Member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs to study linguistics at MIT

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 10:15 PM EDT
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A member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs has been accepted in a Masters program in linguistics at MIT. Kathy McCarty has more on John Dennis’s plans to keep his native language alive.

John Dennis, a member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, is the latest person to be admitted into the MITILI - MIT Indigenous Language Initiative - a Masters program offered through MIT’s Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. His goal is to learn skills to be able to teach his native language to others.

“I’ve been interested in it only because I’ve been studying language for a while, I grew up with it. And i was just very intrigued into not only does it correlate with the culture, it correlates with the history and so on,” says John Dennis.

Norvin Richards, Professor of Linguistics, says the goal of the program is to provide students with the skills to teach others about their language in an orderly way.

“A fair number of the people in this program, the MITILI program, come in I think wanting to do what John I think is interested in, which is teaching their own language, and so we’ll do - we’ll do work that’s sort of geared toward helping him get better at that,” says Norvin Richards, Professor of Linguistics at MIT.

Richards stressed the importance of keeping languages alive, especially the lesser-known indigenous ones.

“There’s all this cultural wealth that’s in danger of just being irrevocably lost, if something isn’t done. And it’s thanks to people like John that that’s going to be stopped. If it’s stopped, people like John are going to be crucial,” says Richards.

Dennis plans to use what he learns to continue teaching Micmac youth their native language.

“I’m putting the language back in their mouth, because when, you know, their grandparents or their - the elders now - their grandparents, great grandparents, it had - the language was taken from them, do now I feel - I tell them, ‘I’m putting the language back, giving it back to you, because that’s where it truly belongs is in - is in your mouth. It belongs to you,’” says Dennis.

Dennis says he looks forward to starting the two-year MIT program this fall, which will teach him skills to keep the Micmac language alive. Kathy McCarty, NewsSource 8

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