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Strategic Planning

Setting Realistic Language Goals

In nations where the language has fallen into disuse, the question may have to be asked whether revival of the language in ordinary communication is the only avenue or the most effective avenue of revitalizing the culture...
Royal Commission of Aboriginal People; Volume 3

Once the current status of a language has been established, a realistic assessment of what is possible in a particular community or social context must occur. This means that goals should be established that are achievable given the will, commitment, and resources available within a community or region.

In A Guide to Language Strategies for First Nation Communities, five different types and levels of language goals are identified:

  • preservation,
  • awareness,
  • revival,
  • reduced bilingualism, and
  • full bilingualism.

PRESERVATION is the primary goal when a language is near extinction. Preservation involves documenting the language as thoroughly as possible before it dies out. This can also mean collecting and documenting legends, stories, and other forms of traditional knowledge.

CULTURAL AWARENESS means promoting a limited knowledge and use of the language as a component of other cultural activities. In effect, the Aboriginal language remains a second language and full fluency is not achieved.

REVIVAL means taking steps to restore the language so that it is a working language of family and community life. Revival requires "inter-generational mother tongue transmission". In other words, parents must be learning and speaking the language and teaching it to their children at a young age.

REDUCED OR PARTIAL BILINGUALISM means establishing full use of the language in certain community contexts. For example, the language might be used exclusively for family and cultural activities, but be used on a more limited basis in school and work.

FULL BILINGUALISM means establishing the language as the primary working language, or first language, in all sectors of the community – home, school, and work. For this to be achieved, the majority of residents of the community, at all age levels, would be bilingual.

Another language goal, which can be a component of any of these other goals, is literacy.

LITERACY is a useful tool for teaching language and also for recording language and preparing language materials. Preservation or formal documentation of a language can be improved by developing an accurate writing system. Full bilingualism in a school and work setting might only be possible with well-developed literacy skills.

However, literacy a not a precondition to Aboriginal language retention and revitalization. People can learn to speak a language without becoming literate. In fact, some Aboriginal language communities focus on fluency rather then literacy – maintaining the oral tradition becomes the first priority.

It must be noted that each of these language goals is worthwhile as long as they accurately reflect the will of the language and cultural community that they affect. There is no single goal that is good for all communities.

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