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Language and identity, language and the land

BC Studies; Vancouver Iss. 131,  (Autumn 2001): 39-55.

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Headnote

ProQuest Information and Learning: foreign text omited.

Language is our unique relationship to the Creator, our attitudes, beliefs, values, and fundamental notions of what is truth. Our languages are the cornerstone of who we are as a People. Without our languages, our cultures cannot survive.

Headnote

Principles for Revitalization of First Nations Languages, Towards Linguistic Justice for First Nations, Assembly of First Nations, Education Secretariat. i99o.

FEW CANADIANS WHO ARE NATIVE SPEAKERS of English would so passionately value their language as such an integral part of their identity. English may be a vehicle for the expression of spirituality, of attitudes, beliefs, values, and perceptions of truth, of culture, of self-identification, but English is seldom considered by its speakers to be the essence of either their individual or collective identity. Many native English speakers would value its accumulated wealth of literature, its expressive flexibility, its extensive vocabulary (indebted to dozens of other languages from which it has extensively borrowed). However, in this era of globalization, the over-riding value attributed to English is undeniably its world-wide dominance in socio-economic spheres of influence. Both locally and globally, the utility and hegemony of English is, for the vast majority of its speakers, it prime virtue. Certainly, many independent physical, social, economic, cultural, and ideological attributes would rank high above Language itself in a native English speaker's definition of his or her identity.

How then does the dominant English-speaking population of Canada1 comprehend statements like that quoted above in the `Principles for Revitalization'? Steeped in a fundamentally different ideology and value system, how is the impassioned First Nations discourse on the profound impact of language loss to be understood within mainstream society? How can the Principles which underlie `Linguistic Justice for First Nations' be appropriately recognized within the predominantly English-speaking classrooms of British Columbia in...