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JSIS alum now teaching First Nations language

December 24, 2020

Adam Werle, an alum in International Studies, Japan track, now teaches Nuu-chah-nulth to Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellows. Read more in his words:

I discovered in high school that I am fascinated by languages. Before university, I studied Spanish, Japanese, and French. At the University of Washington, I took linguistics, and studied Portuguese, German, Greek, Old English, Old Norse, Gothic, and Egyptian. I graduated from the UW in 1998 with a BA in Linguistics and in International Studies (Japan track). In 2009, I earned my Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and was appointed adjunct professor in the University of Victoria’s Department of Linguistics.

Through my education in linguistics, and inspired by my professors Sharon Hargus (UW) and Lisa Matthewson (UMass), I developed a deep interest in Indigenous languages of the Pacific Northwest, where I had grown up. In 2002 I began working with elders of the Wakashan languages Makah and Ditidaht, documenting their languages, and facilitating community language classes. Later, I started learning Kwakwala and Nuu-chah-nulth. After some years of making frequent research trips to Vancouver Island, I immigrated to Canada in 2007.

Although I had taught Wakashan languages at a basic level since around 2005, in 2014 I started organizing more intensive classes for advanced learners. While most of our participants are young Nuu-chah-nulth adults, some are non-aboriginal people. For example, we have accepted three UW Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellows into these classes over the years.

To our outsider participants, I have emphasized the importance of respect for local communities, elders, and their languages, and of giving back to the people whose languages we are learning. The results have included a lively and diverse learning cohort, and various valuable language materials, including a linguistics dissertation from FLAS fellow David Inman (2019, multi-predicate constructions in Nuuchahnulth).

Current UW participants in our advanced Nuu-chah-nulth class include FLAS Fellow Lindsey Popken, a Masters Candidate in the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, and łuutiismaʔuƛ Charlotte Coté, a Tseshaht woman and associate professor, Department of American Indian Studies. Ironically, the distancing measures forced by the current pandemic have encouraged us to find new ways to connect virtually, with the result that I am working with learners from more locations than ever before.