By Bernard C. Perley
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Additional info for Defying Maliseet Language Death: Emergent Vitalities of Language, Culture, and Identity in Eastern Canada
All small children understand English, and most of them speak it easily. Old women, the most conservative group, deplore the decline in the use of Malecite and pay their highest compliment to an English war bride who, they say, addresses her red-headed brood in the language of their father’s people” (Wallis and Wallis 1957:16). The Wallis and Wallis observation that the children understood and spoke English easily may be the point at which the Maliseet language was “tipping” toward obsolescence (Dorian 1981).
I note one additional irony—in many cases the people involved in contemporary salvage operations are themselves native speakers of the endangered languages. In my particular case, as noted in the previous chapter, the fear is not will I “go native”? Rather, it is will I “go anthropologist”? I have gone anthropologist, and doing so has given me the tools to be able to assess the state of the Maliseet language. While engaged in ﬁeldwork at Mah-Sos Elementary School on Tobique First Nation I was able to observe the dissemination of articles that purport the imminent extinction of the Maliseet language.
The interpretation of some person’s or group’s suffering as the reproduction of oppressive relationships of production, the symbolization of dynamic conﬂicts in the interior of the self, or as resistance to authority, is a transformation of everyday experience of the same order as those pathologizing reconstructions within biomedicine. Nor is it morally superior to anthropologizing distress, rather than to medicalize it. What is lost in biomedical renditions—the complexity, uncertainty, and ordinariness of some man or woman’s world of experience—is also missing when illness is reinterpreted as social role, social strategy, or social symbol .