Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-19-1978


The purpose of the study was to investigate the way in which the Crow Tribe of Indians in southeastern Montana have maintained the use of their language, rather than shifting mainly or entirely to the use of English.

First it was necessary to document the present level and scope of Crow language maintenance. To this end, two sociolinguistic surveys were undertaken. One comprised an interview schedule administered to an 18 per cent sample of Crow family heads. The respondents were asked to report on their relative use of Crow and English in various situa­tions, their preferences in language choice, their attitudes towards the present and future roles of each language and their assessment of the importance of Crow in relation to other aspects of their culture. It was found that 54 per cent of the interviewees always used Crow with another Crow speaker, while only 8 per cent always used English. In general, their preference was to speak Crow, but they believed that members of the tribe, including the children, should be proficient in both languages. The Crow language was ranked as one of the three mast important elements of the contemporary Crow culture.

The second survey was an assessment of the degree of bilingualism among Crow students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in reservation schools. The whole population of 1191 students were rated on a five-point scale of bilin­gual language proficiency by community people and then 20 per cent of the students were rated again on the basis of an interview, to assess the validity of the community ratings. Both ratings showed that 73 per cent of the students were primary speakers of Crow. This was somewhat lower than the finding of a similar survey in 1969, but there was no clear indication that a significant loss of Crow proficiency had occurred or was occurring in the Crow student population.

The next step was to undertake an analysis of the sociocultural situation of the Crow, in order to seek an understanding of the nonlinguistic factors contributing to the strength of Crow language maintenance. The theoretical model chosen was the framework of comparative ethnic relations proposed by R. A. Schermerhorn (1970). There is an outline of each variable in the framework, concentrating on its relevance to the study of language maintenance. This is followed by an account of how relations between the Crow and the mainstream American society developed from the early nineteenth century on. Then the situation of the tribe is discussed in terms of the Schermerhorn framework. It was concluded that some of the most important factors in Crow language maintenance were the following: the location of the reservation on ancestral land; the ability of the Crow historically to retain the core elements of their culture, while making a pragmatic accommodation to the pressures of the dominant society; the underlying cohesiveness of the tribe; and a considerable degree of institutional separation from non-Indian society, reflected in the strong clan system, a lack of intermarriage, largely separate cultural, recreational and religious activities, and the ability to survive economically on the reservation without the need to seek employment elsewhere.

Finally, in a discussion of the educational implica­tions of the study, it was concluded that there was a clear need for the bilingual education programs currently operating in some reservation schools. However, the future of Crow bilingual education would depend on who controlled the schools, the availability of funding, the training of bilingual teachers and the development of Crow literacy,

Document Type


Level of Degree


First Committee Member (Chair)

Bernard Spolsky

Second Committee Member

Leroy Ortiz

Third Committee Member

Alan Hudson-Edwards

Fourth Committee Member

Vera John-Steiner