Understanding and Acknowledging the Community’s Language Landscape

An important part of developing a language profile is understanding the community’s past and present experiences with the language.

The impacts of attempted colonial genocide and inter-generational trauma may have left people in the community with complex feelings around language. Some people may feel fear, anger and shame. Language can also be connected to powerful positive feelings, such as pride, strength and belonging.

Consider how the language planning team can gently and respectfully learn how community members view their language. With a non-judgemental approach, the language planning team can better understand community members’ range of feelings. The team can then build on positive feelings and address complicated feelings that may impact the success of language revitalization strategies.

Some examples of community language views that can promote language revitalization include:

  • Our language is rich, beautiful and complex.
  • We can express ideas in our language that we can’t express in English.
  • Our language is a gift from our ancestors.
  • Our language connects us to the land.
  • We can learn about who we are through our language.
  • Like English and all other languages, our language can change and evolve with the world around us to include new words and ideas.
  • Learning our language as a first or additional language has a positive effect on our children’s academic success and on community health.
  • Anyone can learn our language with the right support.

Some examples of community language views caused by colonial oppression that can challenge language revitalization include:

  • Who am I going to talk to anyway?
  • It hurts to speak in my language. I always start to cry when I speak the language. I don’t want to cry.
  • Our language is too hard to learn, so I’m not going to try.
  • I’m worried that if my children learn our language, they will get behind in English at school.
  • Our language is old fashioned. There is no place for it now.
  • Only one dialect of our language is acceptable to learn and teach.
  • People will make fun of me if I try to speak.
  • We should only use this particular alphabet to read and write our language.

These challenging beliefs come from generations of past and present colonial oppression and racism. It is important that people are not blamed or judged for them. Instead, consider how the language planning team can bring forward and spread positive views.

Some ways to promote positive feelings include:

Using a positive phrase: Find a word or phrase in the language that speaks to a cultural value. This word or phrase can provide a source of comfort and encouragement. It can remind everyone of the positive spirit in which the work can be done. To find this phrase, the team can ask for suggestions or teachings from Elders, language champions and Knowledge Keepers.

Some examples that can be adapted, translated or used for inspiration are:

  • “K’üül Goot” (Sm’algya̱x), meaning “All of one heart”
  • “NO.ȾEMOOT” (SENĆOTEN), meaning “To work together as one” or “To be all one People”
  • “nuk’wan’tual’, k’al’an’, ptinusem” (St’at’imcets), meaning “help each other, listen, reflect”

Providing support resources: Create a safe space. Ensure members feel supported through this process by including trauma and healing resources. This support may include access to an Elder or counsellor, or wellness and cultural activities.

Sharing information: Share about the benefits of language revitalization work and how it counters language oppression. This information could be provided in a pamphlet or at a workshop or community event.

Having open conversations: Have open conversations about potentially controversial topics such as dialect, alphabet or learner speech. Open conversations can ensure the community plan acknowledges the voices of everyone.

Celebrating speakers and learners: Take time to hold up the people who are learning the language and doing other language work in the community. Also keep space open for anyone who might want to be involved and isn’t yet.