Friday, May 04, 2007

American Association for Applied Linguistics

A week or two ago I went along to the AAAL conference in LA. I have never been to an applied linguistics conference before and I enjoyed it a lot. There wasn't a session when there weren't at least two things I was interested in seeing. I met some interesting people from the Alaskan language centre.
One woman, Kathy Sikorski, was teaching her language Gwich'in Athabascan, up to third year tertiary level, and was just finishing up a Masters in education. It sounds like they have some incredible funding too, which has enabled teachers from remote communities to get their Masters degree, or teach their language at the Fairbanks university.

She told us how she makes a safe classroom environment for people to make mistakes, and that laughter and joking is a way of relaxing everyone and opening them up to trying.

I also sat in on a Colloquium called 'applied linguistics issues in Southern California Native American language restoration or trying not to choke in a sandstorm' where I met more interesting people, teaching language in their community from the Torres Martinez Tribe. They were fantastic teachers and did a brief demonstration of how the immersion classes go. I learnt a few words just sitting there! I also met June and Ernest Siva who told me about the Dorothy Ramon learning centre in Southern California. It is a cultural centre and learning place, with a focus on language, culture, history and arts of the native peoples.

I asked some of the people in the colloquium what had been there experience of academic linguists in their communities. The response was very positive,

'the linguist (Alicia Moretti) came in, and kind of opened the door, just set us up, put us in groups, that's how we got started'
'she formed a bond with us and taught us to teach our language'

(Michelle Morreo, Language Preservation coordinator).

There was also a 3 hour colloquium on 'The misuses of language in the immigration debates', which was also extremely interesting. An Australian, Helen Borland, also came to talk about ' shifting discourses of diversity and the changing dynamics of community language maintenance initiatives in Australia', which was about the language diversity of cities such as Melbourne and the governments changing policies to 'assimilate' more, e.g. John Howard says about wanting immigrants to be 'fairdinkum':

'this is why it's very important that we encourage people from day one to intermingle and to become part of the mainstream and not to remain separate and apart' (radio interview 15/09/06 with Neil Mitchell).

It was a fantastic talk, even though it didn't touch on Aboriginal Australian languages. When I listened to it, I realised John Howard would consider some Aboriginal people less 'Australian' than others, that is to say, they are not white, they don't speak read and write standard Australian English, and as a result they wouldn't be allowed to immigrate into Australia (!!). Borland states that the current trend : 'Integration is a form of neo-assimilation with limited tolerance of cultural and linguistic heritage in family and immediate surrounding heritage community'.

But there were at least 8 other concurrent sessions on, and I enjoyed very much flitting from one place to the next and hearing all these new points of view. I recommend Applied Linguistics Conferences! Lots of activism, lots of stories of experience.


Blogger bulanjdjan said...

Thanks for the report Soph! So much inspiring stuff out there. I haven't yet made it to AALA, usually because it is on at the same time as ALS which means:

a) I'm too busy getting a paper ready for ALS, and/or

b) can't face the thought of five or so days of attending conference papers, and/or

c) can't afford to go to both AALA and ALS.

I'm going to miss AALA again this year because of ILC. I'll probably just barely make it to ALS!

DId you know that Phil Cash Cash is going to be a keynote speaker at ALS?

1:03 pm  

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