February 7, 2015

Guest speaker: Bruce Starlight (Language Commissioner, Tsúùt'ínà Nation)

We're pleased to be about to welcome Bruce Starlight, the Language Commissioner for the Tsúùt'ínà Nation of Alberta. He will be giving a talk on Friday the 13th in SS 560A, starting at 3:30 PM: "The central place of paradigms in teaching Dene languages."

Dene languages like Tsúùt'ínà have complex verbal systems, with frequently dozens of forms of each verb. Control of the verb paradigms is one of the hallmarks of fluent speakers, who can also build new verbs on the fly by adding extra morphology. In addition, our languages are very verb-centred; many nouns for day-to-day objects are derived from verb phrases, and this is the most common way of coining new nouns.

One of the current challenges we face in teaching our languages is the fact that in many educational jurisdictions, curricula are expected to follow an ESL model, where typically half an hour is allotted for the introduction, teaching and practice of a new verb. For languages like English, where verbs have only a few forms, this approach is reasonable, but for Dene languages it creates great difficulties for both teachers and learners. For this reason, it is important for any Dene-language curriculum to allow considerable more lesson time for new verbs, and when designing teaching methods, to look for ideas to teachers of other “verby” languages, like Arabic, Hindi, or Hungarian, not English.

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