American Anthropological Association Conference

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the 110th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Montreal, Quebec. The title of the meeting was Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies, and scholars from around the world came to present on various panels. I was most interested in a panel forged together by Maliseet ethno linguist and anthropologist, Professor Bernard C. Perley, titled, Legacies.  The panel was divided into two sections, with the first focused on indigenous language revitalization strategies. Key scholars that participated in the language session included Bernard C Perley (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Margaret C Bender (Wake Forest University), Margaret M Bruchac (University of Connecticut), Lisa Philips (University of Alberta) and Allan McDougall (n/a), Nancy J Furlow (University of Alaska Anchorage), and Darren J Ranco (University of Maine).

The presenters in this first panel covered a wide range of topics, but I found the work on revitalization and language acknowledgment to be quite interesting and informative. The work of Margaret Bender from Wake Forest University, has been working with Cherokee communities dealing with language visibility and environmental awareness of place within Cherokee communities in North Carolina. The use of the Cherokee names and the use of the Cherokee syllabary in business signs throughout the community push the Cherokee language to the forefront of day-to-day activities.

Cherokee Syllabary Stop Sign (bilingual)

This promotion of not only the language, but the use of the Cherokee syllabary is a different experience than that of many other polysynthetic languages who do not have written languages and have adapted their language to linguistically accepted forms. This is related to my post on the Indian Country Today article The Indomitable Language, check it out!



6 Comments Add yours

  1. Ashley Smith says:

    I think signage is important. We might consider language preservation/conservation regulations such as those in quebec as rather telling. In order to hold onto french language as an island in a sea of english, Quebec has very strict signage legislation (among other strict language-learning legislation). For example, all signs must be in french, and all bilingual signs must have the english (or other non-french language) as visually secondary to the french.

    While Quebec has been critiqued for some of the problems with their strict language legislation (such as the legislation that any non-english-as-a-native-language speaker must take french in school first, which has created problems for non-francophone immigrant families who want their children to learn english), much of their work has also been successful in keeping french language from disappearing under the weight of english language.

  2. Curiouswonder says:

    Are there other places within the US or Canada where other syllabaries are used for signage?

  3. Courtney Evans says:

    Hey Mia! I’m really enjoying reading your blog and hearing your thoughts about, to use your sub-title, language, culture, and the academy! This particular post stood out to me because I had the opportunity to take a class with Professor Perley when he visited Cornell last Fall. The course was entitled “Echoes of ‘Time Immemorial’,” and we talked a lot about issues similar to the ones you are addressing on this blog. Professor Perley told us about his work to help revitalize the Maliseet language through a graphic novel which he was in the process of creating. This brought up the issue of transcribing the oral tradition, though, and we had many discussions about what happens when this is done. First, there is the issue over whether the oral tradition can or should be written down at all. Then, if it is written down, in what language should it be written? What happens when it is translated into a language other than the one in which it was originally told? What is lost in the translation? What happens to the story when it becomes decontextualized and written down in a book? I’m still struggling with these issues, but here is what I’m thinking about them now: I think that if the stories are written down in a way that leaves them open to be contextualized in a *new* setting, and if in being written down, they have more of an opportunity to be shared within the community, then writing them down, even if it risks decontextualizing the stories, can also help them to live. I don’t think the act of writing them down is what *enables* them to live, though. Writing the stories down only “records” them. The stories live when they are told, re-told, imagined, and re-imagined in a communal dialogue.

    I don’t know if any of that relates to what you are thinking about, but these are some questions about which I have thought and continue to think.

    Also, on a different note, I agree with Ashley that signage is important. Ottawa is right next to the border between Quebec and Ontario, so I have had experiences in both provinces can can relate to what Ashley is saying about the French/English signs in Quebec. Even in Ottawa, though, whenever you go to the store, bank, restaurant, etc. and are greeted by an employee, it is always in both languages: “Hello, Bonjour,” they always say. And, if you would like to apply to a job, most places of business require you to be bilingual in French and English. I don’t think I have ever seen this much care and attention (and respect) paid to a language other than English (in a country in which English is commonly spoken, that is). And as Ashley said, these practices have been very successful in keeping the French language from “disappearing under the weight of the English language.”

    I can’t wait to read more of your posts, Mia! I am really glad you are keeping this blog – since we can’t all be together face-to-face, it’s a good way to come together to learn and share…as long as we all keep the conversations going (maybe a bit like what I said about the oral tradition and the written word)!

    1. conceptualizingtuscarora says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful post Courtney! Professor Perley has been a great influence and I’m glad to hear your take away from the class! I have been quite interested in the “what happens” phase of published works and I would love to talk more on this at some point!

  4. Dajahi Wiley says:

    Cool to hear that Professor Perley was at the conference. I think that using the Cherokee syllabary preserves a fuller cultural integrity of the language, and its good that it is being adapted to electronic media.

  5. Jake says:

    That’s a cool stop sign, I wonder if people actually stop for it because I see people run normal stop signs all the time!

    really though this is important work because a language has to be used to stay relevant and alive.

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