School and linguistic preservation

Bruna Franchetto (anthropologist and linguist/ Museu Nacional/ UFRJ) writes about it

In the field of Indigenous languages, the linguist is a character with double identities: he or she is simultaneously a researcher and a consultant of education programs, a phonologist and a writer-of-languages-of-oral-tradition, a professor and a writer of educational material in Indigenous language. He gets the demands of NGOs, of the government and of the Indians. Involvement in (school) education programs does not mean only an exercise of application of scientific knowledge. Today, it must be based on the capacity of making a critical revision of the dominant model of the so-called ‘bilingual education’, in many cases still tied, despite its different versions, to a missionary model ideologically civilizatory and integrationist (here, again, is the legacy of SIL, which monopolized, until some twenty years ago, the so-called bilingual education in Brazil too).

On the other hand, there are Indigenous groups who have realized the ‘threat’ their languages are under and thus are interested in their revival. In such cases, it is the Indians who try to interact with linguists who can get involved in the documentation of their language. For that kind of work – documenting a language in a joint project with Indians and propose measures for its preservation or rescue –, we lack conceptual and strategic instruments. As Grinevald says in the work already mentioned here, such field linguist is like a one-person orchestra: he/she has to master all the fields of descriptive Linguistics, be familiar with the main theories that can guide his/her interpretations and explanations, know enough of a specific applied Linguistics to get involved with alphabetization processes or of linguistic revival without falling into the trap of thinking that all problems are solved in school, be able to research the language with the Indians, be sensitive and smart, and know that doing Linguistics at an Indian village is not like taking a leisure trip for a few weeks.

The Indians certainly would appreciate the efforts and initiatives that would make possible the appearance of such new researcher; ‘Indigenous’ linguistics would leave behind, once and for all, the lack of professionalism and the feeling of subordination; and society in general would learn more about a subject directly related to the preservation of a wealth that exists within it but which it ignores, or buries, in the common sense of stereotypes. (Bruna Franchetto – October, 2000).