Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ilona Leki

Committee Members

Marilyn Kallet, Michael Keene, Carolyn Hodges


Since the time of early contact with European imperialists, indigenous peoples of the Americas have negotiated linguistic differences with colonial powers. Where colonial oppression and attempts at cultural genocide have not rendered the complete extinction of indigenous languages, these forces often have brought about remarkable language shifts compelling North American natives to rely on European languages as discourses of wider communication and to use indigenous languages in limited contexts. This study examines the relationship between English and indigenous languages as depicted by North American Indian autobiographers living in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The works of early autobiographers such as Charles Eastman, Zitkala-Sa, and Luther Standing Bear document the writers' experiences acquiring English as a second language through the often oppressive teaching practices of the nineteenth century Indian boarding school system. Autobiographies by Leslie Harmon Silko and N. Scott Momaday document the long-term consequences of imperialist language practices resulting in a generation of Indian autobiographers who write in English and who do not speak their ancestral languages fluently. By approaching these texts through qualitative content analysis, this study considers how Indians writing in English dehegemonize the language and compel scholars to develop a critical discourse reflective of Indian concerns regarding language.

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