"In this book, Richard Kern explores how technology matters to language and the ways in which we use it. Kern reveals how material, social and individual resources interact in the design of textual meaning, and how that interaction plays out across contexts of communication, different situations of technological mediation, and different moments in time."
AUTHOR: Grenoble, Lenore A.; Whaley, Lindsay J. TITLE: Saving Languages SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Language Revitalization PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2005
Larisa Leisiö, unaffiliated linguist
The main goal of this book is to serve as a general reference guide to language revitalization. The book is designed for readers of various levels of proficiency in linguistics: for linguists, anthropologists, educators, policy makers, humanitarian workers, missionaries, and language activists –all concerned with the survival of a language community.
The outline of the book with seven chapters is as follows. In the first three chapters the authors construct a conceptual framework for understanding variables relevant in the situation of language endangerment. Four case studies of Chapter 4 illustrate the interplay of these variables in the course of revitalization. In Chapters 5 and 6, two major issues of revitalization, literacy and orthography, are discussed in-depth. Chapter 7 guides the reader into creating a language revitalization program.
CHAPTER 1 deals with the language revitalization as a global issue. The authors discern the demographic, political and socio-linguistic factors that affect language vitality and discuss how they should be assessed. Section 2 deals with variables effecting language vitality at an extra-national and national level. In Section 3, the authors provide an elegant discussion on terminology. They draw a conceptual distinction between language revitalization and language maintenance. The former aims at reversing language shift while the latter supports the continuation of a truly vital language. Language endangerment situations typically involve two languages, for which the authors prefer the terms LOCAL LANGUAGE vs. LANGUAGE OF WIDER COMMUNICATION. A community which has some claim to a local language on the basis of current fluency, historical use, or ethnic association is referred as a LOCAL COMMUNITY.
Presented in Section 4, a taxonomy of language attrition accounts for the cause and the relative rate of attrition. Keeping this taxonomy in mind, the authors identify six language types with respect to endangerment: safe, at risk, disappearing, moribund, nearly extinct, and extinct, the final three characterized by the lack of intergenerational transmission. The authors denote that a revitalization program at some level is possible even in the case of an extinct language. As an example, they present the reclamation project of Kaurna (Pama-Nyungan; Australia). The authors emphasize that revitalization is a community–driven process.
CHAPTER 2 deals with a basic set of the factors involved in endangered language situations. Before the discussion, the authors emphasize that, although there is a common set of issues relevant in most communities, each situation is unique, and there cannot be a uniform program that will be successful for different language groups. The interplay of variables effecting language use should be assessed before the onset of a language revitalization program.
The authors draw a distinction between the features of endangerment situation which are internal to the local community and those which exist externally to the community. Internal or MICRO-LEVEL issues involve demography, attitudes, cultural practices, and circumstances of a local speech community. External or MACRO-LEVEL issues are attributable to regional, national, and extra-national sphere of influence.
EXTRA-NATIONAL variables are globalization and the influence of one nation-state upon another. The growth of economic cooperation raises the importance of international access languages, among which the authors count English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. An example of the second variable is the position of Russian language in Estonia and Latvia. Russian still maintains a high prestige in these countries. The reasons for this prestige are heavy Russian immigration during the Soviet period, the role of Russian as a lingua franca throughout the former Soviet Union, and the present dominance of this language in Russian Federation. Further, the authors examine the most important NATIONAL-LEVEL VARIABLES: language policy, national attitudes toward multilingualism, educational policies, regional autonomy granted to minority groups, and federal support. REGIONAL-LEVEL variables, which affect on a particular geographical unit, are regionally dominant languages and language density. In the discussion on MICRO-LEVEL variables, the authors emphasize the role of human resources, religion, literacy, and financial resources. The interaction of different level variables is illustrated by the case of CORNISH, a Celtic language originally spoken in Cornwall. The last native speaker of Cornish died in 1891, but the language was successfully revitalized during the 1900s. This success is based on a realistic assessment of the goals of the revitalization, a sufficient support at the macro-level and a satisfactory financial base, and most importantly, a considerable percentage of community members taking part in the revitalization.
IN CHAPTER 3, the authors concentrate on models for revitalization, the parts of revitalization that aim at increasing the local language knowledge and use. The most desirable alternative is a TOTAL-IMMERSION program. Within this model, an educational environment is created, in which the local language alone is used as the language of communication and instruction. The total-immersion program is exemplified by the language nest model developed between 1970s and 1980s for revitalization of MĀORI (Austronesian; New Zealand). PARTIAL-IMMERSION is a bilingual program, with the instruction only partially conducted in the local language, which tends to be taught as a foreign language. The authors report two different approaches for the situations in which there is no younger-generation speakers of the local language. One is to start the endangered language teaching to the middle generation, linking the local language knowledge to literacy programs. The second approach is to grow up a new speaking generation often starting instruction in preschool or in the very beginning of elementary school. As an alternative to an institutionalized education, many communities use informal learning, focussing on domains of language use. As an example of natural learning the authors examine the Master-apprentice program developed in 1992 in California, which is home to a number of indigenous languages with very few speakers and no language vitality. Elderly language masters were paired with language learners. In the period of three years they worked together for ten hours during weekends. The master addressed the apprentice solely in the local language. Although in the course of three years apprentices did not acquire a fluency of master speakers, they obtained conversational proficiency in the target language and were prepared to teach this language to others. This approach is useful in the situations of severe language attrition.
CHAPTER 4 describes four case studies of revitalizing, EVENKI (Tungusic) in Russia, SHUAR (Jivaroan) in Ecuador, MOHAWK (Iroquoian) in Canada, and HAWAIIAN (Austronesian) in USA. In all case studies, the authors examine the historical, political, and socio-linguistic background of the languages. Discussing the case of Evenki, the authors examine a century of Soviet language policy, at its worst, hostile to toward local languages and centralized language planning, and indicate them resulting in language shift, which characterises most of the local languages of Siberia, and in passive attitude of the local communities toward the development of their languages. The situation is complicated by national, regional, and international language pressure, dispersed habitation, and high ethnic and linguistic diversity in Siberia. All these factors give little hope for language revitalization of Evenki.
The other three language situations, which demonstrate a success of revitalization programs, are opposite to that of Evenki in many respects. The most important characteristic of all three cases is the community commitment and community involvement in the revitalization programs, and establishing political organizations for negotiations with the regional and national authorities. The revitalization programs are based on launching education in the local language. In the case of Shuar, a specific successful feature was the formation of radio schools. The development of the Mohawk immersion school system in Kahnawà:ke was backed up by successful teacher training based on the needs of the immersion program. As a part of the program the teaching materials were developed and improved, based on the process of language standardization and codification. The central component of Mohawk revitalization has been the connection between ethnic identity and language. Cultural values have played an important role in the revitalization of Hawaiian, based on the language nest model. As a major factor of the revitalization of Hawaiian, the authors emphasize the personal commitment of a handful of people who have been dedicated to the idea of Hawaiian education and have given it their time and energy over years.
CHAPTER 5 deals with literacy. Firstly, the authors discuss the main models of literacy. Secondly, they consider arguments for and against literacy in language revitalization. The position of the authors is that communities need literacy in both the language of wider communication and the local language, and that the implementation of literacy should be supported by the local community. Finally, they delineate basic steps in initiating a literacy program. In particular, they discuss criteria of successful local literacy emphasizing the need of domains in which literacy will be used on a regular basis, and examine the basic principles of standardization.
CHAPTER 6 deals with orthography. Addressing writing systems, the authors note that in the development of a new orthographic system based on a one-to-one sound-symbol correspondence is the most usual choice. They argue for a consistent phonemic and morphemic representation. The morphemic principle which states that different morphemes be written differently, should be employed in conjunction with the phonemic principle and subordinate to it. Social, religious and historical issues should be taken into account in the choice of scripts. Further, the authors offer decisions for particular technical problems possibly arising in the process of the development of an orthographic system. They discuss cases of deviation from rigid phonemic principle, in particular the solutions of under- and overdifferentiation. They also address the question of diacritic use and tone marking. The criteria for phoneme and tone marking are the functional load of a phoneme or a tone and the functionality of the mark for readers of different proficiency. In the choice of the types of diacritics, available technology for their reproduction should be taken into account. Next, the authors examine the benefits and costs of the standardization of an orthographic system and enlighten the leading principles in the process of standardization. The chapter is summarized with recommendations for the development of orthography in a language revitalization program.
Designing CHAPTER 7, the authors kept in mind that it could be read in anticipation of Chapters 1-6. The chapter guides into creating a revitalization program step-by-step. Prior to the program creation, three groups of factors should be assessed: (1) resources; (2) the level of language vitality and the degree of language variation, (3) the attitudes among community members toward the local language and its varieties, and the language of wider communication and (4) the goals for revitalization. The authors emphasize that the explicit goals may develop and change through the assessment process itself and in the course of revitalization process. Further, the authors discuss community-internal and -external problems that arise in revitalization and the ways to cope with them. They recount in a nutshell the issues related to the literacy program (Chapter 5). After that, they highlight the aspect of teacher training, technology and the role of outsider in establishing and assisting a revitalization program. Finally, the authors list possible questions for various surveys and conclude the chapter with the checklist of procedures.
The book is reader-friendly: each chapter begins with an overview of the further discussion; the results of analysis are explicitly stated; the main concepts are sufficiently recounted and restated throughout the book. Orienting the book to both linguists and non-linguists, the authors charily clarify most of necessary linguistic notions. I would only add an examination of notions of ''language shift'' and ''language contact'', the latter especially because characteristics ''heavier language contact'' and ''heavy language contact'' are used (see e.g. Thomason 2001). The discussion is based on the analyses of case studies; the examples of various language situations involve 147 languages. What I miss are maps, especially in Chapter 4. Looking at the charming photograph on the front cover, I wonder why the tape recorder is between the speaker and the microphone – it should be far from the microphone to avoid mechanic noise in the recording.
As a revitalization guide the book is realistic, objective, and effective. It provides theoretical base and practical tools for those who hope to reverse a language shift. The emphasis made on legislation and political activity is especially important, since their role is often disregarded in the linguistic discussion on endangered languages. The authors refer to or cite numerous official documents on ethnic and linguistic rights. These can be useful tools especially in those revitalization attempts that get little or no regional and national support.
The text is neatly proof-read: throughout the whole book, including the transliteration of different scripts, there are neither mistakes nor misprints.
Examining the case study of Evenki through the magnifying glass (since the geographic focus of my research is Taimyr Peninsula), I appreciate the detailed and exact analysis of the history of Soviet language planning and that of the language situation in Siberia. I agree with the authors that in the local groups of Evenki, a community-wide enthusiasm for local language development can hardly be expected. A crucial reason for this, inexplicit in the book, is extremely low living conditions, including insufficient medical service, heavy unemployment and epidemic alcoholism among indigenous northern peoples, all of which is getting worse due to the severe climate and poor transportation networks. Correctly indicating that the Siberian local languages are all endangered to varying degrees, the authors point to Nenets and Dolgan as exceptions. To offer an explanation, the vitality of these languages is based, for Nenets, on its position of a regional language, the official language of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area, and for both languages, on the partial retaining of the traditional economy, in particular reindeer breading, which was lost by many other indigenous people in Siberia. Nevertheless, Dolgan is not a lingua franca in Taimyr region; more than elsewhere in Taimyr region, Dolgan is spoken in Hatangskii raion, with the population of approximately 7,000 including 3,853 Dolgans (''Taimyr'' 2.07.2003).
I agree with the authors that only community-driven revitalization can be successful and an outsider can be only supportive at his/her best. Nevertheless, the authors also indicate that ''an outsider may be a catalyst for change'' (p. 192). In line with this, I experienced in the field with Nganasans, that the linguistic field work itself raised the interest toward the language among community members, and the sessions of tape-recording folktales gathered a number of speakers and semi-speakers--all of whom could understand the language. This encouraging experience gives hope that a field worker is able to contribute to slowing down language shift.
In addition to activists of revitalization, linguists of various levels will benefit from this book. It is an excellent text book for field work courses as well as for courses in socio-linguistics, language contact, bilingualism, language policies, and language attrition. Logical structure, clear account of complicated issues, exact word choice, and an explicit reference system makes of this volume an excellent example of quality scientific writing.
Thomason, Sarah G. (2001) Language contact. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Larisa Leisiö studied the Russian of long-term Russian emigrants in Finland with a particular focus on the syntax of Finland Russian. She also researched Slavic metric patterns of folk song, relating them to those used by the Finno-Ugrians. She is currently finalizing her monograph on Nganasan syntax, completed during her post-doctoral project financed by the Academy of Finland.