Canadian imagination (see Francis 1992 regarding Canadian representations). Consequently, elders domains of authority have diminished from covering all realms of knowledge to exclusively covering practices considered Kaska traditions. As a result, elders life experiences have become institutionally marked as a form of specialized knowledge, knowledge about being Kaska. Historically, specialized knowledge was associated with particular activities, such as hunting, practicing medicine, recording events, and educating other group members.7 The most competent public practitioners were elders whose professional repertoire included being able to locate game, heal the sick, change the weather, and make predictions (Honigmann 1949, 1954). This did not preclude all others, in particular, other elders, from having similar specialized abilities. It primarily meant that these specialists were more public (treating relatives and non-relatives) and more professional (receiving compensation for their expertise). While having access to specialized knowledge was a dimension of privilege and status historically, now such elevated status primarily comes with age. In conjunction with age, part of being recognized and treated as an elder involves having knowledge about or memories of historical practices, even more so if one had an uninterrupted aboriginal upbringing. For example, in 1996 approximately four percent of the Watson Lake-Upper Liard population was composed of kerchief elders, women who wore kerchiefs tied around their heads, indicative of their age and a pre-boarding-school education. These elders were monolingual Kaska speakers who had never attended any Canadian educational institutions. Not surprisingly, their experiences and remembrances were most valued.8 In a syncretic institutional move, government programs blended state-defined ideas of privilege with age and Dene views of value placed on (traditional) specialized knowledge. This blending acknowledged, defined, and transformed the status of First Nations elders by institutionally elevating their positions. For instance, the Yukon and Canadian governments have defined an elder as a person aged 55 years and up, paralleling retirement pension protocols (although First Nations may offer retirement benefits to individuals who are younger). They have also created specific governmental positions for elders to inhabit. Additionally, it is assumed that these people are Status Indians, officially documented citizens of a nationally-recognized First Nation. First Nations governments and other First Nations organizations have incorporated this official definition into their own bureaucracies, especially for determining the eligibility of members to serve on

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First Nations boards and Elders Councils, such as the Council of Yukon First Nations Elders Council, the Assembly of First Nations Council of Elders9 or the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Kumik or Council of Elders.10 Elders serve as consultants on aboriginally-focused projects supported by government organizations, and their authority to advise is mediated by these political bodies within which they are subsumed. In terms of aboriginal languages, the Yukon government agency Aboriginal Language Services relies on a panel of community elders for input and advice on the direction heritage language projects should take. The Kaska First Nations also have an advisory board made up of elders and language teachers from the different Kaska First Nations that determines heritage language priorities. Many of the projects that this board supports depend on elders participation. For example, Kaska language workshops were designed around the knowledge of elders, using it to teach the language to younger community members who frequently understood the language but did not speak or write it. Without the elders involvement, there was little chance of success. While these workshops provided a venue for elders to share their knowledgein particular, their knowledge of the Kaska language they also reinforced elders linguistic authority by providing them with honoraria, compensation for services rendered. Since this was historically a way to acknowledge ones specialized knowledge, paying elders to participate in these workshops reinforced their authority as Kaska language speakers in both a Canadian frame and a Dene one.11 For contemporary LFN elders, knowledge specialization has shifted to include their first language, Kaska. This taken-for-granted code of everyday communication has become the proprietary domain of elders such that achieving a position of linguistic authority has become contingent upon attaining the status of elder. Within Kaska country, this ideological transformation has reinforced the language shift and constrained Kaska use, surprisingly, by revaluing a language that was once devalued. The next step to revealing this transformation is by elucidating the ethnographic salience and conceptualization of respecta central tenet of Kaska pedagogyalong with the ways in which this concept is manifested linguistically through the discourse of elders. Discourses of Respect: Learning How to Live Right Prevalent in the Northern Athapascan ethnographic literature are descriptions of the concept of respect (Honigmann 1954; McClellan 1975; Scollon and Scollon 1979; Brody 1998 [1981]; Rushforth 1992; Helm 1994; Cruikshank 1998; Goulet 1998; Sharp 2001; Dinwoodie 2002; Nadasdy 2003). In Kaska, the term is i, which entails English notions of respect, wisdom, honor and taboo. Elders were responsible for teaching people the proper way to live, dene nezen, to live respectfully and wisely. In particular, this phrase identified relational ways of acting in terms of respect. Elders frequently reminded people of this relationship, noting that everything is i, and you need to be respectful to everything around you. This included animals, plants, water and other natural features, and people, elders in particular. According to elders, this was necessary for survival. During interviews, comments about how if people arent wise, they will die young circulated. According to various Kaska elders narratives, respect can be shown in a number of ways, from the preparation of food to the prescriptive behaviors surrounding pregnancy. Included in all of these narratives were statements about speaking Kaska. For example, hunters can display respect to the animals they hunt by speaking Kaska to them. Several people with whom I worked mentioned that this verbal display of respect acknowledges and honors the animals contributions to the communitys or familys well-being (Vanstone 1974; Nadasdy 2003). In contrast, commentary about human interactions did not emphasize verbal statements of respect. Among people, respect should be shown through silence and listening, ed ehtsegi (listen), especially in


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interactions between children and adults. To educate children accordingly, elders and parents often reminisced about their own childhood experiences as illustration. Saa de ()dze tsedle gudehe () duga ke dz la, my cousin yh Egudeh e duga ses l dehl, gwod . dzedele, ets Tses l a mets nogwehdi. MacDames d estsedle k esd . ndzeded dzedelh tses l l Egudeh e ts l el meduga tu l l dzedelh k edzetin. Ddu tsd ane dl n e(ge)dtsek guj. Guheni la w ed Mom tsedtsekla. Dene gudedh, dene zedl (???) ggeyes, l Tsd ane dl a gutie. Ddu l a tsd ane kngeyese, dene gudedh ghl. Dl ghl dene gudedh genezen. Dl genezen. [. . . ] Kngeyes, egudeh e nl n n etsedz ghl. Gneyes dl genezen. Guj. Guheni d edz etsdle dl gdzeyes-la. Ngunain h kula dene etsedzi, dene etsedzi kula ts edhts la .
Long ago when we were small, we worked for an old lady, my cousin and [me]. They told us, Bring back wood for that old woman. We brought wood down to her like they told us to. I remember when I was small at MacDames. When we returned to that old woman, we brought water for her and wood. Thats what we did. Now children dont listen. We [current elders] always listened to our mothers. When people talked (???) children didnt run around, thats how it was. Now [children] run around even when people are talking. They [children] dont show respect when people are talking. They arent respectful. [. . . ] They run around even when those old ladies are eating. They run around without thinking [about the elderly women]. Thats the way it is. When we were little, we didnt run around. While a person ate, we sat down.

Not only were these recollections shared with other adults, but frequently on Elders Day at the Aboriginal Head Start, the visiting elders, especially women, spoke to the children about respect and behavior, a discourse articulated in both English and Kaska. well I was taught to be respectful too you know when strangers come, when other people come to visit, well um its just out of respect for people and dont run around all over, we have to sit down in one place and listen the only time we would uh maybe speak up was when they ask us questions,

Respecting the Language of Elders


but uh not often, they would, the elders would just come and tell stories, and wed listen [. . . ] we dont disobey, ya know, somebody tell you you gotta do something, we do it we say, kids, they have to learn how to be respectful to everything, you cant pull flowers, when somebody talk to you, gotta listen when you grow up, thats how you got to teach your kids. When I was five years old [. . . ] like you already I had to learn to help my mom and dad look after little little baby like that [referring to one-year-old child], we never play aroun we, we had to help, we dont play aroun, sometimes we play aroun, we play aroun with other [children] [. . . ] listen, sometimes we would play aroun with other kids but um a lot of times when we were home we help our mom [. . . ] and dad look after the other kids. These narratives not only illustrate how children were socialized to interact with adults, but reflect the instructional or pedagogical style of these adults (cf. Philips 1983; Nevins 2004). In conjunction with these informal and formal educational events within the Watson Lake area, this respect discourse was printed on posters and pamphlets found in the band offices and the public schools, as well as circulating more broadly around the Yukon Territory, such as at First Nations conferences in Whitehorse and on the local radio station. Government agencies that provided social services to First Nations people also incorporated this theme of respect into their literature and philosophical approaches. Aboriginal Language Services made this concept a central tenet of their aboriginal language programming, referred to as The Yukon Model. These discourses overtly link the Kaska language, especially speech, with adults and elders in particular. They emphasized two social dimensions: elders as Dene or Kaska authorities, and practices of respect. Statements such as the following excerpt from above illustrate this: its just out of respect for people . . . we have to sit down in one place and listen. The only time we would . . . speak up was when they [adults and elders] ask us questions, but uh not often. They would, the elders would just come and tell stories. The articulation of such sentiments by Kaska elders themselves socialized children and other novices to engage passively with elders and other Kaska speakers during traditional Kaska activities. This passivity subsequently constrained childrens articulatory opportunities, especially their opportunities to speak Kaska, and ironically constrained their opportunities to speak Kaska in spaces or during events considered to be ideal places for learning, practicing and speaking Kaska. The next section discusses the ways in which this re-conceptualization of Kaska as the language of elders is manifested in childrens statements and practices. Their discourses support this emerging conceptualization and re-present the apparent sociolinguistic discontinuity (that which motivates language endangerment research) as socioculturally continuous. Reconfiguring Regimes of Practice: Language, Authority, and Elders Hegemony At the time of this research, LFN children were experiencing a different sociolinguistic environment than the one most of their parents and grandparents grew up in, both linguistically and discursively. In general, it was their grandparents and other elders who were the primary speakers of Kaska, leading them to associate different generations


Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

with different codes. Compounding this assessment were educational practices, cultural events like the Yukon International Storytelling Festival (Cruikshank 1997, 1998), land claims negotiations, and revitalization discourse, all of which legitimized the idea that only elders were socially sanctioned, capable speakers of Kaska. This signals an ideological transformation, a transformation from conceptualizing Kaska as a language of everyday communication to the language of elders (and authority). While children and youth never articulated their observations in this way, they were certainly aware of the pattern. One way this was evidenced was in their interactions with each other, verbally directing peoples activities themselves using Kaska commands, such as pop d (colloquial version, hand me the pop), tsn (quiet), or essendl (dont bother me). A more elaborate performance was in one game youth played, where participants competed for the position of group leader using Kaska words and phrases. The first person who could produce an utterance the others couldnt comprehend (usually a Kaska noun phrase) would move into the leader position. This game illustrates how the sociolinguistic environment was affecting the form and the function of childrens practices, revealing one way in which Kaska lexical items, the form, were being related to particular authoritative, leadership positions, the function. This connection was most saliently demonstrated during one of my more recent trips to Watson Lake when I was invited by my friend, and then Kaska language and culture high school teacher, to speak to her First Nations class for seniors. All of the students except for two were Dene and had heard Kaska in the home, especially from their grandparents. My friend asked me to talk to the students about how I became a linguistic anthropologist, what that meant to me, and how I got involved in working with the Kaska language and language revitalization more generally. As part of this discussion, I pulled out a recent evaluation report and showed the students the charts. They passed the text around, commenting quietly to each other. Hearing these whispers, I asked them what they thought of the report. While looking at one of the statistical diagrams depicting fluency by age, one of the students remarked, you start speaking Kaska as you get older, to which several students nodded in agreement. For these students, the diagrams illustrated a social fact rather than a linguistic one: Kaska comes with age. Although it seems reasonable to assume that a revaluing of a heritage language would result in an increase in its use, for the Kaska language this has not proven to be true. Instead, the revaluation of the language has led to a transformation and delimitation of elders roles, resulting in the reinforcement of the generational shift as opposed to its reversal. Additionally, this linguistic and social shift in patterns of use has been ideologized in different ways cross-generationally. Younger non-speaking generations have begun to interpret the linguistic shift in relation to social factors that relate to concepts of authority and respect rather than to assessments of linguistic competence. To summarize, several changes have laid the groundwork for Kaska language ideological transformation. First, community-wide knowledge of the Kaska language (ability to comprehend) was greater than community-wide use. Those who continued to speak the language most often were older adults and elders. This immediately associated the Kaska language with elders. Since the role of elder was a position of authority, and elders were constructed institutionally as authorities on Kaska cultural practices, this repositioning came to include speaking the language itself. Since many children no longer actively or robustly acquired the language, the language became a form of specialized knowledge. As such, its use (through command phrases, conversation or formal narratives) projected a kind of authority that limited Kaska speech to those in authority. Second, the (re-)ideologization of Kaska as a form of specialized knowledge incorporated a component of exclusion, which subsequently promoted Kaska language use among elders and by elders with non-elders, but discouraged other potential speakers. While this linguistic ranking may also have suggested that individuals of

Respecting the Language of Elders


equal status would be likely to use Kaska with each other, it may also have had the unintentional effect of identifying the hearer as a person of lower status than the speaker. This, in turn, would be disrespectful, and may partially explain why many non-elders refrain from using Kaska in everyday interactions with each other, let alone with elders. This exclusionary aspect also reinforces the pedagogically passive approach to language acquisition expressed in discourses on respect and learning. Third, these pedagogical discourses also inhibited Kaska language acquisition. Given that respect is shown by novices (non-speakers) through watching and listening to an expert (a native speaker) until they are as competent as the expert (see also Christian and Gardner 1977; Scollon and Scollon 1981), practicing speaking becomes a problem. Learning to speak a language cannot be analogous to leaning how to produce material artifacts (for a counterexample see Moore 1988). This expectation of linguistic fluency without practice would seem to prevent many people from even attempting to speak Kaska until they were of an appropriate age. The younger generations have clearly accepted this constraint. Language, Ideology and Transformation Much of the literature on language shift has focused on the impact of national or global political or socioeconomic changes for particular groups of speakers. For example, Susan Gals work in Austria demonstrates the interrelatedness of linguistic choice and political-economic spheres, pointing out that because codes are associated with social statuses and activities, changes in language choice can be used by speakers to symbolize changes in their own social status or in their attitudes towards the activities the languages symbolize (1978:294; see also Hill 1985, 1993; Hill and Hill 1986). So, as people experience a status or ideological shift in relation to their economic opportunities, they may index or perform their fluid social positionality by altering their linguistic choices. Children, however, have different economic opportunities such that their linguistic choices may or may not be motivated by the same socioeconomic factors that impact the practices of their parents, grandparents, or any other adults. This is not to say that children are not aware of their parents or other adults motivations, but simply to point out that different factors affect childrens linguistic maneuvers and interactions. Much of the literature on youth and language exemplifies these generational differences, although usually in non-endangered language contexts (Bucholtz 2002). As pointed out above, research on language endangerment and language shift more generally has tended to focus on adults, and especially elders, practices and beliefs over that of any other generations. A significant contribution to this field that diverges from this adult focus is the earlier work of Don Kulick. In his detailed ethnographic study of language shift in a Papua New Guinean community, Kulick focused on childrens linguistic practices and the responses to or interpretations of their linguistic skills by their parents and other adults. In this case, increased missionization and contact with a global market had encouraged the use of Tok Pisin over that of the vernacular, Taiap. Accompanying the increased presence of Tok Pisin was an ideological transformation, one that associated Christianity, modernity, education, and Tok Pisin with masculinity, goodness and collectivism while Taiap became equated with ideas of femininity, badness, paganism and backwardness (Kulick 1992:2). This ideological shift then had the unintended consequence of reinforcing the daily use of Tok Pisin by changing adults linguistic expectations such that they began subconsciously to encourage children to speak Tok Pisin rather than Taiap, thus resulting in language shift away from the vernacular. The Kaska situation differs in two primary ways. First, the language shift in the Yukon community is more severe than the Taiap case; it seems that there are far fewer child speakers of Kaska than appears to be the case at the time of Kulicks work on Taiap. Second, while a similar ideological shift has taken shape, such that children are aware of the fact that their parents and other adults believe English (and French) to be more economically viable, the accompanying socializing practices and


Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

ideologization of Kaska are quite different. In particular, goodness, collectivism (or community) and Kaska are all linked together in elders discourses about respect and being Kaska. Elsewhere in Native North American research, similar ideological patterns have been found, but contrasting some positive indigenous image with a negative evaluation of whiteness (Basso 1979; Trechter 2001). This reversed pattern is what House (2002:1315) has identified as an act of counter-hegemony, where the historical portrait of savagery linked to American Indians (Navajos in Houses ethnography) has been replaced by a positive representation which is further juxtaposed with a pejorative image of the whiteman. Rather than being an act of counter-hegemony, the Kaska case illustrates an act of alternative hegemony, the emergence or articulation of a Kaska ideology that is not necessarily in reaction or retaliation to a dominant regime. Furthermore, this ideologization of Kaska varies across the generations. Other research on ideologies of language loss and heritage language revival has focused almost exclusively on the discourses of adults and elders (e.g., Hill and Hill 1986; Moore 1988; Anderson 1998; Errington 1998; Kroskrity 1998; Kuipers 1998; Jaffe 1999; Schecter and Bayley 2002; Cavanaugh 2004; Eisenlohr 2004), which has allowed for detailed expositions of ideological oppositions (Collins 1998) and of ideological change over historical time (Inoue 2004). Fewer studies have explored ideological changes in relation to generational time. This study hopes to have made such a contribution, showing that while adult discourses about Kaska have a nostalgic quality or sentimentality, children and youth have incorporated the shift itself into their ideologization of Kaska by mapping language onto an age-graded positionality. And, while elders socializing narratives about Kaska language promote a temporally bifurcated ideology, this temporal discontinuity is being erased by younger generations through this re-ideologization of the sociolinguistic environment; younger generations are naturalizing the shift. A fairly unexplored arena for examining ideological transformations, then, is the world of children. There are several reasons for this lacuna, not least of which is the fact that research with children is difficult and time-consuming. Another explanation for this gap is that much of the research on and with children (with the exception of language socialization research) assumes that children are primarily observers (of adults) with developing adult-targeted competencies (see Ochs and Schieffelin 1984; Ochs 1986 for an earlier critique), the goals of such research being to establish stages or patterns of development rather than social or interactional differences or changes. Given this developmental aspect, children are excluded from such ideological research for the simple reason that because of their assumed lack of competence, it would be understood that they could not have a transformative impact. However, every interaction by children and adults is a potentially transformative socializing event because practices and beliefs are emergent (Peters and Boggs 1986; Ochs 1999; Garrett and Baquedano-Lpez 2002:345; see also Tedlock and Mannheim 1995). This point runs somewhat counter to a standard developmental perspective in that here the noviceexpert (or childadult) dichotomy is not assumed or required for change to happen. Furthermore, the degree to which a novice must understand the constitutive potential of language (Ochs 1996:431) in order to reproduce, disrupt, or transform the world around him or her remains uncharted and ambiguous. It is this ambiguity that opens up the possibility for exploring such ideological transformations. In fact, we might assume that, given the initially ambiguous nature of meaning realized and negotiated through interaction, change would be the expected result of socialization rather than the replication of some adult target. Conclusion In sum, language socialization studies have repeatedly emphasized the fact that the ways in which children are socialized into and through language affect the ways in which they participate in (and imagine) their sociolinguistic environment. In this

Respecting the Language of Elders


article, I have striven to take this one step further and show that not only do these socializing strategies educate children about their social worlds, but that these practices provide opportunities for, not just restrictions or constraints on, children and other novices to ideologically transform their sociolinguistic landscapes. For LFN children and youth, the transformation has emerged as an elision of the linguistic discontinuity within their sociolinguistic landscape and a re-imagining of this discontinuity as continuous through watching and listening to their elders. In other words, this ideological shift addresses the knots and tears (Irvine 2005) in the sociolinguistic fabric. The younger generations repaired the tearthe generational discontinuity in speaking Kaskaby conceptualizing Kaska linguistic practices in terms of status rather than competence. The ideological landscape that enshrouds any language community (Silverstein 1996a) is more complicated, cryptic and fluid, and not all ideological or theoretical conceptualizations achieve group-wide articulation (or consensus). Even so, ideological changes affect language loss by contributing to the already difficult task of revitalization, part of which entails encouraging people to speak an endangered language regardless of their ability or status. I have shown that while negative commentary may discourage adults from speaking Kaska, children are being socialized to speak Kaska through a different set of discourses and practices. First, children experience Kaska primarily from the mouths of elderson tape, in schools, and at home. Second, various institutional discourses and practices reinforce this empirical association, which is further mediated by elders pedagogical statements, especially the discourse about respect, a third factor affecting childrens conceptualization of Kaska. These sociolinguistic experiences in conjunction with an already present cultural framing have affected childrens linguistic conceptions, resulting in an ideological transformation where novice speakers, in their valuing of their heritage language, have limited linguistic performance of Kaska to individuals in positions of authority. Notes
Acknowledgements. I would like to thank the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan, Aboriginal Language Services, Liard River First Nation, Kaska Tribal Council, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for their support and encouragement. I am also indebted to the following individuals who contributed in various ways to this article: Jane H. Hill, Judith T. Irvine, Patrick Moore, John Thiels, the Michicagoan faculty seminar participants, the Michigan Linguistic Anthropology lab participants, David Samuels and two anonymous reviewers, Asif Agha, and especially Gerald L. Carr. All errors are my own. 1. For examples, see Fishman 1991, 2001; Cantoni 1996; Reyhner 1997; Reyhner et al. 1999; Nettle and Romaine 2000; Hinton and Hale 2001; Bradley and Bradley 2002; Hinton et al. 2002; Grenoble and Whaley 2006. 2. For examples, see Zentella 1997; Sidnell 1998; Bonner 2001; Kerswill and Williams 2000; Queen 2001; Garrett 2005; Paugh 2005; see also Garrett and Baquedano-Lpez 2002. 3. McClellan (1975) notes a similar dialect pattern for Southern Tutchone, also spoken in the Yukon. 4. The dictionary notes that these linguistic labels correspond with geographic locations. 5. This utterance in particular was made by a young girl who was listening to a story told by a male narrator. These dates refer to specific taped recordings and field notes. 6. The follow transcription symbols are used in this article (based on Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson 1974 and Duranti 1994): ((. . . )) Material within double parentheses provides extralinguistic information or additional description. /.../ overlapping utterances /.../ [...] Material within square brackets indicates phonological material. Three dots within square brackets indicate elided material. (???) Question marks within parentheses represent unintelligible material.


Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

7. Within Northern Athapascan ethnography, knowledge and personhood have been well documented (Christian and Gardner 1977; Brody 1998 [1981]; Rushforth 1992; Goulet 1998; Smith 1998; Dinwoodie 2002; Nadasdy 2003; see also Witherspoon 1977 on Navajo). 8. This is ironic of course since at the time of their childhood it was attendance at boarding school that was intended to lead to success and prestige. 9. http://www.afn.ca/article.asp?id=57, accessed on Feburary 28, 2006. 10. http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ai/aw/kumik_e.html, accessed on Feburary 28, 2006. 11. It is interesting to note that some younger speakers complained that they were not paid for their participation in these workshops, and subsequently refused to attend. In a sense, they were refusing the ideological merging of Western and Dene systems of authority and respect. They often commented that elders should share this knowledge freely, without payment, like in the past. However, these younger people seemed to overlook the fact that historically elders were compensated for their knowledge, and that the sharing of knowledge was and is a form of (economic) exchange in both domains.

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Respecting the Language of Elders


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