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Languages: Acting for Nishnaabe Revitalization

Categories: Feature, Languages

This post is part of our preview of “Using Citizen Media Tools to Promote Under-Represented Languages [1].”

Barbara Nolan loves to put her acting skills to good use as a way to help develop more speakers of the Nishnaabe language. As a central focus of her efforts [2], Barbara produces short immersion-style dramatic videos in Nishnaabe, complete with costumes, sound effects, and sets, which can be found on her YouTube channel [3] and homepage [4]. In fact, her talents are so noteworthy that her own granddaughter did not even recognize Barbara portraying an elderly fisherman when viewing the video.

The videos are created in such a way “to communicate meaning while moving the viewer's attention away from the structure the language,” according to John Paul Montano, who helps create the videos. For the past eight years, John Paul has been “acquiring” the Nishnaabe language [5] with the help of his mentor, Barbara. This language is often considered to be comprised of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi languages. He makes a distinction between “learning” and “acquiring” as part of his own experience and frustrations with trying to learn the grammatical structure.

With the focus on immersion, comprehension, and spontaneous conversation, Barbara and John Paul's hopes are that these videos can reach a dispersed population of Nishnaabe people throughout the United States and Canada. However, it is estimated that many of the current speakers of the the Nishnaabe language are elderly and decreasing in number. Reaching new generations of speakers who can access these videos from practically anywhere is a key part to this revitalization effort.

Learn more about their work at the online dialogue “Using Citizen Media Tools to Promote Under-Represented Languages” to take place on November 16-22 [6]. You can follow Barbara (@barbaranolan [7]) and John Paul (@jpmontano [8]) on Twitter.