Reclaiming Indigenous Languages: A Reconsideration of the Roles and Responsibilities of Schools

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Teresa L. McCarty, Sheilah E. Nicholas
Review of Research in Education
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07-18-2017 3:54 PM
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in this chapter, we offer a critical examination of a growing field of educational inquiry and social practice: the reclamation of Indigenous mother tongues. We use the term reclamation purposefully to denote that these are languages that have been forcibly subordinated in contexts of colonization (Hinton, 2011; Leonard, 2007). Language reclamation includes revival of a language no longer spoken as a first language, revitalization of a language already in use, and reversal of language shift (RLS), a term popularized by Joshua Fishman (1991) to describe the reengineering of social supports for intergenerational mother tongue transmission. All of these processes involve what MAori scholar Margie Kahukura Hohepa (2006) calls language regeneration, a term that speaks of growth and regrowth, recognizing that nothing regrows in exactly the same shape that it had previously, or in exactly the same direction (p. 294). We organize this review around two foci. First, we concentrate on school-based language reclamation. It is well established that schools and their medium-of-instruction policies have been major catalysts for language shift (Hornberger, 1988; King, 2001; Reyhner, 2006; Wyman, 2012). What remains at issue is whether or how schools might be efficacious sites for language reclamation. Fishman (1991), for example, has long held that RLS requires fundamental social restructuring to restore family-based language transmission, insisting that schools should be on tap and not on top of a language (p. 194); and nothing can substitute for the rebuilding of society at the level of . . . basic, everyday, informal life (p. 112). Krauss (1998) goes further, arguing that school programs can do more harm than good, insofar as they shift the responsibility for transmitting the language in the home, . . . to the school, at best such a poor alternative (p. 17). And in a recent review of Hornberger's (2008) edited collection asking the question of whether schools can save Indigenous languages, Edwards (2012) claims that educational programmes of language revitalization are the lamp-post in whose light we hope to recover things that were lost elsewhere (p. 203).
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