“To Speak as Our Ancestors Once Did, or How to Reclaim a Sleeping Language”

Massachusett is the ancestral language of the members of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag. Like other Indigenous languages across the Americas, it is undergoing a process of revitalization and reclamation by its members. However, the road to revitalization is complicated by the fact that Massachusett is also a sleeping language— a language that has not been spoken by tribal members in over a century. The absence of active speakers makes revitalizing Massachusett more challenging, where older speakers would typically possess linguistic and communicative knowledge that is crucial to teaching the language to younger speakers. Socially, the reawakening of the language is additionally fraught due to histories with settler-colonial governments starting in the seventeenth century, and longer histories of inter-tribal politics in the region. In this talk, I will outline the various challenges and tensions involved in the reclamation of Massachusett. Through this, I will also highlight the theoretical implications of reclaiming Massachusett in providing greater insight into the politics of language revitalization and enhancing our understanding about the nature of language emergence more broadly.


Sandhya Krittika Narayanan is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UNR. A trained linguistic anthropologist, she specializes in language contact, multilingualism, and the intersection between language change and identity. Her first book, Mother Tongues: Gender, Language, and Indigenous Difference in Peru (under contract at University of Arizona Press), focuses on the gendered dimensions of inter-Indigenous language contact and the negotiation of ethnolinguistic Indigenous difference between Quechua and Aymara speaking communities in the Peruvian altiplano.

Tuesday, April 2 at 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm