An endangered heritage

The indigenous language situation in Quebec is quite worrisome. Today, several indigenous languages show various degrees of vitality. Of the eleven indigenous languages which were spoken in Quebec over the past several centuries, two are no longer spoken (Huron, which is currently undergoing a language revitalization project and Malecite, which still has a few speakers in New Brunswick), one is in a very critically endangered situation (Abenaki), three are in serious danger (Mohawk, Micmac and Algonquin) and the five others – Innu, Atikamekw, Cree, Naskapi and Inuktitut – although somewhat better preserved, nevertheless show serious signs of weakening. Whether spoken by several thousands of speakers or by a mere handful, these languages struggle to survive, confronted as they are by the pressure of the surrounding dominant languages (English or French). A number of factors have been proposed to explain the decrease in language acquisition and use of indigenous languages; these include the small absolute number of speakers for each of the languages, the geographical dispersion of the populations, the propagation of mass media in the communities, as well as the increase in the level of education in the majority language.

Today, and at the international level, there exists a consensus on the importance of protecting minority languages and of respecting cultural and linguistic diversity. The major players in this movement come from various horizons: indigenous groups, universities and learned societies, and international civil organizations. It is essential to pool this complementary expertise in order to preserve the endangered linguistic heritage that the indigenous languages of Quebec represent.