Date of Award

1-3-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jeannine M. Fontaine, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Resa Crane Bizzaro, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Wallace L. Chafe, Ph.D.

Abstract

This project seeks to discover and disseminate information pertaining to the language practices and values of a selected group of Onödowá'ga:' (Seneca) at Ohi:yo', or the Allegany Territory, in upstate New York. The goal is to find where the current practices and values are situated in the larger picture of Seneca preservation as well as the even broader frame of indigenous cultural preservation. This study is important for its contribution to the understanding of the broader issues of language revitalization, particularly among indigenous languages. In terms of language endangerment in the United States, of the approximately 300 indigenous languages, only 175 are still spoken; 135 to 155 of those are moribund (Crawford, 1996; McCarty, 2008; Pease-Pretty On Top, n.d.). Only 20 of the 175 are still transmitted to children (Hornberger, 1998). Although the statistics are dire, there is still cause for hope as some languages, such as Hawaiian, are making a comeback from endangerment. As Hinton (2001a) explains, "This is also a time of unprecedented efforts on the part of minority peoples to keep their languages alive and to expand their usage" (p. 4). Although estimates vary, Chafe (personal communication, 10 November, 2007) stated that "my guess is that there are less than 50 speakers altogether." Chafe went on to refer to an eight-stage "Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale" to measure language endangerment, developed by sociolinguist Joshua Fishman (1991). On this scale, a 1 represents the least endangered while 8 represents the most. Speaking of the Seneca language, Chafe commented that he "would definitely put it at Stage 7." In Stage 7, most speakers are beyond childbearing age, and a language in that position is seriously endangered. This study gives a voice to the Seneca at Ohi:yo‘ who work to maintain their culture and language, and it analyzes the practices and goals of this small group of traditional people, analyzing the ways they transmit the language and culture in homes and in community venues. Its aim is to give attention to their efforts and to inspire other people who strive for language revitalization in their communities.

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