The Starting Point

Sgę:no Swagwegǫh! Ǫdadrihǫnyanisoh gya:sǫh.

I have been trying to learn my language for several years now, except when I say mine—I really mean the Cayuga language. Technically, my language is Mohawk, given that I belong to the Mohawk Nation and the Turtle Clan. And technically, both of these languages have their own names in the language that we will be using in subsequent posts. 

The reason I’ve chosen to focus on learning Cayuga is because it’s the language I started to learn in Grade 1 prior to leaving the reserve and going to school in the mainstream provincial school system from Grade 4 on (where I learned French up until Grade 10). The other reason I’ve chosen to continue learning Cayuga is that my husband is a fairly good Cayuga language speaker and he can help me speak in our home, so we can do our best to pass our language on to our children, which we both really want to do. 

Recently, my husband and I helped to organize a conference through our respective places of employment—I work for Six Nations Polytechnic, an Indigenous postsecondary education institute. My work is primarily around program and policy development and I have a particular passion for language initiatives. He works for the Six Nations Language Commission helping to develop revitalization strategies and provide what support he can to the adult immersion programs that exist in our communities. His particular strength is in grammar and linguistics. Mine is in organization and administration. We have both learned a lot from the programs, speakers, language teachers and students in our community. It is our hope that everything we learned will help us have a successful year of speaking together. 

As we start this program, I am little more than a novice-mid speaker of the Cayuga language (based on an informal OPI taken last week that we will post a video of soon). In reflecting on what has impacted my learning or why I have not been successful in gaining a higher proficiency despite taking several classes and owning several resources, I think the answer is simple—I have not put in enough time. I have not spent enough time speaking the language. I have not spent enough time trying to memorize paradigms. I have not spent enough time trying to expand my vocabulary. This more than anything, has impeded my ability to become a more proficient speaker. 

My plan to address these areas is relatively straightforward. I plan to spend a minimum of one hour per day speaking Cayuga over the next year and as many hours as I can manage practicing speaking, learning vocabulary and listening to recordings. I will be sharing the actual contact hours here, as well as the tools, strategies and resources that I've used. It should be a very fun and challenging year! Wish us luck :).