America's Second Tongue: American Indian Education and the Ownership of English, 1860-1900

America's Second Tongue: American Indian Education and the Ownership of English, 1860-1900

America's Second Tongue: American Indian Education and the Ownership of English, 1860-1900

America's Second Tongue: American Indian Education and the Ownership of English, 1860-1900

Synopsis

This remarkable study sheds new light on American Indian mission, reservation, and boarding school experiences by examining the implementation of English-language instruction and its effects on Native students. A federally mandated system of English-only instruction played a significant role in dislocating Native people from their traditional ways of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The effect of this policy, however, was more than another instance of cultural loss-English was transformed by and even empowered many Native students.

Drawing on archival documents, autobiography, fiction, and English as a Second Language theory and practice, America's Second Tongue traces the shifting ownership of English as the language was transferred from one population to another and its uses were transformed by Native students, teachers, and writers. How was the English language taught to Native students, and how did they variably reproduce, resist, and manipulate this new way of speaking, writing, and thinking? The perspectives and voices of government officials, missionaries, European American and Native teachers, and the students themselves reveal the rationale for the policy, how it was implemented in curricula, and how students from dozens of different Native cultures reacted differently to being forced to communicate orally and in writing through a uniform foreign language.

Excerpt

I have tried to transplant the native spirit of these tales — root and all — into the English language, since America in the last few centuries has acquired a second tongue.

Zitkala-Ša, preface to Old Indian Legends, 1901

To discuss the use of the English language in the land we now know as the United States is to become caught in a linguistic paradox. Referring to English as the native language of Americans has the rhetorical effect of making the first inhabitants of this land invisible, for they, of course, were native speakers not of English but of a multitude of indigenous languages. When English-speaking Europeans called indigenous people native, however, they were referring not to their language status but rather to what they perceived to be their primitive state. In the context of language learning, a rhetorical inversion occurred, such that Native people became non-native speakers of English; yet it was the Anglo speakers who were non-Native.

The paradox is further complicated by the nativist movement in the nineteenth century, which favored the interests of native inhabitants over those of immigrants. To the anti-Catholic nativists, the "natives” were English-speaking Protestants of European descent. To add to the irony, in their secret societies nativists used what they perceived to be symbols of Native life as their trademarks. They called their leaders "sachems” and "chiefs” and gave their local chapters names such as "Oneida” and "Montauk.” By non-nativizing the real Natives and appropriating their identities . . .

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