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Mother Tongue Literacy and Language Renewal: The Case of Navajo [Teresa McCarty, Galena Dick]

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“This paper discusses the contribution of school-based mother-tongue literacy to the maintenance and renewal of endangered languages, with Navajo as the case in point. Although Navajo claims the most speakers among U.S. indigenous languages, the absolute number and relative proportion of Navajo speakers have declined drastically in the last 30 years. Language usage varies across the Navajo Reservation, depending on individual community histories and contact with English. English dominates the print environment, although other forces reinforce the primacy of oral Navajo. Historically, the single most harmful factor for language maintenance was forced English-only schooling. Following a shift in federal policies, the Rough Rock Demonstration School in Arizona was founded in 1966 as the first tribally controlled school, one that reinforced Navajo language and culture in the classroom. After years of fluctuating funds and services, Rough Rock's bilingual program has been reinvigorated by a cadre of local bilingual educators.”


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