Conference Report, August 9-10, 1993
|Submitted by Dorothy Karihwénhawe Lazore to the Mohawk Language Steering Committee. Edited and translated by Annette Kaia’titáhkhe Jacobs, Nancy Kahawinónkie Thompson, and Minnie Kaià:khons Leaf. Co-ordinated by Dan Rohkwáho Thompson. The Mohawk-language version of this document is also available online.|
In August 1993, the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference met at Tyendinaga to decide on a standard, written form of Mohawk. The conference was co-sponsored by the six Mohawk First Nations and supported by the Ontario ministries of Education and Training, of Citizenship, and of Culture, Tourism and Recreation.
The method followed for standardising the Mohawk language was to identify areas for standardisation, to establish consensus through consultation, and to hold a conference in order to reach a final decision. Prior to the conference, specific orthographic issues were identified through consultation meetings in all six Mohawk territories. Elders, teachers, linguists and fluent Mohawk speakers were invited to attend. The issues that were identified served as the topics for discussion, consultation, and decision-making at the conference.
The conference made five recommendations which form the basis for a standard, written form of Mohawk which can be used and understood wherever Mohawk is read and written.
Summary of Recommendations:
The purpose of the report is to describe the process of preparing for the conference and to record the decisions made at the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference on the standards for the literary form of the Mohawk language. The Mohawk Language Standardisation Project, a joint effort of the six Mohawk nations of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken (Six Nations), Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke, was supported by the ministries of Education and Training, of Citizenship, and of Culture, Tourism and Recreation. It has completed the task of standardising the orthography of the Mohawk language spoken on the six Mohawk territories.
The method followed for standardising the Mohawk language was to establish consensus through consultation and to reach final decisions at a conference. Prior to the conference, specific orthographic issues were identified through consultation meetings in all the Mohawk territories. Elders, teachers, linguists and fluent Mohawk speakers were invited to attend. The issues that were identified served as the topics for discussion, consultation and decision-making at the conference.
The representatives of the steering committee, the project co-ordinator, the ministries, and the Band Councils of the six Mohawk nations would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who accepted to participate in the consultation process, either by attending meetings, participating in the pre-conference workshop, or by advising the committee on the issues of orthography.
We would especially like to express our gratitude and appreciation to our Elders who responded to our request with such enthusiasm and to Kaia’titáhkhe Annette Jacobs for help with editing this report.
The Assembly of First Nations in its 1990 report “Towards Linguistic Justice for First Nations”, recommended:
It is important that a literary standard be developed for the future delivery of Native education in the Mohawk language.
What is Standardisation?
Standardisation is a necessary and vital process in any language. A natural standardisation process occurs in healthy languages. Certain standard rules must be followed so that people can communicate effectively with one another.
However, there are differences in speech that occur among all speakers of a language. Sometimes the differences are so pronounced that one can identify from which community a speaker originates. One can also tell when the speaker is a child, a beginner, or an Elder. Furthermore, one can identify when a speaker is giving a formal speech, such as an opening address, or simply having a friendly chat at the corner restaurant. The task of the Mohawk Language Standardisation Project was to select a writing system which would accommodate these differences for each of the Mohawk-speaking territories.
Standardisation is particularly important when there are great differences between dialects. Dialects are not a big issue for the Iroquoian languages. There are some dialects in Mohawk but they are mutually comprehensible. Standardisation does not mean the elimination of dialects in favour of a new literary form. Dialects are preserved in the family and in the community of speakers.
Revitalizing any language requires modernizing the vocabulary, publishing a standard writing system, and developing methods to incorporate new words into the language. The existence of modern dictionaries and grammar makes the work of standardisation much easier.
The purpose of the Mohawk Language Standardisation Project was to come to a consensus on a writing system that could be used among the six Mohawk Communities and to establish rules for writing to reflect the differences for each Community and its dialect.
The method of standardisation involved selecting a process which would lead to a consensus on the alphabet and on the writing practices used among the six Mohawk-speaking Communities. The social and stylistic differences in speech among the Communities was to be respected.
During the consultations, it was highly recommended that the speech of Elders be selected as the basis for writing the Mohawk language.
Why Standardise the Writing System?
Standardising the writing system of the Mohawk language would be of great benefit to the retention, survival, and revitalization of the Mohawk language within the six territories. Solidifying a standard literary form that is and has been used by Native speakers will assist in the preservation of the older forms of speech, especially the speech of Elders.
If all Mohawk speakers were to utilise one standard written form, it would be easier to teach literacy in the native language. Mohawk curriculum materials could be developed which would be available to schools in communities speaking the same language.
Important documents, such as band legal documents or school board information, could be available in both languages to encourage community awareness on how important and vital it is to maintain the native language.
Standardising the Mohawk orthography will assist in the on-going promotion, development, and production of materials in the Mohawk language.
Historical Background on the Kanien’keha Writing System
Prior to European contact, the Mohawk language was recorded in pictographs. Messages, stories, and legends were all told in pictograph form. The history of our people, events, and treaties were recorded on wampum belts. Wampum belts were used as a mnemonic device.
In the early eighteenth century, the Jesuits, Sulpicians, and other religious groups who worked with the Native people transcribed the oral language. The Jesuit and Sulpician missionaries relied on French phonetics to write in Mohawk. They used twelve letters of the Roman alphabet to write the language in order to record hymns, prayers, and Church music. Almanacs, legal documents, band council resolutions, and wills were all written using the twelve-letter alphabet. A Mohawk-French, French-Mohawk dictionary was written in the early eighteenth century by the Jesuits, although not published.
The writing system developed by Jesuit missionaries in Ahkwesáhsne and Kahnawà:ke has been used for centuries. In 1970, the Mohawk language was introduced into the education system. In 1972, a group of educators, translators, and Elders developed an orthography for use in schools in Kahnawà:ke. For this orthography, the teachers added diacritical marks in order to make it easier for beginning speakers who were learning how to read. Over a period of twenty years, Kahnawà:ke developed and refined this writing system. Over the years, curriculum materials were also developed using this system. The materials designed were used in other Mohawk-speaking Communities interested in learning or teaching the Mohawk language.
The writing system that was agreed upon in 1972 is presently being used in all six Mohawk-speaking Communities of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Kanehsatà:ke, and Kahnawà:ke.
In Kanehsatà:ke, the Sulpician missionaries recorded the language for use in the hymn books. Joseph Akwirente Onasakenrat translated the New Testament from French to Kanién’keha (Mohawk) between 1869 and 1880. In 1972, the Kanahsata:ke teachers joined Kahnawà:ke in their endeavour to write the language. Ahkwesáhsne also uses the same writing system.
The Wáhta Territory uses the same writing system as in Kanehsatà:ke. The early records – wills and band council speeches – were all written using the twelve letters of the Roman alphabet.
Ohswé:ken (Six Nations) has developed several writing systems over the past few decades. In the early eighteenth century, the language was written down by the Anglican missionaries introducing some letters not used elsewhere, such as the “d,” “g,” “y,” and “z.” The language was written exactly as it was pronounced, such as dagos for “cat,” gazere for “car,” yawekon for “it is good.” The Jamieson orthography was based on this orthography. The Ruth Isaac orthography was also developed at Ohswé:ken to assist teachers in learning the writing system of the language. Since 1988, Ohswé:ken has also adopted the writing system used in Kahnawà:ke for use in their Mohawk Immersion School.
In Tyendinaga, the Anglican missionaries also wrote the language using the letters “d,” “g,” “y,” and “z.” This writing system is used in the church hymnals and prayer books. In 1984, the language was introduced into the education system. Materials from other reserves were used. Today the writing system being used in the schools is similar to the writing system used in Ahkwesáhsne, Kahnawà:ke, Kanehsatà:ke, and Wáhta.
The Mohawk Alphabet
All Mohawk writing systems use the same Roman or Latin alphabet which is also used to write English. However, the Mohawk method is more systematic than the English writing system; you generally write a word exactly the way it sounds in Mohawk. It is therefore easy to learn the written Mohawk form: the written form reflects the spoken word.
Twelve letters of the Roman alphabet are used to write the Mohawk language. The vowels are “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” “en,” and “on.” The consonants are “h,” “k,” “n,” “r,” “s,” “t,” “w,” and “y.”
Dialect differences do exist on the different reserves. Speakers may and do have different pronunciations for the same word. This difference is now reflected in the orthography used. For example:
Tyendinaga writes the “t” as a “d” because one of the rules in the language states that a “d” before a vowel sounds like a “t.”
Mohawk uses syllables made up of a combination of consonants and vowels, vowel combinations, consonant clusters, and consonant cluster vowel combinations to form words.
A complete chart can be developed using these combinations of sounds. Using this chart, any Mohawk word can be written. In all six Mohawk Communities, literate Mohawk speakers as well as beginning learners of the Mohawk language write words using this sound chart.
Six Mohawk-speaking nations in the provinces of Ontario and Québec as well as in the United States participated in the consultation process for the Mohawk language standardisation project.
Three of the Mohawk-speaking nations – Tyendinaga, Wáhta, and Ohswé:ken – are located in Ontario. Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke are situated in the province of Quebec, near Montréal. Ahkwesáhsne is unique in that it straddles two provinces – Quebec and Ontario – as well as New York State.
The Aboriginal Standardisation Project
To address the Aboriginal people’s concern that many Aboriginal languages were becoming extinct, the Ontario Ministry of Education, through the Literacy Branch, developed a multi-year proposal for Aboriginal language standardisation as part of its mandate for Aboriginal literacy. The Literacy Branch(2) assists the Aboriginal people in Ontario to standardise their languages. The Ministry provides financial assistance to Aboriginal peoples in Ontario to develop standard literary forms and to prepare materials in their native languages for use in the school system. The objective is to ensure the revitalization, survival, and functional use of Ontario’s Aboriginal languages.
The Ministry of Education and Training (MET) is committed to delivering educational services in Aboriginal languages; the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board (OTAB) is also committed to providing literacy services to adults in Ontario’s thirteen Aboriginal languages. Mohawk, like other Aboriginal languages native to Ontario, did not have a standard writing system which was accepted by all Mohawk-speakers. Standardisation of a language is required to produce quality materials and to avoid fragmentation of a language, in this case, the fragmentation of the Mohawk language.
The Mohawk Standardisation Conference
The first proposal under the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project – the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference – was initiated on January 22, 1993. It was conceived as a six-month project with the objective of making recommendations on standardising Mohawk orthography. This step would be vital in the development of written Mohawk educational texts and, in the long run, the revitalization of the Mohawk language.
A. Co-sponsorship Agreement
After identifying the issue of Aboriginal standardisation, Literacy Branch staff invited members from Ontario’s four Mohawk nations to attend a meeting on January 22, 1993. The Toronto meeting had a two-fold purpose:
The meeting was attended by the following official representatives:
All participants agreed that the language should be standardised in order to promote its use. The Tyendinaga Band Council offered to administer the project. Under the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project, the Ministry drew up a draft co-sponsorship agreement between the Ministry and the Mohawk territories. At this same meeting, it was decided to present the language standardisation project to the territorial leaders.
On February 4, 1993, a second meeting was held at Ahkwesáhsne. The meeting was hosted by Chief Rose Marie Sunday. At the Ahkwesáhsne meeting, the four Chiefs signed the co-sponsorship agreement for a Mohawk language standardisation conference. This agreement was between MET and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, the Mohawk Council of Ahkwesáhsne, the Wáhta Mohawk First Nation and the Six Nations of the Grand River.
The agreement was signed by Chief Earl Hill (Tyendinaga), Chief Steve Williams (Ohswé:ken), Chief Steve Stock (Wáhta), and Grand Chief Mike Mitchell (Ahkwesáhsne). The Chiefs agreed that the funds and project would be administered through the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. (See Appendix for the Co-sponsorship Agreement between MET and the Mohawk territories in Ontario.)
The Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference was funded by the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Citizenship (CIT), and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation (CTR). (Separate grants were made by CIT and CTR.)
On March 5, 1993, Glenda “Sam” Maracle, on behalf of the Tyendinaga Band Council, sent letters to the six territories inviting them to participate in the Conference Planning Committee, the conference, and in the hiring of a Conference Co-ordinator. Attached to this letter was a copy of the draft Terms of Reference for the conference and a job description for the co-ordinator. After discussion among the Band Councils of the six Mohawk-speaking nations, two representatives from each nation were selected to sit on the steering committee. Most members of the steering committee were native speakers. Most had also received training in Mohawk linguistics through teacher training programmes in Ontario and Quebec.
By March 17, 1993, names of representatives from each territory were submitted and a steering committee was established. On April 8, 1993, the newly-formed steering committee met to discuss terms of reference, mile posts, the community consultation process, the hiring of a project co-ordinator, the time frame for the consultation process, and the conference dates.
Steering Committee Terms of Reference
The following Terms of Reference were adopted for the Steering Committee:
On April 15, 1993, interviews were conducted to hire a project co-ordinator and Dorothy Lazore was contracted to co-ordinate the conference. The project co-ordinator was to:
In collaboration with the steering committee, the project co-ordinator held local meetings on each territory in order to consult with Elders, teachers, linguists, and language specialists in developing a standard literary form for the Mohawk language. Two consultation meetings were held within each territory. To serve as a guide for discussion purposes, a questionnaire on standardisation was developed by the steering committee.
The consultation process was designed to ensure that the conference and its results were supported and accepted by the Mohawk-speaking communities. Its aim was to involve as many Mohawk-speaking people as possible in the process of standardising the Mohawk language and identifying language issues and concerns.
The co-ordinator’s responsibilities included:
The following questions on standardisation were used to facilitate the discussion within each community.
On May 5, 1993, a consultation was held with the Parents Committee of the Mohawk Language Immersion Programme at Tyendinaga. On May 6, 1993, a meeting was held with Tyendinaga’s Language Committee. The project co-ordinator presented the standardisation project, explained the co-sponsorship agreement between the Ministry and the Band Councils, and distributed the consultation questionnaire for discussion.
Discussion focused on dialect differences in both their spoken and written forms. This group thought it was a good idea to standardise the language. The project co-ordinator gave a presentation on the standardisation project. The purpose of the consultation process and the conference was outlined. The group felt that it would be a good idea to standardise the alphabet. A consensus should be sought to write the language in the same way. Others felt strongly that a compromise should be sought. The Tyendinaga meetings resulted in the following recommendations:
The main concern expressed was to preserve the dialect. although the co-ordinator explained that standardising the written form would not necessarily affect the dialect, some community members continued to feel that it would.
Wáhta and Ohswé:ken
On Saturday, May 8, 1993, a consultation was held in Brantford with Mohawk peoples from the Wáhta and Ohswé:ken nations. On May 11 and 12, 1993, a second meeting was held with the parent and language committees to review what was happening with the consultation process and to seek further input.
On June 6, 1993, in Wáhta, a consultation meeting was held with Elders, teachers, fluent Mohawk speakers, and community members interested in Native language education. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members presented the background information on the standardisation project, the purpose of the consultation, meetings, and the goals of the conference. The questionnaire was then distributed for discussion.
On Monday, June 7, 1993, a meeting was held in Brantford for consulting with the Ohswé:ken nation. Along with two steering committee members, the project co-ordinator presented the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference to a group of Native teachers involved in teaching immersion. The questionnaire was presented for discussion.
The teachers felt that it was necessary to standardise the language and to establish solid rules for writing it. They believed that it was also necessary to establish a writing system that is the same throughout the Mohawk territories so that children would have access to similar written materials, no matter which territory they visited. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members also gave a presentation on the standardisation project which described the process of consultation with the Aboriginal peoples, organizing a conference, and selecting participants from the Native territories.
On June 11, 1993, in Ohswé:ken, a meeting was organized with the Elders from the community. The importance of the language and its revitalization as a living language within the community were discussed. The role of Elders in the standardisation project as consultants and conference participants was a vital concern. The language is still intact among the Elders; Elders possess an in-depth knowledge of the Mohawk language. Developing words for modern vocabulary was an easy process for our Elders. At one point, the Aboriginal people operated in a world where the Mohawk language was dominant.
Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke
On May 15, 1993, the project co-ordinator and the four steering committee members from the Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke territories held a joint presentation for Mohawk language teachers, Elders, curriculum writers, artists, and native speakers on the standardisation project. The four steering committee members discussed the agreement and the transactions between MET and the Band Councils. The project co-ordinator provided information on the purpose of the consultation process and the goals of the conference. The questionnaire on the consultation process was distributed for discussion.
The group worked on the questionnaire privately and in groups. In every question, the word “language” was replaced with the words “written form”. The general consensus was to standardise the orthography rather than the language. Respecting each community’s dialect was also recommended. It was of utmost importance to respect each community’s dialect. The dialects make the language unique.
On June 16, 1993, the project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with community members from Kanehsatà:ke. Elders, fluent language specialists, teachers, and curriculum writers participated in the meeting. The day-long meeting was conducted totally in the Mohawk language, an experience that can occur when fluent speakers make a conscious effort to speak in their native tongue.
The project co-ordinator presented the Mohawk language standardisation project including an update on the consultation process among the six Mohawk communities within Ontario and Québec. The purpose for the conference was also outlined. Reports were provided on the status of the Mohawk language in each territory. It was explained that the main goal was to have one writing system that would benefit all the six Mohawk-speaking territories so that written materials could be shared among the six Mohawk territories.
The participants all agreed that standardising the language was necessary. The group felt that the language had survived a series of changes since the early 1800’s and that standardisation would solidify its importance and cultural value. The group also agreed that the Mohawk language should be spoken throughout the conference and that simultaneous translation be provided for non-speakers. They agreed that the final report should be available in Mohawk and English. Everyone at the meeting showed interest in attending the conference on standardisation.
The meetings resulted in the following recommendations:
On May 28, 1993, in Ahkwesáhsne, a consultation was held which involved Elders, Mohawk language teachers, and Mohawk speakers. The discussion focused on reusing old or traditional terms for modern vocabulary.
The project co-ordinator gave a presentation on the agreement signed between MET and the six Mohawk bands. The presentation explained the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project, the purpose for the consultation process, and the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference.
Following the presentation, a discussion on the questionnaire was held. The group felt that standardising the orthography was an excellent idea. Some felt that more materials and Mohawk literature could be produced and that eventually a curriculum centre for producing materials would be a result of the standardisation process. The Ahkwesáhsne meetings resulted in the following recommendations:
On June 11, 1993, another consultation was held on the Ahkwesáhsne territory. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with school board members, band councillors, school committee members, curriculum personnel, and Native language teachers.
On May 26, the Steering Committee re-convened to review the consultation process. The co-ordinator reported that in the discussions to date the Mohawk people were in favour of having a standard form of writing their language. The steering committee, the project co-ordinator, and the MET representative reviewed the consultation process results and identified issues for standardisation. The committee agreed to continue the consultations on the remaining territories.
By May’s end, the consultation with off-reserve organizations, Ahkwesáhsne, Kanehsatà:ke, and Kahnawà:ke was completed. The consultation process continued within the remaining three territories: Ohswé:ken, Tyendinaga and Wáhta First Nation. The consultation process was completed by the end of June. After each meeting, a report summarizing the results of the community level discussions and a list of participants was submitted to the Steering Committee.
In Wáhta, only one writing system is used but in Tyendinaga and Ohswé:ken four systems were in use. Writing systems identified during the consultation include the Jamieson, Isaacs, Brant, David Maracle, Pictograph, Sulpician, and Swan systems. All groups were positive about the concept of standardisation.
Ahkwesásne and Kahnawàke/Kahnesatàke were the nations which had the highest level of participation. However, the most meetings – five – were held in Tyendinaga. There were 32 participants (Elders, teacher, parents) at Kahnawàke/Kahnesatàke’s consultation, 31 participants (Elders, teachers, 1 parent) at Ahkwesásne, 17 participants at Tyendinaga (parents, Elders, teacher), and 21 at Ohswé:ken/Wáhta.
The following is a summary list of the suggestions made during the consultations.
Through this initial consultation, the Project Co-ordinator identified forty-eight possible conference participants to be invited to attend the conference in Tyendinaga. It was understood that Elders, linguists, teachers, Mohawk speakers, Aboriginal language specialists, and band councillors or council representatives should be present at the conference.
At the final meeting, on June 30, 1993, the steering committee members, the project co-ordinator, and the MET representative met in Ahkwesáhsne to review the results of the consultation process, identify specific orthography issues for discussion at the conference, select nine participants from each nation to participate in the Mohawk language standardisation conference, and organize an agenda and format for group discussions. It was decided to hold the conference at Tyendinaga from August 17 to 20, 1993.
The co-ordinator reported that the consultation participants supported the standardisation project. Excellent suggestions were provided. One of the suggestions was to consult with the Elders and mother tongue speakers and to base the standardisation of the Mohawk language on the speech of Elders. This strategy would use the most conservative, traditional form as the foundation for standardisation. It would also respect the dialect of each territory and choose a standard writing system with an established orthography.
Three issues were identified for decision-making: the alphabet (how many letters and which letters for which sounds), new word formation; and orthography. The thirteen orthography issues which were identified by the steering committee for decision at the conference were:
Forming new words would be discussed with Elders from each territory. In preparation for this conference discussion, the project co-ordinator and a steering committee representative consulted with the Elders prior to the conference to discuss methods and principles of new word formation, such as derivatives from Mohawk roots, the revival of archaic words with new meanings, and loan words.
North West Territories
At a conference in Honolulu, the Project Co-ordinator learned that the orthography of five Dene languages had been standardised in the North West Territories (NWT). With the assistance of the National Literacy Secretariat, the Co-ordinator and MET staff went to Yellowknife in order to learn from the NWT experience in standardising orthography.
From July 2 to 7, 1993, the project co-ordinator and MET staff were in Yellowknife, to meet with the people who had been directly involved in co-ordinating the Dene standardisation project for the Athapaskan and Inuit languages spoken in the North West Territories.
Standardising the writing systems used by the speakers of the five Athapaskan or Dene languages of the North West Territories was first identified in the 1970s. In the fall of 1985, the territorial government instituted the task force on Aboriginal language which tabled its report in 1986. This task force recommended that the writing systems used for the Dene languages be standardised within ten years. As a result, the Dene standardisation project was initiated in 1987. It was conceived as a one-year project. Its mandate was to formulate recommendations on orthographic standardisation, to establish rules for grammar, spelling, and pronunciation for the five languages.
These were seen as the initial steps in the process of encouraging widespread Native language literacy, the publication of native language materials, and, ultimately, the preservation of the Dene languages.
Working committees were organized. The membership of the Planning Committee was comprised of one representative from each of the five language groups. Elders, teachers, and fluent speakers formed the committee. The Roman alphabet was adopted and standardised for all five Dene languages.
A major result of this orthographic standardisation was that the Dene peoples have produced and published materials in their own languages for use in their schools and communities.
Prior to the conference, there was a preparatory meeting on August 5 as well as a two-day workshop at Tyendinaga on August 9 and 10, 1993. At the work shop, the steering committee and project co-ordinator met with Prof. Marianne Mithune, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, to obtain background information on the orthography issues identified at the June 30 meeting.
On the first day of the workshop, the project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with Professor Mithune to review orthography and to discuss the goals established for the conference. Professor Mithune raised the issues involved in standardisation, gave a presentation on orthography, the use and importance of using diacritical marks in the Mohawk language. She also discussed pronunciation and dialect differences, former writing systems, and methods for coining new words in the Mohawk language.
The second day of the workshop was an open forum. Other participants from the Mohawk territories were invited to attend. The orthography issues were reviewed and discussed with the participants.
The issues that are involved in standardising a language are orthography, grammar, spelling, and methods to coin new words. Questions were posed: “Do we really want standardisation?” “If so, why?” “Standardise what?”
Standardisation focuses on the orthography, standardising the letters that will be used within the system. It also deals purely with the writing system and its spelling. A decision needed to be made on which letters and how many were to be used. Diacritical marks – length with falling or rising tone, glottal stop and an accent to indicate stress – were introduced into the writing system in 1972. These diacritical marks assist in the reading of the Mohawk language.
The next presentation focused on the basic principles for coining new words. Three methods were identified for creating new words. First, words are formed according to the subject, characteristics, function or habitual activity.
This two-day workshop provided background information on the issues to be discussed at the August conference. Professor Mithune also recommended deferring the process of establishing grammar rules to another session. She felt that a longer time frame would be needed to accomplish the task of establishing the rules.
On August 10, 1993, the workshop was opened to other participants from the six Mohawk territories.
A four-day conference on the standardisation of the Mohawk language was held on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory from August 17 to 20, 1993. Representatives from the six Mohawk-speaking nations of Tyendinaga, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Ahkwesáhsne, Kahnawà:ke, and Kanehsatà:ke attended the standardisation conference. The participants included Elders, teachers, curriculum writers, fluent native Mohawk speakers and linguists. The conference consisted of a plenary as well as group meetings. Only the plenary could make a binding decision. All decisions were reached through consensus.
At the conference, information on the issues was presented to the participants. The conference participants were divided into six groups. Two steering committee members facilitated the discussion in each discussion. The groups were given the task of discussing the issue, arriving at a consensus, and reporting their findings at the plenary session.
Registration took place on August 17, 1993. On August 18, Chief Earl Hill of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory welcomed the participants from the six Mohawk Territories to the conference. Following the Chief’s words of welcome, the Keynote Speaker, Timote Karetu, a member of the Maori Language Commission in New Zealand, addressed the conference.
Timote Karetu explained that the Maoris standardised the writing of the language in 1958, when the New Zealand government decided that all Maori publications should be written in a standard orthography. While dialect should not be the victim of standardisation, a language must be understood. If the Mohawk language is going to be comprehended, it needs to be in a form that any Mohawk anywhere can understand.
Similarly, written Maori can now be understood by any tribe regardless of dialect or region. Mr. Karetu spoke about the written form, not the spoken form. Each tribe has its own dialect and all dialects are mutually comprehensible, though they are not different languages. He noted that if you want the written language to be understood everywhere, particularly among people who are learning the language, you have to start looking seriously at standardised writing. He also spoke about dialects where the innovation, stress, and words are different. Anybody who understands the language can tell from the context what the word means. If people understand the language well, the dialect will make no difference because the context will tell them what the word is. However, learners whose first language is English may not be able to understand only from context.
In discussing standardisation, we therefore need to consider the learners of the language. They need help in learning the language. Native speakers have no difficulties because they will know what the word is and where the stress is. However, a student of the language has no help at all if there is no indication in the word itself. Due to their limited language skills, the context would not be able to help them either. As teachers and experts in the field, we need to be looking to our students’ needs rather than only to those of fluent speakers.
Terms of Reference
Following the keynote speakers’ presentation, representatives from the steering committee formed a panel to outline the purpose of the conference.
The terms of reference for the conference were to:
The first issue for the plenary was to decide which alphabet was to be used in Mohawk. As all Mohawk writing systems use the Latin alphabet, this decision was easily reached. A presentation on the writing systems of Mohawk was made by steering committee members in order to start the discussion on choosing a standard writing system at the conference. This panel of six, one representative from each Mohawk territory, discussed the orthography used on each territory.
For example, the following diacritical marks are now used:
Following this presentation, the participants formed six groups of 10. The six groups were asked to: decide on a writing system, letters, and diacritical marks; reach a consensus; and report back the plenary session.
By consensus, the participants agreed that the Mohawk alphabet would consist of the following letters:
Aa Ee Ii Oo EN en ON on
Hh Kk Nn Rr Ss Tt Ww Yy
The Mohawk names for the diacritical marks are:
New Word Formation:
On August 19, 1993, Mohawk words were developed for “vowel”, “consonant,” “alphabet,” and “syllable.” These terms would be used as standard terminology within the Mohawk language. The participants brainstormed, recorded their word creations, and reported their findings to the plenary session. At the plenary session, a list of the new proposed words was compiled. Most of the terms which were proposed described the function of the word.
The following is a list of the Mohawk words that were created for “vowel” and “vowels”.
The list was made available to the participants at the plenary session to discuss and to arrive at a consensus. It was recommended that the term “Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” be used as the standard form for the English word “vowel” and that “Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” be the plural form.
The following is a list of the Mohawk words that were created for the terms “consonant” and “consonants”.
At the plenary session, a second list of words for “consonant” was developed.
Three Mohawk words – Kawennón:nis, Kawennonniá:tha and tekawennákhas – were provided for the term “syllable.” “Tekawennákhas” was the Mohawk word selected for “syllable.”
In summary, the conference decided the Mohawk words for these grammatical terms:
On August 20, 1993, the fourth day of the conference, the recommendations were reviewed and finalized. The participants felt that a great deal had been accomplished at this conference. The orthography of the Mohawk language had been standardised, although “y” would continue to be used in Tyendinaga and Ohswé:ken. Methods to coin new words were approved.
A final speech on adult literacy programs and Aboriginal language developments was presented by Mr. Gary Wilson, M.P.P., Kingston and the Islands. As the Parlimentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and Training, Mr. Wilson described the Aboriginal literacy programs which MET supports and funds. Programs are also available after school for youth who are experiencing difficulty with their work.
The ministry also encourages the development of Aboriginal language courses at Ontario colleges and universities. Institutions like Lakehead University and Mohawk College have shown their commitment to this important task. The Aboriginal Education and Training Strategy represents another initiative being taken by the Ontario Government to address the needs of Aboriginal People. These initiatives take on a greater significance this year, the International Year for the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Follow-up to the Conference
A final meeting of the steering committee, project co-ordinator, and OTAB staff was held on November 26, 1993, to review the draft conference report and to consolidate the recommendations made at the conference.
As noted during the consultation and during the conference itself, the Mohawk people from the six Mohawk territories of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Kahnawà:ke, and Kanehsatà:ke were in favour of establishing a standard literary writing system and orthography for their language. The importance of standardising the Mohawk orthography was emphasised throughout the consultation process, the pre-conference workshop, and the standardisation conference held in August 1993. The participation of the six Mohawk Communities throughout the consultation process and during the conference certainly contributed to the successful results of the entire process of standardising the language. The consultation process educated the Mohawk speakers on the role of standardisation. Standardising the writing system of the Mohawk language will be of great benefit to the retention, the survival, and the revitalization of the Mohawk language for the Mohawk Territories. As a result, the participants achieved the goals set out for the conference by the Steering Committee.
After the steering committee approves the Project Co-ordinator’s report, it will be sent to the Band Office of each Mohawk Nation. The Chiefs and Band Councils will review the report and communicate their approval through Band Resolutions endorsing its recommendations and requiring the use of the approved standard orthography of Mohawk on each territory.
There are five recommendations which the conference made to standardise the Mohawk writing system. There was unanimity on the use of the Roman alphabet and, after much discussion, on the twelve letters which are to be used in the Mohawk written language. The conference also made recommendations regarding diacritical marks, capitalisation, punctuation marks, and new word formation. Taken together, these five recommendations are the basis for a standard, written form of the Mohawk language.
Summary of Recommendations
The Roman alphabet consisting of twelve letters is to be used in writing the Mohawk language. It is listed below in alphabetical order.
As in English, Mohawk vowels are defined as long and short. However, vowels also occur as nasal vowels, as stressed vowels with falling or rising tone, and as stressed vowels.
Below is a list of the consonants and the contexts in which they appear.