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DEFINITIONS

When dealing with language and planning issues, it is important to know the jargon (the special words) that are used. Here are the definitions and explanations of a few important words and phrases that are used throughout this manual.


Aboriginal Language Community
A language community is the group of people who speak – or are descendents of people who speak – a particular language. A language community often crosses political and social boundaries. For example, the South Slavey language community includes First Nation and Metis people from northern Alberta, northern British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories.

Activist
An activist is someone who is willing to take direct action in order to achieve a certain goal. Language activists are people who actively promote and practice language retention and revival activities.

Culture
Culture refers to the way we live that makes us different or special from other groups of people. Our culture includes many things – what we eat, what we wear, how we make a living, our ceremonies, our art, our laws, etc. An important element of culture is what we believe – how we understand the world – what we value in life. The most important way we express our culture is through our language, so culture and language are very closely linked.

Dialect
A dialect is a slight variation in wording or pronunciation in a language that often results from geographical differences. For example, Lutselk'e uses the "k" dialect of Chipewyan while Fort Resolution uses the "t" dialect. The language is still Chipewyan, but the word water translates as either ku or tu, depending on the dialect.

Fluency and Literacy
Fluency refers to our ability to understand and speak a language. A person who understands and speaks a language well is considered fluent in the language. Passive fluency is when someone understands a language but does not speak it (or is shy about speaking it). Literacy is the ability to read and write a language.

Home Language
Home language is the language that we normally speak in our own home.

Home Language to Mother Tongue Ratio
Many Aboriginal adults in the Northwest Territories learned a traditional language as their first language when they were children. This language is their mother-tongue. Then, for a variety of reasons, they switched to English as they grew up and now speak English at home to their own children.

 

English is now their home language. If 100 people learned Gwich'in as their mother tongue, but only 17 still use Gwich'in at home with their own children, the home-to-mother-tongue ratio is 17 to 100 or 17%. This means that 83% of Gwich'in children are not learning their language at home today.

Inter-Generational "Mother Tongue" Language Transmission
Our mother-tongue is the language we first learn as children. Inter-generational mother tongue language transmission means that grandparents and parents talk to their children in their traditional Aboriginal language so that the children learn the language naturally at home. This is the only way that languages were taught for thousands of years – and it worked!

Language Retention and Revitalization
Language retention means to hold on to (or retain) one's language. Language revitalization means to breathe new life into a language – to have it grow and expand.

Language Shift
Language shift refers to a change in the use of the language. If elders still speak their traditional language but their grandchildren do not, then language shift has occurred.

Linguists
Linguists are people who study the development and structure of languages. Linguists can help people study and document their language in order to help preserve it, especially if a language is being lost.

Mobilization
To mobilize something is to get it moving. Community mobilization means getting many individuals and organizations in a community to actively commit themselves to a special task or goal – such as language revitalization.

Strategic Planning
Strategic planning refers to planning that is done in times of instability or rapid change. If the future was predictable, people would do long-range planning – they would know what changes lie ahead. In the north today – with unsettled land claims, self-government negotiations, constitutional changes, economic uncertainty, etc. – all planning is strategic. Strategic planning must be more creative and flexible and must allow for constant evaluation and quicker decision-making.


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