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Review of  Language Revitalization Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes

Reviewer: John Charles Smith
Book Title: Language Revitalization Processes and Prospects: Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes
Book Author: Kendall A. King
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Quichua, Chimborazo Highland
Issue Number: 12.1706

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King, Kendall A. (2000) Language revitalization processes and prospects:
Quicha in the Ecuadorian Andes, Multilingual Matters

Reviewed by Joan Smith/Kocamahhul, Strategies for Language
Revitalization Project, Department of Linguistics, University of
Canterbury, New Zealand.

Brief Summary:

King's work is, in brief, an ethnographic study of attitudes towards and
use of Quichua in the Ecuadorian Andes with particular focus on the
language revitalization efforts in two community schools.

In the first chapter, Language Revitalization, King places her work in
its theoretical context discussing definitions of language
revitalization, and orienting the work in relation to the field of
language shift (on various levels) and language planning. Her
methodological approach is the ethnography of communication.

Chapter two, Setting the Scene, describes the sociohistorical context
mostly at the national and regional (Saraguro) level with particular
focus on the politics of national policy and indigenous organisations.
There is a brief description of the two communities studied, one more
urban than the other, and with language shift from Quichua to Spanish
concomitantly further advanced. In the second half of chapter two, King
outlines her method and discusses some of the practical issues arising.

In the third chapter, Language Use and Ethnic Identity in Lagunas, King
outlines the development of the language shift, assesses the linguistic
competencies of the community members, the attitudes to language and the
use(s) of the language and its relation to ethnic identity. The tension
between the two varieties - 'Authentic Quichua' (the local
Spanish-influenced variety) and 'Unified Quichua' (the standardized
national variety) - is also considered.

The fourth chapter, Language Use and Ethnic Identity in Tambopamba,
examines the less urban of the two communities. Although there are some
differences from Lagunas (rural occupation is much more important in
defining ethnic identity) there are still many similarities.

The fifth chapter, Quichua Instruction and the Community Schools,
examines in some detail the nature of instruction in the two
state-sponsored schools, one in each community. King compares the
teaching philosophies of the two schools and describes the different
teaching practices, but finds that when it came to teaching Quichua as a
second language the two schools were very similar. Despite a declared
goal of increasing the communicative skills of the children with the aim
of revitalising the language in the wider community, the teaching of
Quichua made up a small proportion of the school day and what teaching
there was focused on vocabulary, reading, writing and translation.

In the sixth chapter, Prospects and processes revisited, King assesses
the Quichua-as-a-second-language efforts and makes suggestions to
further future efforts.

As is often the case in works on language shift or revitalisation, the
reader gets a sense of d�j� vu here: the discrimination, beatings etc.
for speaking the wrong language, the economic carrot for speaking the
other language, the emotional attachment to the language, the limited
nature of the language-teaching in the classroom. Readers will see
parallels between their community of interest and the communities of

King's book is well-organised, spelling out the method and theories used
and their relation to each other. The reader is given plenty of
indication of how the book will develop. The references are
comprehensive and would make a good reading list for someone newly
interested in language revitalisation. Chapters three and four include
useful tables which relate peoples' ages and language competencies to
important historical events.

On the less positive side, the grouping of discussion of method together
with the description of the sociohistorical context in chapter two seems
inappropriate. Similarly, Appendix two which lists the recorded
interviews is of little use to the reader. On the other hand, some
discussion of the basic characteristics of the language, especially in
comparison to Spanish would have been useful. Finally, with respect to
the notation used for indicating the different languages (/S/ and /Q/
alongside the English gloss in brackets), it would have been easier to
see how the languages are used if King had adopted the approach common
in work on codeswitching of marking the uses of the different languages
bold, italic etc. In some cases this would have made the transition from
one language to another easier to see (e.g. p.172 and 173) whether
between speakers or in one speaker's utterance.

Another point concerns King's classification of the use of Quichua as
marked and unmarked. Specifically, she classifies use of Quichua for
humour as unmarked (in chapter three). This would suggest that for
humour a switch to Quichua is necessary and that not to switch to
Quichua would be marked. Certainly, this is true of the other unmarked
uses of Quichua - switching to Quichua when speaking to an elder, when
speaking secretly, or when actively teaching the language. Not to use
Quichua in these instances (assuming one is proficient) would be marked.
It is unlikely that the use of Quichua for humour is unmarked; I suspect
rather that it is marked and that it is the markedness which highlights
that a joke is intended. Attention to Myers-Scotton's work on
codeswitching (1993) would have helped this section.

I found two points in the book of particular interest: the nuts and
bolts of field research and the discrepancy between what people (say
they) want and what they do.

In chapter two King is candid about the practicalities of her field
research and some of the difficulties she encountered - the intended
plan (agreed with local officials) was that King would observe the
implementation of a regional Quichua-as-second-language programme in the
Saraguro schools, yet on her return a year later it was apparent that
the programme had stalled. She then turned her attention to the two
community programmes discussed in the book. This is a salutary tale of
the need for the field worker to be adaptive. King also reflects on her
own personal characteristics (age, appearance, foreignness, gender) and
how they affected her role in the community. Illustrations are found
elsewhere in the book, in examples where facetious jokes are made about
King as a single woman being (im)possibly pregnant or in pursuit of a
man (p. 84 and 120). How the fieldworker fits into a community is an
important consideration, especially where language use is one of the
objects of study; language use does not occur in a vacuum. This section
has value for someone embarking on field research; I found that it
echoed many of my experiences.

The final chapter with its suggestions for future developments in
language revitalization is also useful. It has become increasingly
recognised that the fieldworker conducting research in a community
undergoing language shift is under a moral obligation about how their
research can be used by the community (Labov, 1982; Wolfram, 1998;
Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, 1995). This chapter has many useful
suggestions that can be easily adapted to other communities. It would
have been again useful for the beginner fieldworker to have some
indication of how one's material can be presented to a community.

Another key point raised by King's results is the discrepancy between
what people want (or say they want) and what they do. In the case of the
Tambopamba community there is a discrepancy between mothers' regret that
the children do not speak much Quichua and the fact that they only
address the children in Spanish. In both communities there is a
discrepancy between the goals stated by the teachers (to further
communicative skills) and the teaching styles (focusing on reading
writing and translation) - this begs the question whether the teaching
is inappropriate for the goals due to a lack of skills and pedagogical
knowledge or whether there is an underlying ambivalence which is
undermining the programme. King's suggestions for language
revitalisation in Saraguro (chapter six) address the former, but she
does not delve far into the latter though she mentions the issue of
ambivalence in another community (Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer, 1998). As
she points out, this in turn relates to the need for ideological
clarification prior to embarking on revitalization efforts (Fishman,

Much of what King reports in Saraguro is familiar from language shift
and language revitalization in other parts of the world. Yet it is
always useful to confirm that, while each situation is unique, there is
also much to be learned from other communities. I have focused on only a
few points of particular interest to me. King's work is particularly
strong in analysing the practicalities of fieldwork - I wish I had been
able to read this book before starting my own dissertation.


Dauenhauer, N. M., and R Dauenhauer. Technical, emotional, and
ideological issues in reversing language shift: examples from Southeast
Alaska. Endangered Languages. Ed. Lenore A. Grenoble and Lindsay J.
Whaley. Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 1998.

Fishman, Joshua A. Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual
Matters, 1991.

Labov, William. Objectivity and commitment in linguistic science: The
case of the Black English trial in Ann Arbor. Language in Society 11
(1982): 165 - 201.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. Social motivations for codeswitching. Oxford
studies in language contact. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. xii, 177.

Wolfram, Walt. Scrutinizing linguistic gratuity: issues from the
field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 2.2 (1998): 271-79.

Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling-Estes. Moribund dialects and the
endangerment canon: the case of the Ocracoke brogue. Language 71
(1995): 696-721.

Joan Smith/Kocamahhul is a research assistant for the Strategies for
Language Revitalization project at the University of Canterbury, New
Zealand. She is also working on her doctoral thesis on the role of
codeswitching in language shift.


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