Exploring Indigenous Language Vitality

A global lesson plan in collaboration with Google Earth's audio collection Celebrating Indigenous Languages.

Marie Wilcox (left) with her daughter Jennifer Malone (right), her great-granddaughter Destiny Treglown (middle), and her great-great-grandson Oliver Treglown. Marie, Jennifer, and Destiny express hope for raising a new Wukchumni speaker. Marie Wilcox, at the age of eighty-five, is the only remaining fluent speaker of Wukchumni, a dialect of the Tule-Kaweah language from the Yokuts tribal group in Central California. Watch the film Marie's Dictionary to learn how Marie created a dictionary of the Wukchumni language.

As a companion to the Google Earth audio collection Celebrating Indigenous Languages, this curriculum provides ways for students to explore the linguistic diversity and vitality of Indigenous languages from speakers around the world. Students will discover how Indigenous languages are interconnected through identity, cultural heritage, and traditional ecological knowledge and how Indigenous peoples and communities are a vital part of the fabric and story of humanity.

It is essential for our global culture to value and protect Indigenous voices and perspectives. Tania Haerekitera Tapueluelu Wolfgramm, a Maori and Tongan activist and educator who helped create the tour said, "Hundreds of languages are a few days from never being spoken or heard again. By putting Indigenous languages on the global stage, we reclaim our right to talk about our lives in our own words. It means everything to us."

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Celebrate the diversity and vitality of the world's Indigenous languages
  • Explore the world's Indigenous linguistic and cultural heritage
  • Illustrate how language is an integral element of culture
  • Recognize people in society whose language and cultural heritage are at risk
  • Identify the causes of language loss
  • Understand the importance of Indigenous language revitalization and preservation

Essential Questions

What is the importance of language? How is language connected to culture?

What are Indigenous languages? How do Indigenous languages preserve traditional cultural, social, and environmental knowledge?

What is Indigenous language revitalization? Why is it important to the world's cultural heritage?

Ages:
12+
Themes
  • Identity, Family, and Community
  • Language and Landscape
  • Language Revitalization
  • Songs

Overview

Using the Google Earth tour Celebrating Indigenous Languages, students will explore Indigenous languages around the world, some of which are at risk of disappearing. Students will learn about the importance of language revitalization from the unique stories and perspectives of those who speak the world's Indigenous languages.

In this lesson, students will make connections between language and culture, discovering the ways in which Indigenous peoples and communities are dedicated to preserving and revitalizing their languages. Students will engage in activities to learn how Indigenous language vitality is interconnected with a speaker's identity, family, community, and relationship to the land. By learning more about Indigenous peoples and communities, students will be encouraged to broaden their perspectives about the world's diverse cultural heritage and to consider how we are all a part of the global story.

(Left) Ruby Tuttle Bommelyn is of Yurok, Yuki, Maidu, and Karuk ancestry. She is homeschooling her three children to ensure that they learn to speak Tolowa Dee-ni' fluently. Learn more about their story in the film Tolowa Dee-ni' by Adam Loften. (Right) Julian Lang is a "young elder" and a teacher. Having learned Karuk from his maternal grandmother, he is sharing the language and culture with younger generations. Maymi Preston-Donahue is a social worker focused on bringing services to her community. She is among the next generation who are learning Karuk and is raising her children to speak the language. Learn more about their story in the film Karuk by Adam Loften.

Getting Started

  1. Tell students that they will learn about Indigenous language speakers and communities around the world with the Google Earth tour Celebrating Indigenous Languages. Explain that the tour celebrates the diversity and vitality of the world's Indigenous languages. Through audio clips, Indigenous individuals share their favorite greetings, phrases, and songs.

  2. Tell students that short descriptions are included in the tour. These provide details and facts about each language. Explain to students that they will need to pay attention to these components.

  3. Play the introductory video "Meet Indigenous Speakers and Learn How They're Keeping Their Languages Alive." (Under 3 minutes.) The video is also available on YouTube.

  4. Ask students to share their initial thoughts. In what ways do they think language and culture are connected?

  5. Read The World's Indigenous Languages in Context. This provides an overview of Indigenous languages, causes of language loss, and language revitalization efforts.

  6. Give students the vocabulary sheet.

  7. Divide students into pairs or small groups.

  8. Organize groups evenly among the following four themes for a well-rounded dialogue. Explain that each group will explore the Google Earth tour, Celebrating Indigenous Languages. Visit the How-To Guide to go over how to use Google Earth and Voyager.

  9. Explain to students that they will respond to questions based on the following four themes. Introduce and explain each theme.

    Identity, Family, and Community - Identity can be defined as the various ways individuals and groups define themselves by their beliefs, ethnicity, and culture, among other characteristics. Indigenous peoples may identify themselves through their tribe or tribal nation, and the Indigenous language they speak. Students will explore the connections and relationships between language, identity, family, and community.

    Songs - Songs, or oral storytelling, often reflect cultural values, ethics, and beliefs. In Indigenous cultures, songs are passed down from generation to generation and many are under threat of disappearing. Songs can be stories that honor ancestors and the living world. Many Indigenous songs do not translate directly into another language, a reflection of how the messages are unique and specific to people and place. Students will explore the connections between songs, culture, and language vitality.

    Language and Landscape - Indigenous languages reflect and express interconnection with land. Indigenous communities around the planet have developed traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and ways of knowing through generations of intimate contact with their homelands. These bodies of knowledge express the relationships of living beings with the environment. Students will explore how language and landscape are intertwined.

    Language Revitalization - Language revitalization can be defined as learning activities, including language immersion schools and programs, to cultivate new speakers, especially where intergenerational transmission of the language has been disrupted. Students will explore the various ways in which each Indigenous speaker is keeping his/her language alive.

  10. Access and distribute the question sheets for each theme:

  11. Ask students to use this note-taking sheet. Students will explore the questions and record their observations, responses, and reflections, using evidence from the Google Earth tour Celebrating Indigenous Languages.

  12. After groups complete the questions and reflections, ask students to share their responses as a class.

About Google Earth's tour Celebrating Indigenous Languages

Read this article, "Indigenous speakers share their languages on Google Earth" by Google Earth Project Manager, Raleigh Seamster, to learn more about the making of the project as well as ongoing efforts to record more Indigenous languages. This initial collection, 55 audio recordings from Indigenous speakers around the world, is just scratching the surface. To share and contribute your Indigenous language in Google Earth get in contact and share your information.

Thank You

The Global Oneness Project thanks the following individuals and organizations for their insights and feedback on this project: Tiffanee Brown, Elizabeth Crawford, Ph.D., Marina Drummer with Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, Leanne Hinton Ph.D., Betty Krapfl, Luisa Maffi, Ph.D., with Terralingua, Carla Marschall, Clare McGowan, Paula Ospina, and Iyekiyapiwiƞ Darlene St. Clair.

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