Producing language reclamation by decolonising ‘language’


  • Wesley Y. Leonard


Indigenous language documentation and description efforts are increasingly designed to support community decolonisation goals, particularly with respect to implementing practices that will facilitate the use of the resulting products in revitalisation efforts. However, the field of Linguistics may inadvertently reinforce its colonial legacy (Errington 2008) when researchers produce their work around linguistic rather than cultural units, categorise and theorise Indigenous languages using norms for major global languages, or default to Western constructs of what ‘language’ is when engaging in Indigenous language research, teaching, and advocacy. Results of this include ineffective language learning materials and ill feelings toward linguists by Indigenous community members. Similarly, the success of internally-operated Indigenous community language programs is also informed by the integration of community needs and worldviews into these efforts. Using insights from Native Americans who are engaged in language programs, I exemplify these issues and argue for a paradigm of language reclamation, which moves beyond a focus on direct language measures such as creating new speakers (language revitalisation), to incorporate community epistemologies such as how ‘language’ is defined and given sociocultural meaning. I show how a reclamation framework links community needs to language research and teaching, and encourage its wider adoption.


Indigenous languagesdecolonizationlanguage reclamationlanguage revitalisation
  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 14
  • DOI: 10.25894/ldd146
  • Published on 31 Dec 2017
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