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The History of English in Cascadia

Cover page of the Vancouver Metro newspaper. Image reads: "Skookum: adj. rural slang. Definition: good, great, strong, big or brave."

July 5, 2022

In May 2022, the Center co-sponsored a roundtable exploring English in the history of Cascadia as a language of trade, displacement and trauma, settler-colonialism, and reclamation and resistance.

This roundtable of lightning talks pursued the local and regional history of English: the place of English in the bioregion of Cascadia, the Pacific Northwestern region of North America. Cascadia has tens of thousands of years of language history, most of it not featuring English but rather a variety of Native North American language families. English is a fairly new language to the region, but its history has already included many dimensions mentioned above.

The study of the English language history of the region is not well-developed, so this roundtable aimed to start a conversation about the local history of English. The speakers in this roundtable approach the history of English from a range of perspectives and disciplines: English, Linguistics, American Indian Studies, and History, as well as public outreach in the form of museum studies and community pedagogy. They spoke about aspects of English in Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska.

The roundtable was framed as a kind of “language acknowledgement” for the conference (in analogy to a land acknowledgement) and looked at English in contact with Indigenous languages in the area touching the shared waters of the bioregion.

The roundtable was chaired by Colette Moore, UW Department of English, whose research focuses on the history of the English language. Participants included Stefan Dollinger, Professor of English Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. Dollinger specializes in sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and dialectology. He is the author of Creating Canadian English: the Professor, the Mountaineer, and a National Variety of English (Cambridge University Press, 2019), which is a biography of the making of Canadian English. 

The roundtable also included Betsy Evans, UW Department of Linguistics; Tami Hohn, UW Department of American Indian Studies; Lorraine McConaghy, a historian with the Museum of History and Industry; Jennifer Stone, University of Alaska Anchorage, Department of English; and Alicia Beckford Wassink, also with UW’s Department of Linguistics.