This is the abstract of a TULCON14 poster presentation.
Anna Taylor, Ohio State University
One of the fundamental types of human rights concerns collective-developmental rights which encompass the rights of minorities to use heritage languages and practices without external interference (Vasak 1977). This protected status is a critical part of language revitalization in which speakers of heritage languages, faced with the encroachment of more socially dominant languages, embark on vigorous revitalization programs to ensure the survival and continued usage of their language. The Iroquoian language Seneca is one such language that currently has four speech communities and a variety of language revitalization initiatives.
To revitalize and reclaim their traditional language, community classes through the Seneca Language Department and the Faithkeeper Language Nest School for young speakers have concentrated their efforts on preserving Onöndowa’ga:’ Gawë:nö’ otherwise known as the Seneca language (Bowen 2020, Murray 2015). In the public sphere, a recent push by the Seneca Nation of Indians Department of Transportation in fulfillment of the federal Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act enacted in 2016 has introduced bilingual road signs for state roads running through indigenous land in addition to many other significant components (Figura 2016). This legislation has paved the way for more public and visible Seneca revitalization in an area whose geographic names are strongly connected to Iroquoian languages including Seneca. These names, applicable to both people and places, have considerable significance to group identity as well as valuable cultural knowledge in terms of embedded connotative meanings that showcase the inadequacy of English equivalents in replacing heritage languages. Through oral histories collected from a prominent Seneca Nation member and language advocate as well as members of the New York State Department of Transportation who were involved with the landmark legislation, this study pursues a contrastive analysis of the public use of heritage languages and the various language revitalization efforts occurring among indigenous and minority communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens already vulnerable populations, heritage languages that have historically been oppressed face a global language crisis that disproportionately harms and disadvantages speakers of heritage and minority languages (Roche 2020). While government institutions have played key roles in the oppression and stigmatization of heritage languages like Seneca, the NATIVE Act among other legislation has established that these oppressive powers can be wielded in support of indigenous communities and their goals. Through this work on collective-developmental human rights and something as seemingly mundane as the language of road signs, I aim to demonstrate how these signs have important symbolic value and represent an effort foremost by the community to reclaim an integral piece of their culture that they should always have had the right to.
Bowen, Ja:no’s. 2020. Onöndowa’ga:’ Gawë:nö’. https://senecalanguage.com/community classes-now-available/
Figura, David. Bilingual Road Signs: Growing trend on state roads crossing Indian lands. (2016). Advance Local Media LLC.
Murray, Ann. Reclaiming Traditional Seneca Culture. (2015). The Allegheny Front. http://archive.alleghenyfront.org/story/reclaiming-traditional-seneca-culture.html
Roche, Gerald. Towards a New Language of the Global Language Crisis. (2020). UNESCO. https://catedra-unesco.espais.iec.cat/en/2020/11/23/50-towards-a-new-language-of-the global-language-crisis/
Vasak, K. Human Rights: A Thirty-Year Struggle: the Sustained Efforts to give Force of law to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (1977). UNESCO Courier.