Wolastoqey linguists, longtime friends hopeful language will survive


Norvin Richards remembers the primary time he heard the Wolastoqey language spoken — and the way a lot he has smiled over time within the firm of those that have helped him study it. 

The linguistics professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was at a convention in Connecticut 15 years in the past when he met elder and language-keeper Imelda Perley and now-friend and fellow linguist Roger Paul.

“If you have heard it spoken, you realize it has this stunning form of singsong cadence to it that made me, as a linguist, assume, ‘Oh, I might actually like to study to talk that manner,'” Richards stated. “It’s simply such a stunning language.”

He and Paul are half of a bigger effort to save lots of the Wolastoqey language which, in accordance with Statistics Canada, has solely about 750 remaining audio system.

Elders cross on language, and a nickname

Richards stated the language drew him in, but it surely was attending to know fluent audio system like Paul and his uncle, the late Raymond Nicholas of Neqotkuk, that hooked him.

“It’s a tradition that historically … it appears to put an enormous worth on being good at speaking, on being a storyteller, on being a joker,” Richards stated. “And so when these folks get collectively, they simply have a beautiful time speaking, and it is great to be round.”

Richards spent a sabbatical in northeastern New Brunswick, studying Wolastoqey from “Uncle Raymond” and Imelda Perley, recording conventional tales and making an attempt to know the principles of the language.

Roger Paul and Elder Imelda Perley met MIT linguist Norvin Richards greater than a decade in the past. Richards says they welcomed him to their group and helped him to study Wolastoqey. (Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre on the University of New Brunswick/Twitter)

Paul, stated elders give nicknames to their “favorite linguists that come round,” and Richards is certainly one of them.

His nickname is Mehqituwat, which implies “has a pink beard,” stated Paul, who studied with Richards at MIT and now teaches on the University of Southern Maine. 

“Normally, the phrase ‘linguist’ in a group raises the ire of lots of people as a result of we have had the unsuitable kind of linguist come round earlier than and inform us that we did not know sufficient of our personal historical past,” Paul stated.

“But when you have got linguists like Mehqituwat are available and they’re simply great folks and match proper into our communities … we type of undertake them and provides them our pet names.”

Richards is now heading into one other sabbatical and has set a purpose of changing into a fluent Wolastoqey speaker by the tip of it.

Paul stated his good friend already “communicates very effectively,” and is near fluency. 

“He even lies effectively in Wolastoqey,” he joked.

Norvin Richards (again row, second from proper) and Roger Paul (again row, far proper) grew to become friends after assembly at a language convention 15 years in the past. In this picture from 2019, they’re on a discipline journey with MIT college students within the Passamaquoddy communities of Pleasant Point and Indian Township. (Submitted by Norvin Richards)

‘It’s not too late’

Richards and Paul know the Wolastoqey language is threatened, and each attended a language convention in Fredericton this fall that centered on reclamation.

“I left feeling higher than I’ve ever felt earlier than as a result of I watched the shows of the younger folks,” Paul stated.

Richards agreed that it’s the younger audio system who will decide the survival of the language.

He is aware of from his work with the Wampanoag in Massachusetts, kinfolk of the Wolastoqey, how troublesome it’s to attempt to revive a language that’s extinct.

“They haven’t any audio system in any respect,” he stated. “But we’ve many paperwork, together with an entire translation of the Bible and a variety of non secular literature and a variety of paperwork written by native audio system. The Wampanoag are very keen on form of piecing their language again collectively from these paperwork.”

Linguist and MIT professor Norvin Richards hopes his work will assist to revitalize the Wolastoqey language. During his present sabbatical his purpose is to grow to be a fluent speaker. (Myfanwy Davies/CBC)

In comparability, with 750 audio system the Wolastoqey are manner forward of reclaiming and revitalizing their language.

“It is great to be right here surrounded by these elders and form of to be reminded that this language remains to be happening, that there are nonetheless fluent audio system, that it is not too late,” Richards stated.

‘Uncle Raymond’ was proper

Paul stated that when he was younger, he did not respect the significance of rising up in a proud Indigenous household that refused to talk English and solely spoke to him in Wolastoqey.

He did not hear English till the age of 5 or 6, he stated, when he “went to the day college for a bit bit.”

“I did not begin talking till Sister Jean-Marie began instructing me English.”

Paul did not hear English till he was 5 or 6 years previous and now appreciates each day how his household taught him the Wolastoqey language and handed alongside their tradition. (University of Southern Maine)

Paul remembers going each Saturday to his Uncle Raymond’s home in Neqotkuk or Tobique, the place elders would collect and educate him phrases in Wolastoqey.

“I’d have to take a seat there and get drilled by the elders and instructed what I have to study and what I want to show.”

At the time, he was “only a younger buck, not even realizing the place my tail was half the time,” Paul stated, remembering how he would roll his eyes on the elders.

Now as a linguist and a lecturer on the University of Southern Maine, he needs he may bear in mind all of what they taught him.

“Uncle Raymond had a phrase for what bushes regarded like after moose had simply run by way of them. And I promised him I’d keep in mind that. But relaxation his soul, I do not keep in mind that one.”

Paul would not imagine the most recent census numbers that present there are 750 Wolastoqey audio system, saying he thinks it is extra like 200 or 300, however he does imagine his language will survive.

“I bear in mind my uncle saying — he instructed me within the language, ‘Someday you are going to be grateful I taught you this boy.'”

Now that he’s a language instructor, Paul understands the significance of what Uncle Raymond was telling him.

“Every day I rise up to come back to work I hear these phrases in my ear,” he stated, laughing. “Yeah, OK, you have been proper.”


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