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7. Overheard on the Web

How does Gender affect Language Retention?

On 8 November 2001 Patrick E. Marlow ffpem(at) of the Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks wrote to endangered-languages-l(at)

... there may be evidence here in some Alaskan Athabascan communities, that as language shift occurs, it may overlay traditional male-female communication patterns such that men are more likely to continue using the language with other men and speak English with women who are themselves Native speakers, and vice versa.

This research is only in its initial stages, and among other things, we still have to investigate traditional Athabascan male-female patterns of interaction (something else that doesn't appear to be in the literature).

Later this winter we will begin interviewing a few key Elders, with the point being to begin to define/understand traditional gender-based interaction patterns and to try and correlate those patterns with modern language usage. In short, to try and understand the gender-based patterns that language shift may be overlaying.

From there we expect to move into schools and see how traditional patterns of interaction are being undermined/ reinforced/ or whatever in the school.

From there we hope to figure out how to work with existing patterns (rather than against them) in order to improve language teaching specifically and education in general...

Toni Waho in Aotearoa replied toni.waho(at)

... In Maori society I believe we can measure the proficiency levels of Maori who learned to speak the Maori language based on gender roles within our traditional society. It has not been done as a specific study but I believe the strength of my male peers (we learned to speak Maori as young adults) is commensurate with the roles we play as men, juxtaposed with my female peers whose language could be regarded as not as proficient because the traditional role of women has been undermined by colonisation. There has been a notable turn around in recent years because women have been at the forefront of the Maori language revitalisation movement and have increased in number as teachers in Kohanga Reo (early childhood) and Kura Kaupapa Maori (schools)...

Gail Coelho then wrote:
... It would also be interesting to compare this to gender-based patterns of shift and traditional language communication in other parts of the world.

In India, you get families where men tend to know English better than women; they use the native language with women more than with men. I assume that this fairly typical in most of the Old World -- so I'm curious about why there's a different pattern in the New World...

Inge Genee rejoined: inge.genee(at)

.. I used to live in Amsterdam, which has in recent years absorbed large numbers of foreign workers and refugees. A large group of these immigrants is Turkish. These are now beginning to be integrated into Dutch society (although much discussion is possible about the degree to which this "integration" is real rather than a sort of two-solitudes type situation), at least insofar as they are moving into middle class suburban neighbourhoods such as the one I grew up in, about 35 km. from Amsterdam.

A typical pattern in the Turkish families moving into my parents' neighbourhood (I left there 20 years ago) seems to be: fluently bilingual children, husband speaks fluent Turkish and fluent Dutch with a Turkish accent, wife speaks no or very little Dutch (even though she may have been in Holland for (almost) as many years as her husband and all or most of her children are born there).

While I have always just thought of this and other immigrant situations as a home-versus-society language issue, there is obviously also a gender issue at play, since the women are the ones holding on most strongly to the ancestral language, presumably forced because they are much less able to mix with Dutch people than their husbands and children. A lot of work has been done on Turkish-Dutch code-switching and code-mixing, as well as on educational issues relating to Dutch-as-a-second-language for Turkish (and other immigrant) children.

Cem Bozdag added, still on 8 Nov 2001 kebo0002(at)

... my parents native-tongue ( Zaza ) is dying out and I live in Germany and my own mother-tongue is Turkish and not German.

I think women keep more to their native language than men. So I was surprised, when Iīve read about the Scadinavian situation. For example my father never speaks Zaza at home.



His opinion on this language is, that Zaza is nothing more than the language of uneducated women. Turkish is for him the language of education and knowledge. When he went to school, Zaza was forbidden and the Turkish-only policy was present. Sometimes, when I start to speak Zaza heloughs and answers: What language are you talking. He denies his own native-tongue. Vice versa my mother nevers refuses her native-language. Even among Turks she starts speaking Zaza, about what my father feels embarrassed.

My native-tongue is Turkish. I can speak Turkish to some degree, but if I want to explain something technical in Turkish, I canīt do it. My Turkish is too poor for it. Sometimes I listen to Turkish news on TV and sometimes I canīt understand it. This is that, what Ina Genee didnīt recognize. It is difficult for foreigners to distinguish, if a child is a fluent speaker or not, if someone canīt understand the spoken language. Speaking a few sentences in a language means nothing. My Turkish grammar is very bad and because of that a lot of Turks recognize in Turkey, that Iīm not living in Turkey or that Iīm a foreigner. I myself I wonīt be able to pass on languages like Turkish or Zaza to my children. But Iīm sure itīll be German.

Literature and Endangerment: Guernsey Norman French

Dennis Holt dionisio77(at) wrote to endangered-languages-l(at) on Nov 14, 2001

I am interested in information about the use of creative-writing workshops, poetry-festivals, literary contests, and any other kind of literature-oriented events and activities in connection with attempts to revitalize endangered languages or to reverse language-shift. Thank you for whatever information you may be able to provide.

Julia Sallabank replied julia(at)

I am doing research on Guernesiais (Guernsey Norman French), the highly endangered native language of Guernsey, Channel Isles. Every year there is an Eisteddfod, a general cultural festival which includes competitions in reciting poetry and prose, plays and sketches, etc. in Guernesiais. There are classes for different levels of expertise in the language. I intend to attend this in March 2002 (and possibly enter it in the future!). The Guernesiais part of the festival has grown over the last few years and now covers two evenings rather than one. As well as the recitation of 'classics'(poetry and stories written by acknowledged masters), a great deal of creativity and literacy in the language is engendered by the event (this is a language which is generally seen as spoken only). It is not a tourist event; it is held in the winter and is taken very seriously by contestants.

However, it is unclear to what extent such events actually contribute to language revitalization, i.e. to intergenerational use in the home. I would have thought indirectly, by encouraging pride in the native language.

Does anybody have any thoughts on this?

Articles on small languages and communities

Nancy Dorian (ndorian(at) wrote on 29 Nov 2001:

The International Journal of the Sociology of Language regularly publishes a special section (which I edit) entitled "Small Languages and Small Language Communities." Some SLSLC sections are coming up that may be of particular interest.

These include the last one for the current year (SLSLC 36), "Culture and Language Revitalization, Maintenance, and Development in Mexico: The Nahua and Alto Balsas communities," by Jose Antonio Farfan; and the first one for next year (SLSLC 37), "A Collaborative Model for Preparing Indigenous Curators of a Heritage Language," by N. Louanna Furbee and Lori A. Stanley.

SLSLC 34, which is already out as the first one of this present year, was "Using the Telephone as a Community Language Center," by Alice Taff.

--Nancy Dorian, Harpswell, Maine Indig

enous language policy in Russia and elsewhere From Andrei Yury Filtchenko (andreif(at) 29 Nov 2001:

A year ago I did some research in the area of Siberian indigenous languages and the history of policies towards them in Russia -- with a bit of comparative perspective on Canada, Australia, and the USA -- which I compiled in a policy-research paper of sorts that is now in the process of publication. The text is at:
(follow the link on top to "Policy Paper").

Suggestions and opinions would be very welcome and thoroughly appreciated.

--Andrei Filtchenko
Department of Linguistics, Rice University
Laboratory of Indigenous Languages of Siberia, Tomsk State Pedagogical University