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On Monday, December 22, 2003, at 10:46  AM, Joe wrote:

> Dirk Elzinga wrote:
>
>> Of course, this is not to say that linguists and anthropologists
>> should
>> not offer their help to communities or give it freely when it is
>> asked;
>> but we need to respect their wishes when they say, "No, thank you.
>> We're not interested." It's a hard thing to watch a language die, but
>> it's the right thing to do if that is the wish of the people who speak
>> it.
>
> Yes, but we should at least point out the virtues of  attempting to
> preserve their language.

Of course. For a community to make an informed decision, they need to
be, well, informed. I've been to many tribal council meetings to do
just that.

> And, of course, a community generally has
> divergent views.  There will be some that wish to preserve their
> language, and some that do not.   Again, though, the language should be
> documented, providing people are willing to talk to you.

And there's the rub. I have found very few cases of official opposition
to projects that I've proposed. However, even when the tribal council
endorses and supports your project, you're still a long way from
getting the support of the people in the community you want to work
with. My mentor caused quite a fuss in his early days of fieldwork when
he worked with language consultants who were willing and who understood
what was at stake. These people were in the minority, though, and
tensions are still present some thirty five years later.

My solution in the past has been to work with people who live off the
rez; that way I'm not interfering directly with the delicate social
balance which exists in these communities; any work I do is still
available to tribal members. However, the best opportunities for work
come by living in the community itself. And there you have to be
careful so that you're not perceived as pushing some agenda at their
expense, even if you have official sanction and approval (and sometimes
because you have official sanction and approval).

You need to take the long view, even in communities where the number of
speakers is in the tens. If you make a pest of yourself early on,
that's what they remember -- not the work you tried to do. In the end,
my point is still the same. It's their decision (for good or ill) to
preserve or abandon a heritage language, and I need to respect it.

Dirk
--
Dirk Elzinga
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If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so
simple we couldn't.
- Lyall Watson