Monday, May 3, 2010

B.C. First Nations languages 'severely endangered'

B.C. First Nations languages face extinction unless action taken now, report says
Georgia Straight: First Nations languages in British Columbia are hurtling toward 'imminent extinction,' a new report says. But the Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2010 argues that these 'critically endangered' languages can be saved if quick action is taken.

Prepared by the First Peoples' Heritage, Language and Culture Council,... the report notes that, with 32 languages and 59 dialects, B.C. is home to 60 percent of First Nations languages in Canada. 'Based on three variables for measuring language endangerment (speakers, usage and language resources), all of B.C. First Nations languages are severely endangered or nearly extinct,' it states. 'Some are already sleeping.'

According to the report, fluent speakers represent 5.1 percent (5,609) of the B.C. First Nations population. 'Semi-speakers' comprise 8.2 percent (8,948) of the population, while people learning their language constitute 11.1 percent (12,223). Most fluent speakers are over 65 years old. Only 1.5 percent (36) of fluent speakers are under the age of 25.

The report warns that, 'if nothing more is done to save the languages, most of the fluent speakers will be gone in approximately five to six years (by about 2016).'

The Canadian government's assimilation policies and church-run residential schools are largely responsible for the loss of language, the report notes. It says that language loss goes hand in hand with the loss of culture and identity, and is 'directly related to the troubling health issues many First Nations are facing today.'

The report recommends that all of the languages be recorded and documented, and the development of First Nations immersion language programs be promoted. It also says off-reserve First Nations people should be included in language revitalization efforts.
Interactive image source here.