SUNY Talk on How New York and Russian Indigenous Basilects Aren’t “Cool Enough”

On April 12th a talk on indigenous cultures and languages of Russia and in Western New York was held at Fredonia’s Dialogues on Diversity by SUNY, moderated by Cheryl John (director of the Native American Western Consortium). In Russia and North America, young indigenous people are performing the age old tradition of preferring acrolects (prestigious language) over their heritage languages. Panelists included Zinaida Zavyalova, Andrea Cooke and Vince Schiffert.

Representing Native New York were Andrea Cooke (Onondagan), a Seneca language and Iroquois Studies teacher and for the Gowanda school district, and Vince Schiffert (Tuscaroran), a reservation elementary school Tuscarora teacher. Cooke concomitantly stated: “The language is dying as we speak,” referring to the increased rate of decay that non-written languages face. Both averred high school Onondaga and Tuscarora high school classes are wonderful, but more is needed to keep the languages alive. Onondaga has around 65-115 speakers and Tuscarora has fewer than 50.

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