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Colloquium: Barbra Meek: Idealizing (NDN) language

Friday, March 13, 2015
12:00 AM
3254 LSA Building

Idealizing (NDN) language

Our colloquium this week will be delivered by Barbra Meek, a faculty member from our very own Anthropology Department, who also holds a so-called "dry" appointment in Linguistics. The title and abstract of her presentation are given below.

Idealizing (NDN) language

More and more field linguists involved in documenting endangered languages have become concerned with the social and political dimensions of documentation (Dobrin 2012), including a concern with language ideologies (Austin and Sallabank 2014).  Linguistic anthropologists however have been intensely committed to investigating language ideologies and their impact on people’s lives for the last few decades (Kroskrity et. al. 1998).  This intensity has led some researchers exploring endangered language situations to focus more explicitly on what Paul Kroskrity (2011) has labeled “(a spectrum of) linguistic racisms,” or language ideologies and linguistic practices that configure and rank difference racially.  More recently he claimed that “linguistic racism provides resources for the deliberate misrecognition of [structural violence due to social] inequality…, and for the rationalization of policies that perpetuate and exaggerate this violence” (2014).  My talk will explore how ideas about aboriginal (NDN) languages expressed in public discourses, language policies, and institutional practices racialize and covertly perpetuate structural inequalities and the marginalization of First Nations peoples in the Yukon Territory, Canada, despite efforts to address such disparities.


One of the most widespread approaches to remedying these disparities in Canada has been through aboriginal language advocacy and development.  Yet these endeavors come with their own ideological baggage.  To unpack this baggage, my talk begins with the socio-historical framing of First Nations peoples and their languages through public and popular media that situated them in a subordinate position in relation to the nation-state.  Next I focus specifically on the Yukon Territory and legislative attempts to remedy one of the results of this subordination, aboriginal language endangerment.  Through this legislation, various approaches and standards were developed institutionally and applied such that one result of these practices has been the differentiation of participants in relation to concepts of language, fluency, age, and heritage.  I argue that the Yukon Government’s formatting of language endangerment allows for linguistic discriminations that perpetuate on-going inequities, a type of linguistic racism.  Finally, these discriminations find resonance on the ground in interaction.  In the interaction I present the subtle act of discrimination attempted is the outcome of an ambiguous pronoun, dialect differences, and the discursive framing of the event as “Kaska.”