From Generation to Generation: Survival and Maintenance of Canada's Aboriginal Languages, within Families, Communities and Cities


  • Mary Jane Norris



Language education


The survival and maintenance of Aboriginal languages in Canada depend on their transmission from generation to generation. Children are the future speakers of a language. This paper demonstrates that the family and the community together play critical roles in the transmission of language from parent to child. On their own, neither family capacity nor community support is sufficient to ensure the adequate transmission of an Aboriginal language as a population's mother tongue from one generation to the next. Intergenerational transmission is maximized in Aboriginal communities among families where both parents have an Aboriginal mother tongue. Transmission can be best realized with the support of the community in those families with either both parents or the lone parent having an Aboriginal mother tongue. Outside of Aboriginal communities, particularly within large cities, transmission and continuity is significantly reduced even under ideal family conditions of linguistically endogamous parents. For exogamous families, it appears that community effect, while positive, is nevertheless limited in offsetting their low rate of mother tongue transmission. Trends indicate continuing declines in intergenerational transmission accompanied by a decreasing and ageing Aboriginal mother tongue population and a growing likelihood that Aboriginal languages will be learned increasingly as second languages.




How to Cite

Norris, M. J. (2004). From Generation to Generation: Survival and Maintenance of Canada’s Aboriginal Languages, within Families, Communities and Cities. TESL Canada Journal, 21(2), 1–16.