Dr. Nicholas Welch
Canada Research Chair in Change, Adaptation and Revitalization of Aboriginal Languages
Research involves: Documentation and revitalization of Indigenous languages
Research relevance: This research program focusses on language documentation, revitalization and capacity building in the Inuit and Innu communities of Labrador.
Preserving Labrador languages
Like other Aboriginal languages of Canada in the wake of the residential school catastrophe, the languages of Labrador face declining numbers of speakers as more children grow up speaking only English. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls upon the government to aid in the preservation of Aboriginal languages. There is an urgent need for trained language teachers; moreover, existing archived records of these languages should be further developed and made available to teachers and learners.
Dr. Welch’s research contributes to the vital task of preserving Innu-aimun and Labrador Inuttitut, the threatened Aboriginal languages of Labrador. His three-pronged approach focuses on training skilled personnel at Memorial University and in Aboriginal communities, supporting and expanding records of Labrador languages, and moving existing documentation online so that community members can access it freely and easily.
A skilled team of students, research assistants, and community linguists, trained by and working with Dr. Welch, support community efforts by holding workshops on documentation and teaching techniques, building apps and other IT tools to assist teachers and learners, interviewing fluent speakers, and transcribing and translating existing language materials to build massive online repositories of spoken and written Innu-aimun and Inuttitut.
The importance of this work is profound. Preservation of language is the most significant correlate of health in Aboriginal communities. Communities where Aboriginal languages are spoken regularly tend to have dramatically improved outcomes in societal and individual health. Where language and culture flourish, so do people. Preserving Labrador languages contributes directly to community health, pride, and the ongoing Aboriginal renascence.