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Combining the Goals of Language Documentation and Language Teaching: A Yakima Sahaptin Case Study

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In the cases of languages with few remaining fluent elders, communities are faced with the dual goals of teaching the language and documenting the knowledge of their master speakers. High-quality documentation materials are necessarily put to multiple uses: as resources for learning and teaching language and culture, as sources of historical and cultural information, and as data for linguistic research. Because of these varied uses, linguists and documentation specialists must carefully consider what types of data to record in order to best meet the broadest range of needs. In situations where language teaching is a priority, linguists also need to take into account preferred teaching methods and curriculum design as they document. Combining the goals of language documentation and language teaching provides learners and teachers with classroom materials that are meaningful, comprehensible and culturally appropriate. A Yakima Sahaptin language course at the University of Oregon (UO) provides a case study of an endangered language with concurrent goals of documentation and teaching.

Sahaptin is a severely endangered Native American language of the Columbia River area of the Pacific Northwest of the United States of America. There are 13 mutually intelligible dialects that have slight differences in orthographies, phonology, and lexical items (Rigsby and Rude 1996). Similar cultural traditions and values are shared among the bands and tribes. Speech community members refer to the dialects by their individual names, or by the collective terms Sahaptin or Ichiskíin. We use Sahaptin and Ichiskíin interchangeably here.

In this chapter, we discuss the collaborative processes of planning and teaching the UO Yakima course. Instructor Virginia Beavert, an elder and fluent speaker of her language and one of this chapter's coauthors, is the instructor. Two graduate teaching fellows (GTFs) complete the teaching team. One is a Yakama teacher and student. The second, and a coauthor of this paper, is a linguist. Both GTFs are language learners, increasing their knowledge of the language as they teach. Course goals reach beyond raising the proficiency levels of the students to those concerning teachers, materials, and the participation of the larger speech community.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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