Native language endangerment in BC

Aboriginal languages in Canada are struggling to survive.  This is part of a global pattern.  About 3,000 of the world’s 6,000-7,000 languages are viewed to be endangered.  95% of languages are spoken by only 6% of the world’s people – 25% have less than 1000 speakers.

The First Peoples’ Heritage Language and Culture Council (FPHLCC), a British Columbia crown corporation to assist B.C. First Nations in their efforts to revitalize their languages, arts and cultures, has a produced a report (pdf) on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages, which finds native languages in BC (map of languages) are seriously endangered.

Gitsenimx is the language with the most speakers  (1,219), all other have less than a thousand speakers, and only Tsilhqot’in and Dakelh have more than 500.

The report states:

  • Fluent First Nations language speakers make up a small and shrinking minority of the B.C. First Nations population
  • Eight languages are severely endangered and twenty two are nearly extinct
  • Most fluent speakers are over 65
  • The majority of classroom teaching is insufficient to create enough new fluent speakers to revitalize languages.

In the press release for the report Dr. Lorna Williams, Chair of the Board at the First Peoples’ Council and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Learning at the University of Victoria explains:

British Columbia is home to 60% of the indigenous languages in Canada as well as distinct language families not found anywhere else in the world. The cultural and linguistic diversity of B.C. is a priceless treasure for all of humanity and this report shows that more must be done to protect it. With this report, we now have concrete evidence of what we have known for some time: all First Nations languages in B.C. are in a critical state.

I am encouraged by the many fantastic community-based language programs detailed in the report, but unfortunately, they are not enough to stem the loss. I sincerely hope this report is recognized as a call-to-action to save our languages before it is too late.

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