Inside stories: agency and identity through language loss narratives in Nunatsiavut

MacDonald, Martha Jane (2015) Inside stories: agency and identity through language loss narratives in Nunatsiavut. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This thesis examines narratives told about language loss in the Inuit territory of Nunatsiavut in Northern Labrador, NL, based on forty-five interviews carried out in 2002/2003 and in 2013/2014. (These are narratives in the folkloristic sense of a text that tells a story.) Language shift in Nunatsiavut has progressed rapidly since the mid-twentieth century until the current population of active speakers is low enough to cause concern about the survival of Inuttitut. The following questions were addressed: what people think caused the decline of the language; what the effect of Inuttitut language retention or shift has been on Labrador Inuit identity; and how these narratives have changed in their character and use over time. Analysis of the interviews and accompanying research on Moravian education, literacy, and the use of narrative revealed that people’s explanations for language loss varied according to their age, and, accordingly, they had different ideas on the importance of Inuttitut retention as a part of Inuit identity. The oldest generation of people interviewed, most of them Inuttitut speakers, identified a combination of circumstances that arose from community decisions, but they retained their feeling that the language was a vital part of identity. The next generation felt that Inuttitut had been removed from their communities through the combined forces of school, church and government, and felt that it was possible to be Inuit without the language, but that it continues to be important. The youngest generation of informants, who saw the settling of land claims while in their teens, are still interested in the language but have begun to look beyond traditional symbols in identity formation for what it means to be Inuit. The set of narratives about language loss presents the dominant explanations of language loss, in an era when the collective Inuit identity of Canada informs popular conceptions of the trajectory of language loss, and the counter-narratives present the contrasting ones from the same group that are much less often shared now, but which have much to say about the autonomy Labrador Inuit had over language for most of their history.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 11561
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 362-386).
Keywords: Inuktitut, Nunatsiavut, language loss, Labrador, Inuit identity
Department(s): Divisions > Labrador Institute
Date: June 2015
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Inuit--Newfoundland and Labrador--Languages; Inuktitut dialect--Newfoundland and Labrador; Language attrition--Newfoundland and Labrador; Inuit--Newfoundland and Labrador--Ethnic identity

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