Sources on the value of Aboriginal languages

This page provides links to historical and scientific sources that may be of use to language activists, with a focus on Westcoast languages. Entries include bibliographic information, web links, and quotable excerpts. These sources were chosen for their significance amidst the vast literature on language, and for their potential to help activists to persuade the world at large of the value of our work.


Bibliographic references, excerpts, and links

Alladi and others (Suvarna Alladi, Thomas H. Bak, Vasanta Duggirala, Bapiraju Surampudi, Mekala Shailaja, Anuj Kumar Shukla, Jaydip Ray Chaudhuri, Subhash Kaul). 2013. Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology 81, 1-7. (10.1212/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4) (pdf) (web)

page 1: "Overall, bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones... The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors such as education, sex, occupation, and urban vs rural dwelling of subjects."

Amano and others (Tatsuya Amano, Brody Sandel, Heidi Eager, Edouard Bulteau, Jens-Christian Svenning, Bo Dalsgaard, Carsten Rahbek, Richard G. Davies, William J. Sutherland). 2014. Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281:20141574, 1-10. (10.1098/rspb.2014.1574) (pdf) (web)

page 1: "We show that both small range and speaker population sizes are associated with rapid declines in speaker numbers, causing 25% of existing languages to be threatened based on criteria used for [biological] species. Language range and population sizes are small in tropical and arctic regions... By contrast, recent speaker declines have mainly occurred at high [northern] latitudes and are strongly linked to high economic growth. Threatened languages are numerous in the tropics, the Himalayas and northwestern North America."
page 10: "Economically developed regions, such as North America and Australia, have already experienced many language extinctions, most probably due to the negative impact of economic, and associated political and educational, developments... Those languages need immediate attention because of their high extinction risk due to continued speaker declines and, potentially, range contractions as well."

Australian Human Rights Commission. 2009. Social Justice Report 2009. (pdf) (web)

page 61: "A ten year study of Indigenous Australians in Central Australia [Rowley and others 2008] found that 'connectedness to culture, family and land, and opportunities for self-determination' assist in significantly lower morbidity and mortality rates in Homeland residents."

Bialystok, Ellen. 2011. Coordination of executive functions in monolingual and bilingual children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 110:3, 461-468. (10.1016/j.jecp.2011.05.005) (pdf) (web)

Bialystok and others (Ellen Bialystok, Fergus Craik, Gigi Luk). 2008. Cognitive Control and Lexical Access in Younger and Older Bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 34:4, 859-873. (10.1037/0278-7393.34.4.859) (pdf) (web)

page 861: "In summary, the evidence indicates that bilingualism is associated with advantages in executive control [choosing what to pay attention to], disadvantages in verbal fluency [remembering what things are called], and no clear effects on working memory."
page 860: "Moreover, the difference in executive control between monolinguals and bilinguals is larger in older age because the normal decline of these processes with aging is attenuated for bilinguals."

Davin, Nicholas Flood. 1879. Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds. Ottawa: Ministry of the Interior ms. (pdf) (web)

Gorenflo and others (L.J. Gorenflo, Suzanne Romaine, Russell A. Mittermeier, Kristen Walker-Painemilla). 2012. Co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109:21, 8032-8037. (10.1073/pnas.1117511109) (pdf) (web)

page 8032: "Here we use greatly improved datasets to explore the co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in regions containing many of the Earth's remaining species: biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas. Results indicate that these regions often contain considerable linguistic diversity, accounting for 70% of all languages on Earth. Moreover, the languages involved are frequently unique (endemic) to particular regions, with many facing extinction."

Hallett and others (Darcy Hallett, Michael J. Chandler, Christopher E. Lalonde). 2007. Aboriginal language knowledge and youth suicide. Cognitive Development 22, 392-399. (10.1016/j.cogdev.2007.02.001) (pdf) (web)

page 392: "This brief report details a preliminary investigation into how community-level variability in knowledge of Aboriginal languages relate [sic] to 'band'-level measures of youth suicide... The results reported demonstrate that not only did this simple language-use indicator prove to have predictive power over and above that of six other cultural continuity factors identified in previous research, but also that youth suicide rates effectively dropped to zero in those few communities in which at least half the band members reported a conversational knowledge of their own 'Native' language."
page 394-395: "...if they are to thrive, both individual young persons and whole cultural communities must somehow succeed in warranting a sense of continuity, or persistent identity, in a rapidly changing world... [young First Nations people] are required, not only to clear the standard hurdles that punctuate the ordinary course of individual identity development, but to construct a sense of shared identity out of the remnants of a way of life that (as a result of colonialization, ongoing prejudice, and positional inferiority) has been largely overthrown... the cumulative consequences of such personal and cultural assaults are often disillusionment, lassitude, self-effacement and, in the extreme, death by suicide at an early age... among the province of BC’s almost 200 distinct Aboriginal communities, those bands that have met with greater levels of success in rehabilitating their differently savaged cultures also show remarkably lower rates of these negative social outcomes."

Harper, Stephen. 11 June 2008. Apology to Former Students of Indian Residential Schools. Parliament of Canada, House of Commons Debates 142:110, 1510-1525. (pdf) (web)

"I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in these schools is a sad chapter in our history. For more than a century, Indian residential schools separated over 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities... Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country... The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today... We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this... Nimitataynan. Niminchinowesamin. Mamiattugut."

House of Commons (Parliament of Canada, House of Commons Special Committee on Reconstruction and Re-establishment). 24 May 1944. Report of the Nutritional Expeditionary Committee. Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence 9, 315-316. (pdf) (web)

Kuhl and others (Patricia K. Kuhl, Karen A. Williams, Francisco Lacerda, Kenneth N. Stevens, Björn Lindblom). 1992. Linguistic Experience Alters Phonetic Perception in Infants by 6 Months of Age. Science, New Series 255:5044, 606-608. (10.2307/2876832) (pdf) (web)

Morales and others (Julia Morales, Alejandra Calvo, Ellen Bialystok). 2013. Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 114:2, 187-202. (10.1016/j.jecp.2012.09.002) (pdf) (web)

Mosby, Ian. 2013. Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952. Social history 46:91, 145-172. (10.1353/his.2013.0015) (pdf) (web)

Paap and Greenberg (Kenneth R. Paap, Zachary I. Greenberg). 2013. There is no coherent evidence for a bilingual advantage in executive processing. Cognitive Psychology 66:2, 232-258. (10.1016/j.cogpsych.2012.12.002) (pdf) (web)

Rowley and others (Kevin G. Rowley, Kerin O’Dea, Ian Anderson, Robyn McDermott, Karmananda Saraswati, Ricky Tilmouth, Iris Roberts, Joseph Fitz, Zaimin Wang, Alicia Jenkins, James D. Best, Zhiqiang Wang, Alex Brown). 2008. Lower than expected morbidity and mortality for an Australian Aboriginal population: 10-year follow-up in a decentralised community. The Medical Journal of Australia 188:5, 283-287. (pdf) (web)

page 283: "Mortality in the cohort [of Aboriginal Australian Alyawarr and Anmatyerr people living in dispersed communities, on their ancestral lands] was 964/100,000 person-years, significantly lower than that of the NT [greater Northern Territory] Indigenous population... Contributors to lower than expected morbidity and mortality are likely to include the nature of primary health care services, which provide regular outreach to outstation communities, as well as the decentralised mode of outstation living (with its attendant benefits for physical activity, diet and limited access to alcohol), and social factors, including connectedness to culture, family and land, and opportunities for self-determination."

Serafini, Shirley. 9 December 2000. Apology to the Nuu-chah-nulth concerning Indian Residential Schools by the Government of Canada. ( (pdf) (web)

"We have learned that approximately 5,000 Nuu-chah-nulth attended eight Indian Residential Schools in British Columbia... We have learned... how the legacy of residential schools has contributed to other social problems including addictions, unstable family relationships, poor health, anger, confusion and shame about their identities as Nuu-chah-nulth people... Canada apologizes to the Nuu-chah-nulth people for its role in planning, designing, building and administering the system of Indian Residential Schools and accepts that the existence of the schools was profoundly disrespectful of Aboriginal people... Canada apologizes to those individuals who have had to struggle alone where their lack of Nuu-cha-nulth language has prevented them from hearing the teachings of their parents and grandparents or understanding the traditional ceremonies and disrupted their spiritual, mental and emotional connection to the land and its resources."

Werker and Tees (Janet F. Werker, Richard C. Tees). 1984. Cross-language speech perception: Evidence for perceptual reorganization during the first year of life. Infant Behavior and Development 7:1, 49-63. (10.1016/S0163-6383(84)80022-3) (pdf) (web) 2002. Infant Behavior and Development 25:1, 121-133. (10.1016/S0163-6383(02)00093-0) (pdf) (web)