Roots of literacy in a language revitalization context: Evidence from hul’q’umi’num’ child phonology


Hul’q’umi’num’ is an Indigenous language spoken on southeastern Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada). Through intense grassroots activism, many communities have a remarkable increase in the number of young children learning Hul’q’umi’num’ through early home- and school-based language programs. Hul’q’umi’num’ has a rich consonant inventory, including many place and manner contrasts not used in English, as well as complex consonant clusters, and children most commonly learn Hul’q’umi’num’ from their teachers and parents, who are themselves adult L2 speakers. In our research, we ask at what point children master specific sounds, and how L2 adult input affects children’s pronunciation of these sounds. As community- and university-based linguists, including an adult learner of Hul’q’umi’num’ who is a parent of young children enrolled in this language programming, we have been examining children’s recitations of word and phrase lists that are representative of the language’s sound system. In our talk, we present an overview of a corpus of 173 transcribed words from 8 children, and we track the acquisition of individual consonants based on children’s age and adult input patterns. Results show that some select non-English sounds are nevertheless produced accurately from an early age (e.g., uvular /q/), but we also identify patterns where children make novel errors as well. These patterns are beginning to build a full picture of the developmental pathway of pronunciation acquisition among young Hul’q’umi’num’-learning children. Our research furthers our understanding of phonological acquisition in languages with more complex consonant inventories than those currently well-studied in the literature. Results will also provide benchmarks that can be used by parents, teachers, and clinicians in supporting Hul’q’umi’num’ speaking children’s emerging path towards being literate users of their language.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

9:10 – 9:40 AM ADT

Dr. Henny Yeung
Co-Lead, Language Background & Culture
Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics
Simon Fraser University