Ukrainian Language in Canada

By: Nico Mjones, Student in Applied Linguistics MA and Certificate in Curatorial Studies / CLM Intern

Canada is home to the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine and Russia. According to the 2016 census, 1.3 million Canadians claim Ukrainian ancestry. In addition to this, there are over 100,000 Canadians who speak Ukrainian as a mother tongue, making it the 20th largest mother tongue language in Canada. However, there was once a time when Ukrainian was the third largest language in Canada after English and French. The Ukrainian language in Canada also played a role in the development of multiculturalism in the country and provides a snapshot of Canada’s immigration history. Today many speakers and learners seek to maintain the linguistic and cultural legacy of Ukrainian in Canada.

Canadian and Ukrainian flags.

The History and Geographic Range of Ukrainian in Canada

Ukrainian immigrants to Canada were first recorded in 1892. There have been several waves of Ukrainian immigration. The first wave was from the 1890s until World War I (1914-1918), and these Ukrainians experienced internment in Canada as “enemy aliens” during the war. The second wave was during the interwar years (1919-1938), and the third was in the years just after World War II (1939-1945). The fourth and fifth waves have been smaller and include those who left Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) and refugees from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (2014-present day). The earliest waves of immigrants to Canada were often farmers with lower levels of literacy. With each wave of immigration, the average education and professional skills of the immigrants rose.

Ukrainian immigrants mainly settled in the Prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. A significant number also came to Ontario and British Columbia. Smaller numbers have settled in Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, and the Territories. Today the largest number of Ukrainian speakers is in Ontario. However, a much larger proportion of the population speak Ukrainian in the Prairies.

Bilingual English and Ukrainian street signs in Hafford, Saskatchewan. Source.

The first Canadian census to collect mother tongue data was in 1931, and Ukrainian was the 4th most common mother tongue language, behind English, French, and German. Ukrainian remained in this position through the 1941 census. In the 1951 and 1961 censuses, Ukrainian was the largest mother tongue after English and French. In subsequent censuses, Ukrainian declined from the third largest and by the 2016 census had fallen to the 20th largest mother tongue. In the 2016 census, 102,485 people spoke Ukrainian as a mother tongue in Canada. In addition, there are almost 30,000 more people who speak Ukrainian than claim it as a mother tongue.

LocationUkrainian Mother LanguageKnowledge of Language
Canada102,485132,115
Ontario40,37554,615
Alberta21,83526,600
Manitoba14,50517,095
Saskatchewan11,27013,090
British Columbia8,63010,740
Quebec5,2109,015
Nova Scotia320425
New Brunswick170310
Yukon5040
Prince Edward Island4525
Newfoundland & Labrador40120
Northwest Territories3525
Nunavut510
Ukrainian language across Canada in the 2016 census.

Ukrainian Canadian Contributions to Multiculturalism

Ukrainian Canadians have contributed significantly to multiculturalism in Canada. Food like pyrohy, known in English as perogies, the Ukrainian church architecture of Philip Ruh in the prairies, and attractions like “the world’s largest pysanka”, or painted egg, in Vegrevile, Alberta, are all examples of Ukrainian culture shared with all of Canada. Ukrainians also played a role in the development of official multiculturalism in Canada and are especially recognized for their contributions in the 1960s to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The Ukrainian submissions helped to shape the commission’s recommendations beyond English and French, and laid the way for Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau making multiculturalism an official policy of Canada.

Vegreville Pysanka, the world’s largest Ukrainian painted egg. Source.

The Uniqueness of Canadian Ukrainian and Ukish

The Ukrainian language spoken in Canada differs from that now spoken in Ukraine as the two dialects have developed differently over the past century. As well, some Ukrainian Canadians speak “Ukish”, a Ukrainian influenced dialect of English.

The Ukrainian language is written in the Cyrillic script. Cyrillic differs from the Roman alphabet in several ways. For instance, while the Ukrainian letter “И” may look like the Roman letter “N”, it is actually pronounced more similar to “y” as in the end of the English word “carry”. Some letters that are shared between Roman and Cyrillic scripts have completely different sounds, such as “Р”, which in Ukrainian is pronounced with a rolled “r” sound! Other letters like “Д”, which is pronounced like the “d” in “dog”, do not exist in the Roman alphabet. Some letters in Ukrainian Cyrillic have complex sounds, like “Щ”, which is close to “shch”. This is like the sounds “sh” in “sheets” and the “ch” in “cheat” put together. Another letter like this is “Я”, which is pronounced like “ia” or “ya”, and sounds like the end of the word “Austria”.
Canadian Ukrainian can vary from the standard Ukrainian spoken in Ukraine for several reasons.

Ukrainians in Canada mostly came from western Ukraine where particular dialects of Ukrainian are spoken. Another significant reason is due to the exposure to English. Some recorded examples of English borrowings into Canadian Ukrainian are listed below:

EnglishCanadian Ukrainian
(transliterated)
Standard Ukrainian
(transliterated)
boxbaksynkukorobka
exhibitionartsybyshynvystavka
riverryverurichka
cookieskukisypechyvo
Julydzhulajulypenʹ
ChristmasKrismusuRizdvo
English borrowings into Canadian Ukrainian.

Names and grammar were also affected by exposure to English. Names like Ivan and Olena were sometimes changed to John and Helen. While the influence of English on Ukrainian in Canada is great, language contact is a two-way street. Ukrainian words like “zabava” (reception) and “baba” (grandma) are used in English among Ukrainian Canadians and in the communities where they have a large presence.

Ukrainian Canadian Literature

There is a great deal of Ukrainian Canadian literature and poetry. Much modern Ukrainian Canadian literature is written in English, exploring the identity and history of Ukrainians and their place in Canada. For a significant period, generally before the 1970s, most Ukrainian Canadian literature was written in the Ukrainian language. There are hundreds of authors, both born in Ukraine and in Canada, who have written in Ukrainian in Canada. Some well-regarded Ukrainian writers in Canada include novelist Illia Kiriak (1888-1955), an immigrant who arrived in Canada in 1907, and Myroslav Irchan (1897-1937), a communist novelist who spent many years in Ukrainian communities in Canada.

A frequent feature of Ukrainian poetry and literature in Canada is the reference to agriculture, and especially, wheat. Ukraine is one of the largest wheat producing countries, and the Canadian prairies produce wheat as well. As many Ukrainians were farmers, this agricultural relation between the “old country” and their new home became poetic inspiration. The following excerpt from a Ukrainian Canadian poet from Saskatchewan opens with a reference to wheat fields as a “golden sea”:

The sound of the golden sea has entered into our hearts, bringing yearnings of supreme beauty and radiance. It incites us to sing, but it has not betrayed its secret… The Ukrainian prairies gave us our souls, but the Canadian prairies have stirred us up to sing.

Ivan Danilchuk, Day Dawns, Svitaye Den, Winnipeg, 1929. Translated from Ukrainian.

Ukrainian sky and wheat field, reflecting the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Source.
Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. Source.

Maintaining Ukrainian in Canada

While the Ukrainian language in Canada has declined from its peak as the third largest language in the country many continue to use and learn the language. More than 100,000 Canadians speak Ukrainian, particularly concentrated in the prairies and northern Ontario. Many universities, such as University of Saskatchewan and University of Manitoba, have extensive programs studying Ukrainian Canadian heritage, culture, and language. In Alberta, a Ukrainian bilingual education program enrolls more than 700 children. The numbers of speakers of Ukrainian in Canada also continue to grow from more recent immigrants fleeing the conflict with Russia.

Achieving a Professional Life Goal During COVID-19: My Internship at the Canadian Language Museum

By: Marlène Viardot, Master of Anthropology student / Museum Intern

Bonjour, je m’appelle Marlène, and I am a student at the Université de Bordeaux, France. I’m doing my Master’s degree in Anthropologie sociale et culturelle, on the topic of la revitalisation linguistique of Canada Indigenous languages. I have been attracted to working in Canada for a very long time, wishing to contribute to the language revitalization work that is done there for Indigenous cultures (combining my love for languages and my ideals of justice). And with my mind constantly switching from anglais to français, this country seemed particulièrement indicated!

After studying Language Sciences in Strasbourg, I carried on with this Anthropology Master’s degree, aiming at becoming an ethnolinguist. During the first year of this degree, I wrote a thesis about linguistic revitalization and live art: how do live shows influence language revitalization?, do younger generations want to learn how to speak the language when they hear it on stage, during a puppet show or a story festival, for example? This appeared to be really interesting, but my conclusions led to a misjudgement of the situation – it’s only once languages are revitalized, are actually spoken again, that live shows are created
using them. Not the other way around, as I initially suspected.

So this has been the trail I have been following during this second and last year of my Master’s degree. The required internship offered the opportunity to undertake an enthralling survey of the field, and I was really looking forward to it. I wanted the internship to fully match with my career goals, that it would be more than just a glimpse of the field, but on the contrary, that it would be a real springboard to work in this area of language revitalization.

BUT…

The COVID-19 pandemic struck! What was I to do if going to Canada was no longer possible? A major part of my planned research relied on a trip there, to include various interviews, participation in pow wows, meetings with revitalization leaders…
After a deep but brief moment of despair, I pulled myself together: Canada was still my goal, and remote working had become the new trend, so why not give that a try?

I had found, during my research for my thesis, a great booklet about Canadian Indigenous languages, giving linguistic information about the eight distinct language families, plus three additional unclassified languages. This was precisely the type of document I was looking for, and I thought it would be enriching to get in touch with the people who had published it – this is how I discovered the Canadian Language Museum.

Booklet “Indigenous Languages in Canada” published by the Canadian Language Museum in 2019.

At the beginning of 2021, I had also followed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by the Université Laval du Québec, about Northern Quebec, which had captivated me. Consequently, I audaciously decided to contact both of these institutions, hoping that despite the decrease of activities linked to the pandemic, activities concerning language and culture protection and promotion were still ongoing.

The answers I received surpassed my expectations: the Canadian Language Museum and the Université Laval responded positively to my application! And even better – within the framework of this internship, a partnership between the two organizations was created, with me as the contact point.

My mission at the Museum involved research for the creation of a travelling exhibit about the Anishinaabe language and culture. The project was starting from scratch, and I was tasked with gathering linguistic and social data: where is the language spoken?, how many speakers are there?, how has the language community changed over time?

Speaking fluent English and French was an advantage here – this allowed me to link with people working with the Anishinaabe communities in both anglophone and francophone regions.

Indeed, the Anishinaabek were originally settled near the St Lawrence River. When the first European immigrants arrived and started settling, at the beginning of the 17th century, they migrated westward. According to Anishinaabe oral history, they were guided by a vision of a sacred miigis, a cowry seashell, which made a prophecy: if the Anishinaabeg did not move further west, they would not be able to keep their traditional ways alive, because of the many new pale-skinned settlers who would arrive soon in the east (Benton-Banai, 1979).

The community gradually moved westward, along the St Lawrence River to the Ottawa River, to Lake Nipissing, and then to the Great Lakes.

The Anishinaabe people now cover a great range of territory, as shown on this map below:

Map by Professor Will Oxford, University of Manitoba, 2021.

This wide distribution explains the number of dialects of Anishinaabemowin.

As explained to me by Carole Lemire, director of Minwashin, an association promoting the art, culture and language of the Anishinaabe people, this dialect diversity is one of the greatest challenges the language faces today. As is the case with many Indigenous languages of Canada, Anishinaabemowin is endangered and standardization of the language would make maintenance and revitalization easier.

Vigorous and effective acts of revitalization are taking place, such as the creation of games for tablets, the broadcasting of songs and podcasts, and festivals – for example, Minwashin founded the Miaja festival. “Miaja” means “now is the time”, or “let’s do this”, and this large gathering is a celebration of Anicinabe culture in all its forms.

Yes, “Anicinabe”, and not “Anishinaabe” as written previously in this article. Did you notice the difference? Well, this points exactly to the diversity problem I mentioned above: the very name of the culture itself comprises at least 11 variants (bolded for emphasis):

  • Anishinaabe
  • Anishnabe
  • Anishinabe
  • Anichnabe
  • Anichinabe
  • Anicinabe
  • Anicinape
  • Anishinaubae
  • Nishnaabe
  • Nishnabe
  • Neshnabé

The Museum uses “Anishinaabe”, but the Université Laval spells it “Anishinabe”. One might think the version with one ‘a’ is the spelling used in Quebec, but no! Minwashin, which is based in Rouyn-Nouranda, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, writes “Anicinabe”. And all three groups told me they had never seen these different spellings before.

Spelling standardization is an important goal for the survival of their language.

So, to put it in a nutshell: in my internship of only 4 weeks, I was in contact with real players in linguistic revitalization, within 3 different organizations. I learned many different ways to be active in language revival: festivals, exhibitions, apps, online classes, songs, etc.

I felt like I myself took an active part in this, as I have always dreamt of, when for example I worked with Dr. Gold, director of the Canadian Language Museum, on a questionnaire for the Anishinaabe communities. We really brainstormed about the formulation of the questions, about how to be respectful and how this could help them.

This brought up the complex issue of the position of a settler who works on an Indigenous matter: as a white, French person, I think it is my responsibility to think about my approach and my way of talking about Indigenous languages. My discussions with Dr. Gold deepened my reflections on that issue.

During this internship, I have been able to use as much French as English – which filled me with joy as you can guess – but most importantly, I have finally been able to touch on the job I have wanted to do since I was 18 years old.

Of course, it would have been even greater to have been out there in Canada, in the field, meeting all these fabulous people for real, feeling the energy of the places. Instead, everything was online and I spent my time in front of my computer rather than attending Pow Wows. But! Considering the global world situation, I managed to be close to what I have always wanted to work on! And during these confusing COVID-times, I do appreciate the opportunity this represents.

Reference

Benton-Banai, E. (1979) The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, Indian Country Press & Publication.

Learning Mandarin at 0, English at 10, French at 22

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, Master of Museum Studies student / Summer Intern at the CLM

Language acquisition is my area of interest and I am fascinated by the theories about the connections between language learning and age, language distance, and level of exposure.

Sometimes I observe people and ask questions to draw connections between what I learned and real-life scenarios, but the best subject to study is always myself. Since I decided to challenge myself and pick up French, I started to reflect on my experience learning other languages.

Linguists believe that everyone with regular cognitive ability is able to acquire their first language effortlessly under normal development. The abilities to comprehend and to speak are considered innate, similar to the ability to walk or run. Like many, I have no memory of the acquisition process of my own first language. I am a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese and the knowledge I have regarding Mandarin is mainly unconscious knowledge, or competence. I could easily distinguish grammatical sentences but would have difficulty explaining the exact grammatical rules. On the contrary, when I learned English in school, I learned systematic information about English clause types and conjugation rules, or what is commonly referred to as grammar by non-linguists. Even after more than a decade of study, I still make mistakes speaking or writing English, but if I need to lay out the rules of the English language one by one, I might do better than many native speakers who didn’t study linguistics or English grammar. This type of knowledge is conscious, like solving a math problem or citing a verse. I need to actively think about what I need to say and whether sentences are grammatical before producing them, whereas the same process is more intuitive for a native speaker. Even though the task became less demanding as I became more fluent, it was almost impossible to ever process English as a native speaker does.

“Le nouveau taxi!”, beginner’s textbook for learning French as a second language, Chinese edition. (Photo: Jingshu Helen Yao)

Learning French this summer reminded me of the initial stage of learning English. I struggle to produce every sound, pause for long times to think about what I need to say and how to say it. However, learning a foreign language as a child and an adult is rather different. On one hand, I have a big advantage of having studied linguistics and understanding terms such as “tense”, “aspect”, and “grammatical gender”. If I had been exposed to French at a much younger age, the complex verb conjugation rules and the masculine and feminine genders of nouns would have completely throw me off, since none of them were in my first language Mandarin. I would have asked questions such as “Why are the chairs feminine and why are the walls masculine?”, to which the answer could only be “That’s how the language works.” That definitely wouldn’t have satisfied the mind of a child. As an adult learner, I am more comfortable with just remembering the genders rather than trying to figure out why. On the other hand, I didn’t feel as much pressure when I tried to pronounce English words as a child. I wasn’t aware of “having an accent” and wasn’t as embarrassed about making mistakes as I am now. Even though I understand that making mistakes is a natural process during learning, I find myself less expressive and less willing to speak out loud, which is a barrier in language learning.

Aside from age difference, language distance is another factor that I think about. Mandarin is very distant from English geographically, historically, and structurally. Learning English meant learning completely different phonological rules and morphological structures. For example, a syllable in Mandarin usually contains only a consonant and a vowel, whereas an English syllable can have several consonants together in a cluster, and a syllable can end with consonants. English also has a larger vocabulary than Mandarin. On the other hand,  French and English are much closer, since they are both Indo-European languages and French heavily influenced English in its development. The two languages share many words that were either of the same origin or borrowed from one another. Even before I started learning French, I could figure out part of the French information on a snack package using the knowledge I already had in English.

Closeness of French and English shown in the Indo-European family tree.
Source, emphasis by CLM.

I was often asked how many languages I speak when people learned that I study linguistics. The question frustrates me from time to time since linguists are not human-shaped Google Translate. Rather than learning languages themselves, they study everything about languages. However, learning a new language as a linguistics student is a fun experience and my journey learning French has just begun.

NuqneH! Gi nathlam hí! Ni parolu pri lingvo!

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, Master of Museum Studies student / Summer Intern at the CLM

If you couldn’t read the title, don’t worry. It says “Hello” in Klingon, “Welcome” in Sindarin, and “Let’s talk about language” in Esperanto. These expressions may seem to be totally unrelated, but they are all from constructed languages.

Have you ever considered how effective communication could be if everyone could speak the same language? Did you ever wonder what it might take to create a language? Even though most natural languages developed without intentional efforts to shape and engineer them, languages have also been constructed over the years for various purposes.

Most natural languages evolved slowly along with human society, but new methods of communication sometimes occur more spontaneously. For example, language contact can lead to the creation of pidgins and creoles, and deaf children can create hand signs to communicate with family members. Although these are not classified as constructed languages, they are driven by our desire to communicate more effectively.

People holding hands forming a circle that surrounds the globe. The background is the Esperanto flag, a green star on a white circle in the corner of a green background.
Artwork showing Esperanto as a language that unifies the world. Source.

Auxiliary languages such as Esperanto are the most common type of constructed languages. They are called ‘auxiliary’ languages because they are created to be a lingua franca, a common third language to be used by two or more different language groups. They are designed to be easy to learn, thus enabling communication across linguistics groups irrespective of the speakers’ native languages. To date, Esperanto is the most popular auxiliary language with about 2 million speakers around the world.

Two rows of shelves of various consumer goods, such as Esperanto cigarettes, a Movado watch, and Mirinda pop cans.
Esperanto language and symbols appear on a variety of product packaging. Exhibit at the Esperanto Museum and Collection of Planned Languages in Vienna, Austria.
(Photo: Jocelyn Kent)

Languages are also created for research purposes, and these are referred to as engineered languages. They can be used by linguists to test hypotheses about different language features. For example, Kēlen is a language proposed by linguist Sylvia Sotomayor to test the possibility of a language with no verbs, which would contradict the theory that verbs are a universal feature of natural human languages. In addition, philosophers have tried to create languages that can better serve the purposes of certain philosophical and logical discussions. Toki Pona is an engineered language created by Canadian linguist and translator Sonja Lang. Toki Pona was designed based on the philosophical principle of minimalism and was meant to encourage positive thinking. While Toki Pona may not be used by a large number of speakers, the therapeutic value is what makes this constructed language unique in its own way. Languages can also be created for spiritual or religious purposes.

Toki Pona hieroglyphs that say “ma Kanata li suli.” which translates to “Canada is large.” Source.

I find artistic and fictional languages the most interesting of all, and they are probably the most well-known constructed language to the general public. J. R. R. Tolkien is known for the Elvish languages he created in ‘Lord of the Rings’, although creating languages for his fictional world was not his only accomplishment with constructed languages. Tolkien had a passion for glossopoeia, the creation of constructed languages for artistic purposes, from a very young age. He published the essay ‘A Secret Vice’ about his experience with constructed languages, where he pointed out that mythology is an important part of artistic languages. Therefore, the languages Tolkien created were closely based on the stories of his fantasy world.

Gold ring with glowing Elvish writing held by fingers.
Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language appears on the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Source.

Very few fictional languages were as systematic as Tolkien’s creations. Many fictional languages started with very basic concepts and were added onto through the years, sometimes by the creators, sometimes by fans. Languages such as Klingon and Valyrian have various online databases and tutorials built by enthusiasts. They are even available on language learning apps such as Duolinguo.

Cover of The Klingon Dictionary.
Klingon-English dictionary for the Klingon language used in the Star Trek films and television series. Source.

Regardless of the various purposes of creation, constructed languages shared a common creation process. They often take inspiration from existing human languages. The creators of auxiliary languages tend to focus on features such as the most commonly used sounds among languages in order to make the constructed languages more accessible to a large population. Tolkien based many of his created languages on Welsh, Finnish, Latin, and Ancient Greek.

With the advance of technology, constructed languages continue to evolve and play their parts in shaping our linguistics landscape. Conlangers, people who are involved in constructing languages, are now commissioned to create fictional and artistic languages for popular media such as video games and TV shows. Many Canadians are active in creating or speaking constructed languages. This article about a conlanger in Halifax explores the use of coded language in the history of LGBTQ communities. In 2022, the World Esperanto Congress will take place in Montreal, with the topic “Language, Life and Land”. Esperanto speakers around the world will gather together and discuss indigenous languages of Canada using Esperanto.

From fictional world to philosophical discussions, from linguistics theories to international auxiliary languages, whichever form they take, whatever their functions are, constructed languages will never cease to amaze us.

References:

http://www.arwen-undomiel.com/elvish/phrases.html

https://omniglot.com/language/phrases/klingon.php

A Language Museum Beyond Western View: Museum of World Languages at Shanghai International Studies University

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, Master of Museum Studies student / Summer Intern at the CLM

I felt lucky to be able to visit the Museum of World Languages at Shanghai International Studies University.

The exhibition covered a wide range of topics related to linguistics, including linguistic theories, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, orthography, and translation. The topics are organized under three main themes, 说 “speak”, 记 “write”, and 译 “translate”. The characters for each of these words share the same thematic particle “言”, which is used in the construction of all Chinese characters that relate to language. Not only does the museum have exhibits on spoken and written languages, topics such as sign languages, braille, and constructed languages are also included. I was amazed by artifacts such as an English language textbook written in braille and Esperanto typewriters.

Translation exhibit: “How Do We Communicate Across Language Barriers?” (Photo: Jingshu Helen Yao).

Some of the memorable moments during my visit were the interactive elements at the exhibition. The interactions were facilitated by clickable screens, audio and video recordings, and even AI. There are booths where visitors can listen to various recordings in different languages and have the opportunity to repeat language samples and have their pronunciations assessed by the system.

Interactive audio booths. (Photo: Jingshu Helen Yao)

I found the projection of an animated map that tracks the trade of tea across land and ocean very interesting. This is an interesting example of language change, since the means of transportation determined the variation in the name “cha” and “te”. Most places where tea was introduced through sea adapted the variant “te”, whereas the places that received it through land transportation used “cha”. I was approached by a droid moving on wheels in one of the rooms. It sported a clickable screen where visitors could select to learn more about the museum and its exhibits as well as some fun facts about languages around the world. Although I had a wonderful guide showing me around, I could imagine how helpful this piece of technology would be if the museum had a lot of visitors and the guides and volunteers were very busy.

Words Worlds sign outside museum. (Photo: Jingshu Helen Yao)

The museum’s theme “Words Worlds” focuses on language diversity and international communication. Being the first museum in China that focuses on the topic of language around the world, the museum is actively seeking opportunities for research, education and collaboration.

The museum opened in 2019, but shortly after that the pandemic hit and the campus was closed to visitors. I was able to get in touch with the museum staff members and apply for a visit. I was very impressed by the wide range of contents and the original designs. You can access the museum’s official video here:

This visit made me realize the limitation of online research. Before visiting the museum, I had not imagined its scope and design through the information available online. I am also aware that if I wasn’t able to read Chinese characters, or was not currently living in China, I wouldn’t have been able to visit the Museum of World Languages in person. Though the internet is supposed to make international communication and collaboration much more convenient, I know that there are many missed opportunities due to language barriers. For a language museum, this challenge is also a mission. Even though the individual languages are different, the goals of language museums are held in common. I hope more connections with language museums can be made once we are free to travel again.

Why do I have an Accent and Should I be Ashamed of It?

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, Master of Museum Studies student / Summer Intern at the CLM

I have an accent and I’ve never liked it. I sometimes say “sank” instead of “thank” and “worm” instead of “warm”. If you say “had” and “head” without any context I won’t be able to tell the difference. Pronunciations are the coordination of our brain and muscles. Sometimes even if my brain knows what to do, my tongue and my facial muscles are just not used to moving that way. It is valid to feel pressure when speaking with an accent, since it is the first thing others notice when you start to talk; accents can be connected with negative impressions like “broken English”, or even “uneducated”. My language insecurity is one of the reasons that led me to linguistics in the hope that I could “fix” my English, but the study of language science took me on a very different journey.

Pitch, Spectrograms and Formants

Before diving into the details of speech sounds and their features, let’s get the terminologies out of the way. As the physicists suggest, sounds are waves. The way in which our mouths create such waves is similar to how musical instruments do. Our teeth, the roof of our mouth, and our tongues, are like keys or strings that determine the speech sound we produce. Their position and placement will change the sound produced by our vocal fold vibration, which becomes the dynamic speech we eventually hear.

Researchers in different academic fields have tried to visualize sounds in order to better study them. Sounds can be characterized by features such as pitch (frequency) and loudness (intensity/amplitude). A sound with a constant pitch (simple periodic sound) can be represented by a simple waveform as follows.

Sin curve showing periodic oscillation every 17 seconds.
Simple waveform (Image from ResearchGate)

However, human speech is very complex. It consists of waves at different frequency levels that add on to each other and can be difficult to visualize. Spectrograms are employed by acoustic phoneticians to analyze human speech.  A spectrum is a display that shows the intensity of each level of frequency and allows us to study the features more closely. Formants are dark lines that are formed in the areas with a high intensity, which can be seen most clearly in vowel sounds. Formants are represented with a red line in the following image.

Spectrogram of 1.475873 seconds of speech showing area of highest intensity in the centre of the speech
Insert formants. (Image from EdHUK)

For the purpose of this article, we will only be looking at the first and second formants of vowels. They indicate the height and frontness of our tongue position when we produce the sound.

Phonetic Differences Between Languages

Every language has a phonetic inventory, which consists of all sounds (phonemes) that are possible in the language. For example, the “th” sound in English is rather rare in other languages and makes it difficult for a second language speaker to master. Not being able to produce the exact phonemes is the top reason for having an accent.

While I am fully aware that I sound different from a standard Canadian English speaker, I was curious to find out what my vowels look like. Thus, I did a small test using Paart, a program developed by phonetic scientists from the University of Amsterdam, Paul Boersma and David Weenink, to create spectrograms from audio recordings.

I was relatively young when I learned English and lived in an English-speaking environment for several years. Therefore, I can sometimes distinguish and produce the sounds that are not in my first language: a notable pair is “a” as in “bad” and “e” as in “bed”. When I pay a lot of attention to my speech and consciously remind myself to differentiate the phonemes, I can distinguish the pronunciation of “a” and “e” in careful speech. However, in a natural conversation setting where I am simply trying to get my meaning across, my pronunciation of the two sounds tends to be very similar.

With Paart, I recorded three audios: in two of them, I carefully pronounced “bed” and “bad” respectively, and in the third audio, I put both words in one sentence “My bed is bad so it hurts my back.” Then I analyzed all the audios and noted down the values of the first and second formant of each vowel.

            Helen’s careful speech:

                        Bed: F1: 530 F2: 2041

                        Bad: F1: 751 F2: 1890

            Helen’s natural conversation:

                        Bed: F1: 589 F2: 1833

                        Bad: F1: 586 F2: 1756

            Standard Canadian English:

                        Bed: F1: 600 F2: 2930

                        Bad: F1: 860 F2: 1550

In addition, I noted the standard Canadian English value (according to research data from the University of Manitoba) as a reference. A higher number in F1 corresponds with a lower tongue position, while a higher number in F2 corresponds with the tongue further forward. The data show that when Canadian English speakers produce the ‘e’ sound in ‘bed’, the tongue is high in the mouth and forward; for the ‘a’ in bad, the tongue is pulled back and lower.

It is easy to tell from the data that both of my productions, in careful speech and in natural conversation, deviate from the standard Canadian pronunciations.  This suggests that I will always sound a little different no matter how hard I try. However, in careful speech, there is indeed a distinct difference between my ‘e’ and ‘a’ sounds, whereas in my natural speech, ‘e’ and ‘a’ are almost identical, especially with respect to the value of the first formant.

Accents are not avoidable when it comes to producing sounds that are not originally in our first language. Language learning is closely related to one’s age because the ability to produce new sounds decreases as one grows older. Having an accent doesn’t imply deficiency or unskillfulness but simply the fact that one’s muscles are not used to moving in a certain way. Speakers can be trained to change their pronunciation in careful speech, but accents are unlikely to be removed completely.

I started learning linguistics because I wanted to improve my English. However, instead of “fixing” my accent, I learned to consider it from a different point of view. In my studies I learned about the wide variety of sounds that are used in the languages around the world. Each individual language normally has an inventory of between 20-37 different sounds (UCLA database). Instead of struggling over the sounds that I am not capable of producing, I have learned to appreciate how diverse human languages are and how unique each language can be.

Click this link to the International Phonetic Alphabet to see and hear the different sounds in languages around the world.

International Phonetic Alphabet

Mom, Talk to Me in My Mother Tongue: Socioeconomic Status and Heritage Language Maintenance of East and South Asian Canadian Community

By: Jingshu Helen Yao, BA, University of Toronto Scarborough

Over the past few decades Canada has fostered multiculturalism. However since the official language of the country is English and French, it is up to the individuals from different ethnicity backgrounds to decide whether and how to pass down their heritage language. Since languages connect closely with one’s culture and identity, the choice might be hard to make. Curious about the factors that influence heritage language learning, I conducted a study to analyze the connection between parental support for heritage language maintenance and the parents’ socioeconomic status.

Sociolinguists consider socioeconomic status an important factor in determining an individual’s language skills. Previous research suggests that the parents’ educational level and income is correlated with the children’s language development. Parents with higher education and more prestigious jobs might have better language skills themselves, more access to resources that facilitate language learning, and possibly more time to spend with the children. Consequently, the children would have more diverse vocabularies and learn to read and write earlier.

I collected the data for my study through an online survey. The participants were 80 East and South Asian immigrant parents from Toronto, the majority of whom had lived in Canada for more than 10 years. Their children were either born in Canada or had arrived prior to the age of seven. The survey gathered background information about the participants, including their heritage language use in daily life, their motivation to pass down their heritage language to the next generation, and whether they had registered their children in heritage language maintenance programs.

Mother and Child. (Photo: lain910)

One of the most important steps in this research was to determine the parents’ socioeconomic status. While income can be an indication of socioeconomic status, out of the consideration for the participant’s privacy, I did not ask for the families’ annual income in the survey. I am also aware that there might be a mismatch between income and job prestige. Therefore, I designed several questions to gather information about the parents’ educational background and occupations. Taking all the factors into consideration, I divided the participants into high socioeconomic status and low socioeconomic status groups. For example, parents who have a bachelor’s degree and work in business administration were considered to have higher socioeconomic status than parents who work in the same discipline but have a high school degree. In order to make the analysis easier to process, I ensured that both groups had a similar number of participants.

There were seven questions to determine the parents’ attitudes toward heritage language maintenance and the action they took to facilitate the children’s learning. I asked about the parents’ frequency of using heritage language with their children, whether they think learning heritage language has negative influences on the children’s English, whether they consider English more important than heritage language, and whether they sent their children to a heritage language program. All the parents responded that they are willing to have their children speak their heritage language but some of the low socioeconomic status parents worried that teaching the heritage language might confuse their children in an English speaking environment.

 I also asked the participants to choose from four possible motivations for teaching their children their heritage language. The four motivations are: “enable the children to communicate with the family members”, “benefit their career development”, “help them better understand their culture heritage”, and “build their culture identity”. The choice of motivation reflects what the parents expect their children to gain from heritage language learning: basic communication needs, long term benefits, or more abstract concepts and knowledge.

After analyzing the data, I drew the conclusion that parents from both socioeconomic  groups are supportive of their children’s heritage language learning but were motivated by different reasons. Parents with higher  socioeconomic status tended to emphasize the importance of the cultural value of education and literacy. Graph 1a shows that more of the high socioeconomic status parents (H) reported that they had registered their children for a heritage language maintenance program (HLM), compared to the low socioeconomic status parents (L). The biggest difference (20%) was between parents with and without a university degree; those with a Bachelor’s degree were much more likely to register their children in a heritage language program than those with a high school education (graph 1b). This suggests that the educational level of the former generation highly influences the education of their children.

On the other hand, the efforts made by low socioeconomic status parents are mainly seen in heritage language use in daily life rather than through formal educational  programs. Graph 2a shows that more than 85% of low socioeconomic status parents chose “enable my children to communicate with family and community members’ (Family) as the most important factor that motivated them to teach their children heritage language; 20% fewer of  the high socioeconomic status parents chose that same motivation. Some low socioeconomic status parents noted in the survey that they themselves don’t speak English very well so they have to teach their children heritage language in order to communicate with them. In addition, low socioeconomic status families are more likely to live in cultural enclaves where the children could practice their heritage language outside of their own homes. Therefore, heritage language learning for low socioeconomic status families develops out of daily communication needs and the children tend to have more opportunities to use the language in real life. This is also reflected by the frequency of the usage of heritage language at home. Many more low socioeconomic status parents reported that they always communicate with their child in their heritage language than the high socioeconomic status parents (graph 2b).

High socioeconomic status families tend to live in more culturally diverse neighbourhoods, and so do not use their heritage language as frequently.   Fewer than half of the high socioeconomic status parents reported that they always communicate with their children using their heritage language (graph 2b). These parents also chose “help building their culture identity” (Identity) as the top motivation for heritage language maintenance (graph 2a). The number of parents who chose “benefit their career development” and “help them better understand their cultural heritage” are also higher in the high socioeconomic status group (graph 2a). These would be reasons to send their children to heritage language programs, where not only language skills but also history and cultural heritage lessons are taught.

In conclusion, children from low socioeconomic status families are more likely to have good oral communication skills, because of daily use of their heritage language. Children from high socioeconomic status families, while more likely to be registered in heritage language programs, would be less skilled in communication and comprehension. On the other hand, they would have more formal instruction in their heritage culture and history. In future research, I am interested in investigating the motivations for heritage language maintenance from the children’s perspective.

Aside from these findings, the data also demonstrated some interesting phenomena that can be further explored in future research.

Ethnicity difference was not one of the factors that I initially planned to look into. However, as shown in graph (3), the number of East Asian parents (EA) who replied ‘Yes I have’ to the question of whether they had registered their children for heritage language programs was 20% higher than that of South Asian parents (SA). My current hypothesis is that the number of accessible resources (language schools and cultural institutions) are different for East and South Asian communities. However, an actual conclusion requires further data collecting and analysis.

Child reading. (Photo: Sofía López Olalde)

On the Front Lines of Indigenous Language Preservation: The Cree Literacy Program in Wemindji

By: Jordan Fleguel, School of Journalism, Ryerson University

Wemindji is a Cree community in Northern Quebec, about 1,300 kilometres north of Montreal. Most of its almost 2,000 residents speak English, and many speak Cree. There are those, however, who can speak Cree, but who don’t read or write in Cree very well. There are those who can speak some Cree, but who often have no reason to speak it instead of English, and there are those who can’t fluently speak Cree at all.

Theresa Georgekish is the Cree literacy coordinator for Wemindji. Her job is to raise awareness around the preservation of the Cree language in the community.

Teresa Georgekish,
Cree Literacy Coordinator for Wemindji

Through literacy classes and events, Georgekish says she hopes to keep the Cree language alive amongst people of all ages.

“It’s more than just the language that’s at stake, it’s our culture and our connection with the land. It’s all connected, and we stand to lose everything,” Georgekish said. “I try to work hard to raise awareness about that.”

The Cree literacy program was made possible with funding from the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund. It was created in part because the Cree language was in decline in Wemindji, with growing numbers of young people not learning the language.

Georgekish said that there had been a sense among some parents in Wemindji that being literate in French and English would be more beneficial for their children than being literate in Cree.

“Some [parents] said they didn’t want their kids learning in Cree, they wanted them learning in English so they’d be prepared for high school and jobs and university,” said Georgekish.

Georgekish said that despite these attitudes, progress is being made, and there are people of all ages that attend the Cree classes organized by the literacy program.

“There are younger people that want to learn the language, many of them are going into education and it’s required that they know some Cree,” said Georgekish. “There are older people who come to the classes, mostly first-generation that went to residential schools, because they weren’t allowed to speak their language. They can speak it now but they’re not as good at reading or writing Cree.”

One of the many devastating effects that residential schools had on Indigenous communities is that those who attended were forbidden to speak their language, and many lost it over time, meaning they couldn’t teach it to their own children, or properly communicate with those from their communities if they returned home.

Georgekish said that the transmission of knowledge from elders to younger generations – one of the most important aspects of Cree culture – has always been done in Cree, and losing the Cree language would mean the loss of centuries of cultural wisdom.

“If we lose our language, we lose sight of who we are,” said Georgekish. “It’s through transmission from elders that our culture is still alive, and right now we’re not doing our part of listening to the elders. We’re more focused on technology, and that’s okay, but it has to go hand in hand.”

Dr. Elaine Gold, director of the Canadian Language Museum, and her team help to raise awareness and conduct research on the subject of language preservation with touring exhibits, each dedicated to a language spoken in Canada, including one dedicated to Cree.

She says that by touring these exhibits across the country, more people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will gain a deeper understanding of the many different languages spoken by Indigenous groups across Canada, and will come to realize that many of them are in danger of disappearing.

“Most people in Ontario have no idea that there are over 60 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada,” Gold said. “There’s so much we can learn from Indigenous language and culture.”

Gold said that although the museum raises awareness and conducts research on all languages spoken in Canada, she feels a special responsibility when it comes to Indigenous languages because unlike English or French, they’re only spoken here.

Before taking on the role of literacy coordinator, Georgekish was a teacher for many years. She says one way to preserve the Cree language is to make sure it’s taught in schools when children are young.

“If I had my way, we’d teach up to Grade 3 all in Cree,” she said, adding that in her experience, those kids who excelled at Cree at an early age also excelled at English. “When a kid is strong in one language, they’re strong in another language.”

Georgekish says that it’s crucial for the young people of Wemindji to learn Cree if the language is to survive. “If young people don’t learn the language, there won’t be a language.”

Pennsylvania German and the Old Order Mennonites in southern Ontario

The history and current status of affairs

Woolwich county in the Waterloo-Kitchener area, approximately 100 km west of Toronto, is home to a dense population of German speakers and has been so for a very long time. Up to this day, German is still the most common immigrant language in the area (Statistics Canada 2016). The region is not only very German, but also contains a huge variety of Mennonite and Amish communities (Fretz 1989: 45). The Old Order Mennonites, with whom I have worked, are Anabaptists of Swiss-German origin. Due to religious persecution, their ancestors left Europe for Pennsylvania where they were promised freedom of religion by the early 18th century (Frantz 2017: 131–2). After the American War of Independence, some left Pennsylvania with the majority settling in Waterloo county, where they still reside today (Burridge 1998: 72). The Old Orders have maintained Pennsylvania German (also called Pennsylvania Dutch) as a first language, and still use it at home, in the community, and in church, while their second language English is restricted to more formal contexts, including school and doing business with the outside world. For the Old Orders, Pennsylvania German symbolises group identity. Maintaining the language does not only mean preserving their traditions and marking group membership but also represents resistance towards and separation from the secular world (cf. Johnson-Weiner 1998). Consequently, language is a very important tool for the conservative Mennonites, while the more liberal communities, having abandoned Pennsylvania German first in church and then in all other contexts, have all shifted to English within the last fifty or so years. When asked whether Pennsylvania German might be lost in the future, locals – that is both non-Mennonites and the more liberal Mennonites – count on the Old Orders, also known as the horse and buggy people, to hold on to it.

Horse pulling a Mennonite buggy.
View from inside a Mennonite horse and buggy. (Photo: Miriam Neuhausen)

Linguistic research

Within the framework of Sali Tagliamonte’s research project ‘Dialects of Ontario’ at the University of Toronto (see http://ontariodialects.chass.utoronto.ca), I spent five months with the community and recorded conversations with Pennsylvania German-speaking Mennonites. Thereby, I spoke to members belonging to both the aforementioned conservative horse and buggy people (who do not drive cars) and the more liberal churches (who drive cars and use modern technology).

My research focuses on language change and variation. To me, Pennsylvania German is highly fascinating because it has survived for such a long time in this area. In the community, the two languages – Pennsylvania German and English – strongly influence each other. Pennsylvania German resembles the Palatine dialect in southwestern Germany (Seifert 1947: 291) mixed with Canadian English, while the Old Olders’ English is sprinkled with German words, grammar, and intonation. For example, you might hear ‘tsh’ for ‘dj’ as this first sound in words like German and likewise ‘z’ for ‘s’ in words like song. In addition to that, most speakers say words like about the American way instead of the Canadian way (which sounds more like a boat). This feature is exactly what I am examining more closely: whether the Old Orders say about the American or the Canadian way.

“My mom war Deutsch like.”

(My mom was German like.)

Language change

The language change from about to a boat began in Ontario around the 1880s (Chambers 2006: 107), roughly 100 years after the first Mennonites arrived in Canada (Epp 2002: 17). Nowadays, the majority of people in Canada use the new pronunciation a boat. The traditionally isolated Old Order Mennonite community has largely resisted the language change owing to their deliberate separation from the secular world – and are thus about users. Now that at least some of the members are in increased contact with the outside world, some speakers have adapted to the change in pronunciation and use both the new and the old pronunciation. For my research, I look at when they use which vowel and what they say while doing so. My findings show that specific words tend to be pronounced a boat, while the majority of words can be variably pronounced either way. This could mean that the new vowel is associated with specific words, and other words might potentially gradually follow in the future. By contrast, other words show mixed pronunciations, which may indicate that some speakers are using the different vowels for performative functions. For example, when they take specific stances, they might use the a boat pronunciation to show belonging to the Canadian speech community; alternatively, they may use the about pronunciation to mark distinctiveness and show Mennoniteness. Whether speakers do this or not seems to depend on the degree of their exposure to the outside world. What I find most interesting about the linguistic situation here is that even though the community deliberately isolates themselves from the outside world, new linguistic forms seem to gradually arrive in the community, apparently due to the growing exposure to the outside world. It is super interesting to see who adopts these and why and when. These preliminary findings are super exciting and need to be investigated further!

I absolutely loved working with the community – everybody was so open and welcoming. I am so grateful for having been introduced to such wonderful people and their lifestyle. I have learned so much about a minority language that is kept alive in an increasingly globalised English-speaking world and a culture that conforms to norms and values that are so different from what I knew before. Last but not least, I learned how wonderful life without technology can be in times of globalisation, and I learned so, so much about myself.

Mach’s gut!

Miriam Neuhausen

Contact: german.in.ontario@gmail.com

“Do you think Pennsylvania German will die out soon?”

“I don’t think so, net so lang es noch zu Hause ist.”

(I don’t think so, not as long as it is still at home.)

References:

Burridge, Kate. 1998. Throw the Baby from the Window a Cookie. English and Pennsylvania German in Contact. In Anna Siewierska & Jae Jung Song (eds.), Case, Typology and Grammar, 71–93. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Chambers, Jack K. 2006. Canadian Raising Retrospect and Prospect. The Canadian Journal of Linguistics 51(2/3). 105–118. https://doi.org/10.1353/cjl.2008.0009 (27 May, 2019).

Epp, Marlene. 2002. Mennonites in Ontario. An Introduction. 2nd edn. Waterloo, ON: The Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario.

Fretz, Joseph Winfried. 1989. The Waterloo Mennonites. A Community in Paradox. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University.

Johnson-Weiner, Karen M. 1998. Community Identity and Language Change in North American Anabaptist Communities. Journal of Sociolinguistics 2(3). 375–394. https://www.academia.edu/737070/Group_identity_and_language_maintenance_The_survival_of_Pennsylvania_German_in_Old_Order_communities (16 December, 2019).

Seifert, Lester W. J. 1947. The Diminutives of Pennsylvania German. Monatshefte 39(5). 285 293. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30160202 (16 December, 2019).

Statistics Canada. 2019. Proportion of Mother Tongue Responses for Various Regions in Canada, 2016 Census. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/dv-vd/lang/index-eng.cfm (05 December, 2019).

Kashubian Language in Canada

By: David Shulist

The Kashubian language was introduced to Canada in 1858 when Kashubs from Kashubia Europe immigrated to the Renfrew County in Ontario. Kashubia in Europe, their home and native land at the time was under Prussian German rule. They first settled on the Opeongo Colonization Road and later built the communities of Wilno, Barry’s Bay and Round Lake Centre. The Kashubs came to Canada for free land which was offered by the government at the time. This was before the Country of Canada was born.

The word “Kashub” defines the people, they are a Slavic people from a Slavic tribe called the Kashubs. The Kashubs are Slavic and they are European. The word “Kashubian” defines their national identity and their native language. The Kashub people speak Kashubian as their native language. The word “Kashubia” is the name of their native land or sometimes referred as their fatherland. In their native language, the word Kashub is “Kaszëbi” and the word Kashubian is “Kaszëbsczi” and the word Kashubia is “Kaszëbë”.

The Kashubian language is in the West Slavic Language Family along with the Czech, Slovak, Polish and Sorbian languages. The Kashubian language is still spoken in Canada’s First Kashubian communities around the villages of Wilno, Barry’s Bay and Round Lake Centre. The language is still spoken by fourth and fifth generation Kashubian Canadians. Here is a sample of some of the Kashubian language spoken in Canada’s Kashubian communities.

Kashubian language

Examples provided by David Shulist

If you are interested in learning more about the Kashubian language in Canada, please feel free to contact David Shulist at johnnykashub@kashub.com


The opinions expressed in posts published on the blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Language Museum.