My Language Journey

Sgę:nǫ́ˀ swagwé:gǫh.

For this post, I’d just like to share what has brought me to where I am.

I was part of the first few cohorts of what was a rejuvenation in language in the early 1980s, and spent kindergarten to grade three in what was essentially Gayogo̲ho:nǫˀ immersion. You would think that spending four years of one’s prime language acquisition time immersed in a language would result in some sort of mastery, but there were other factors preventing this; I’ll get to these in another post sometime.

From there, I went into what’s called “fifty-fifty”, which is where you spend half of the school day in Gayogo̲ho:nǫˀ, and half the day using English; I did this until grade eight.

Next came high school, for which we were pretty much required to go off reserve. (There was an on-reserve high school just starting at the time, but not everyone chose to go to it. I chose to go off-reserve.) I was lucky enough to be able to take Cayuga in high school as well, though only as a subject, which meant 70 or so minutes a day, and not immersion. I was also lucky enough to have a native speaker from the reserve be the teacher. (Nowadays, high school students are more likely to have a second-language speaker as their teacher.) This only lasted for three of my five years in high school, after which only the lower years were offered, which, having already taken them, I couldn’t take again.

After high school I took a year off to attend the first year of an adult immersion program. It was run by a native speaker who—surprise!—had also been my immersion teacher way back in Grade 2. The program ran for the length of a school year (September to June), and was full-time. We even received a stipend from the sponsoring agency to attend. To this day, I maintain that this program was where I learned the most. I came in not at all at the level of a native speaker, but this program was the closest I came to being able to live like and with one. Our teacher was ruthless (in a good way!) about maintaining an environment that was totally immersed.

After that I continued on to university and then graduate studies, and this meant less contact with first language speakers than I’d ever had before up to that point. My learning had to take a different approach.

It was here that I really started using recordings and written resources in earnest, to fill the gap of not having someone to speak with. And in this regard I was voracious. I gathered and copied and read and reread as much as I could; made my own catalogues and databases; compared what I heard and read with what I knew, and then incorporated what I learned into my own speaking; began to take on the role of teacher; and transcribed, transcribed, and transcribed again. Arguably, this period formed a sort of “second pillar” in my language learning: I was able to take what I had learned from the immersion year after high school, and expand it with the material I was taking in. Eventually, this type of learning became my only type of learning, punctuated by the occassional visit with a speaker to verify things, ask questions, or just shoot the breeze.

If anyone is to say that I have anything language-wise, that about sums up where I acquired the majority of it. Looking back, it actually has happened over quite a long time! It’s easy to forget that I’ve actually been learning—off and on, more intensely and less—for the majority of my life. And it hasn’t really ended. I still transcribe. I still try to visit with speakers when I can. But my activity is certainly not as intense as it was in those days. Plus, me and Sara are committed to a different goal these days: raising our daughters to have language in the home. Which I guess really is a sort of culmination and next step of all of these years of study. The wheel is turning. It’s time for me to pass on what I’ve learned; to Sara, to our daughters, to the future.

A new lesson has been posted today as well.

Tsę nyo:weˀ dęjidwa̲htaǫnyǫ:ˀ!