Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 75

75 Arctic Yearbook 2014 Participants seek, and already somewhat dated, since the survey was conducted in 2008. Data from official census sources are synthesized in Barry et al. (2013), which arguably gives the most comprehensive snapshot of language vitality today. Such reports provide, at best, a broad overview of indigenous languages but draw on official census data, which rely on self-reporting of language proficiency and use. Self-reporting is notoriously unreliable, with problems in terms of both underreporting and over-reporting language proficiency. Speakers often interpret questions about their “mother tongue” as referring to their heritage language, and thus may inadvertently signal that they “know” a language that is the ancestral tongue known by previous generations although they themselves are monolingual speakers of a majority language. Alternatively, in cases where use of a language has low prestige, speakers may under-report to avoid negative repercussions, perceived or real. Census data reports fail to give the kind of detail and accuracy needed to make the best decisions possible about how to leverage resources. The language assessment committee plans to create a “language profile” for each indigenous language. The assessment profile should include both linguistic and sociolinguistic information, such as data on language proficiency as well as domains of usage and language attitudes. Specifically, the group intends to collect information on proficiency across generations, and in different domains and conversational situations, recognizing that some speakers may fluently discuss some topics and not others. One goal is to create an indigenously defined metric for proficiency, something that is currently in development. An assessment of attitudes should include the attitudes of a wide range of different people: individual speakers, communities, states, and academics about the language, about language standardization and other language survival strategies. Recognizing that indigenous language ecologies are situated within a complex social dynamic of speakers of one or more other languages, the assessment group is interested in the attitudes of community members as well as those of external, non-community members. Included here are members of the majority language(s) group and speakers of other indigenous languages who are in contact with the target language. Another important component of the assessment is information about domains of use. A vital language is used by all generations in all domains (Fishman, 1991). The assessment committee seeks to identify language usage across domains, defining relevant domains with input from the communities themselves. Two concrete examples illustrate the importance of this principle. One is that in many Arctic indigenous societies, language usage is highest in domains associated with subsistence activities, such as hunting, fishing, or berry picking, in addition to traditional folklore and ritual activities. At the same time, participants are interested in assessing language usage outside of traditional activities, that is, in the home, on the street, in public spaces. People have a general sense that usage varies according to such factors as the proficiency of both and the interloctor(s), the relationship between them, topic of conversation and the setting, and seek concrete data about such variables. Finally, detailed information about speaker proficiency levels is needed in order to make decisions about what measures are needed to foster vitality. Current metrics provide numbers of speakers, recognizing speakers and non-speakers. The project participants are interested in determining a greater range of speaker abilities. A full assessment of Arctic indigenous language vitality is a multi-year project, requiring significant financial and human resources. Beyond the general lack of funding for such a project, we currently Language & Well-Being in the Arctic