Heather Burge

 
Faculty of Arts
Rose-Marie Dechaine
Juneau
United States
 

Research Topic

Prospective Aspect in Tlingit

Research Group

Tense and Aspect in the Pacific (TAP)

Research Description

The way we express time, and our understanding of when something has happened, is different depending on the language weʼre speaking. English and French for example differ in ways they can express something thatʼs happened in the past. Yet there are also striking similarities. My research focuses specifically on Tlingit, a branch of the Na-Dene Athabaskan language family, and how the “future” is expressed in the language. Tlingit, like most Native American and First Nations languages is endangered, with an estimated 200 speaks, that number including all levels of fluency (Twitchell 2016). As a learner of Tlingit, language revitalization is near to my heart, and so this work has three main goals. 1) Begin to paint a clearer picture of how time is expressed in Tlingit, with hopes that it will then be easier for language teachers to teach, and learners to learn. 2) Contribute to the continued cross-linguistic research of an understudied language that linguistics as a discipline is just beginning to be attentive to. 3) As an indigenous person, demonstrate that rigorous scholarship and attention to positive and respectful partnership with Native communities are not mutually exclusive, and are in fact necessary aspects of research. The goal is always to produce something meaningful for the Lingít community that has given me so much, the academic community that continues to learn, and our human family, that needs traditional ways of knowing now more than ever.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

UBC is one of the few universities in the world that has a graduate linguistics department familiar with the Tlingit language. Faculty like Rose-Marie Déchaine, Lisa Matthewson and Martina Wiltschko among many others have done extensive work on indigenous languages, and are incredibly supportive of language revitalization research. UBC kept me on the Northwest Coast, close to home, and close to Tlingit speakers. The universityʼs attention to the traditional territory itʼs located on in combination with its continued effort to be mindful of indigenous students and communities needs was an equally important draw. Being in Canada in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been an important educational experience on how transgenerational healing may begin, and just how much farther we have left to go.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Lingít is a beautiful language, but it is also incredibly complex. There is so much we still donʼt understand about how the language works, and how best to teach a language so different from English. Graduate school was a logical next step on my own language learning journey, that will hopefully also have positive impacts for other language learners as well. Weʼre in dire need of more speakers, and if graduate work can make learning even the smallest bit more accessible to students, it will be worth it.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be brought into such a loving and supportive community during my undergraduate career in Juneau, Alaska. Growing up I was constantly moving, and never felt settled enough to develop roots, so while I became quite familiar with change and the struggle of starting over, it wasnʼt until I moved to Alaska and met some of the most inspiring people in my life that I felt the foundation Iʼd wanted when I was younger start to develop. While Iʼve had a number of jobs and once in a life time experiences, whatʼs truly prepared me most is the unwavering love my family (both biological and adopted) have in my ability. As a mixed indigenous person, feels of not being enough are so familiar, it can be hard to get out of that mindset. Knowing that my going through this now may make it easier for those who come after me, and may make our understanding of this language I want to pass on to my own children that much more complete, and knowing that I have nothing but a foundation of love to fall back on, itʼs hard to stay down for too long.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Back home, Iʼm part of a dance group called Woosh.ji.een, though being in Vancouver makes attending practice a bit challenging. I enjoy sewing regalia for myself and others and have started learning to bead. Yoga, writing poetry, and reading really bad YA novels also help keep me focused on the positive while giving my mind a much needed academic break.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Be kind to yourself. Graduate school is hard, especially in the beginning. Every graduate student I know, myself included, has struggled with feeling like theyʼre not adequate or not up to the task of completely a graduate degree. It can be a challenge to stay positive but trust that youʼre exactly where you need to be. Youʼre not alone, and youʼre going to get through it. Yee gu.aa yáx̱ xʼwán!