News Article

44th Algonquian Conference: A language family of Canada and the US

The Naskapi language is written with a syllabic script. A student has written his name with two alternate spellings possible in the language.

(November 2012) The 44th Algonquian Conference was held at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, in downtown Chicago, 25-28 October. The annual conference is an international meeting which provides an opportunity for researchers to present papers on Algonquian peoples.

The Algonquian family includes forty-two language varieties spoken in Canada and the United States. Some of these languages are actively in use, while others have been declared extinct. Efforts to maintain the vitality or revive the language by teaching it to young people are underway in a number of communities. The wide range of topics covered at the conference included:

Bill Jancewicz of SIL presented a paper describing research on a phonological issue related to the historical development of varieties of the Naskapi language of eastern Canada. Jancewiz’s paper was entitled “Naskapi sibilants: Acoustic characterization of [s] and [ʃ].” Jancewicz and his wife Norma Jean have been involved in language development with the Naskapi community for more than twenty years.

The community’s efforts to maintain the language include a program in which children receive instruction in the Naskapi language during the first years of schooling. Members of the community are involved in the development of literacy materials and school curriculum. In April 2013 a group of Naskapi teachers will participate in the fourth session of a bilingual education extension course through McGill University.

There are two varieties of Naskapi: Western Naskapi and Mushuau Innu Aimun, also known as Eastern Naskapi. The speakers in both communities are descended from the same nomadic caribou hunters who once lived and traveled in the Ungava region of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. The Naskapi language is written with a syllabic script in which each syllable of the language is represented with a unique symbol. Jancewicz worked with the staff of SIL’s Non-Roman Script Initiative (NRSI) to develop fonts and keyboards* which can be used for writing Naskapi and several related languages.

*To make it possible to type non-Roman fonts with a standard keyboard, developers must map the alternate characters to the keys on the standard keyboard (either individual keys or combinations of keystrokes). Users can view the alternate keyboard on screen. In this way, the same physical keyboard can be used to type many languages. To learn more about keyboards and fonts for complex scripts, visit ScriptSource.

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