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Sustaining Linguistic Diversity

Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties

Kendall A. King
Natalie Schilling-Estes
Jia Jackie Lou
Lyn Fogle
Barbara Soukup
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  • Book Info
    Sustaining Linguistic Diversity
    Book Description:

    In the last three decades the field of endangered and minority languages has evolved rapidly, moving from the initial dire warnings of linguists to a swift increase in the number of organizations, funding programs, and community-based efforts dedicated to documentation, maintenance, and revitalization. Sustaining Linguistic Diversity brings together cutting-edge theoretical and empirical work from leading researchers and practitioners in the field. Together, these contributions provide a state-of-the-art overview of current work in defining, documenting, and developing the world's smaller languages and language varieties. The book begins by grappling with how we define endangerment-how languages and language varieties are best classified, what the implications of such classifications are, and who should have the final say in making them. The contributors then turn to the documentation and description of endangered languages and focus on best practices, methods and goals in documentation, and on current field reports from around the globe. The latter part of the book analyzes current practices in developing endangered languages and dialects and particular language revitalization efforts and outcomes in specific locations. Concluding with critical calls from leading researchers in the field to consider the human lives at stake, Sustaining Linguistic Diversity reminds scholars, researchers, practitioners, and educators that linguistic diversity can only be sustained in a world where diversity in all its forms is valued.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-416-9
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    IN THE LAST THREE DECADES, what might be called the field of endangered and minority languages has evolved rapidly. In short order we’ve moved from the initial dire warnings of linguists such as Michael Krauss in the 1980s and early 1990s (Krauss 1992), to the explosion of media attention on “last speakers” throughout the 1990s, to, in more recent years, the development and refinement of theoretical frameworks for assessing linguistic health and endangerment as well as critiques of some of the assumptions underlying those models (e.g., UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages 2003; Fishman 1991, 2001; King 2001;...


    • 1 Linguistic Diversity, Sustainability, and the Future of the Past
      (pp. 7-22)

      ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING FEATURES of our world is its astonishing diversity. This diversity is reflected not only in the rich variety of plant and animal species and ecosystems in nature but also in the variety of cultures and languages in human societies. In his inimitable fashion Woody Allen once quipped, “I am [at] two with nature.”¹ Allen, of course, is the quintessential urbanite, and it is perhaps hard to imagine anyone further removed from nature than modern city dwellers in industrialized nations, where human activities appear to take place largely outside nature. Living in buildings constructed from artificial...

    • 2 When Is an “Extinct Language” Not Extinct? Miami, a Formerly Sleeping Language
      (pp. 23-34)

      MANY MIAMI PEOPLE, myself included, experience a paradox when we speak our heritage language, which is said to be “extinct.” But what does it mean to be extinct? While members of the Miami nation have a number of ways of viewing the world, I believe it is fair to assume that we all know extinct species are those where the last living example has died and where there will never be living examples of that species again. The problem occurs when this idea gets extended to languages such as Miami, as the paradox of speaking an extinct language is not...

    • 3 Evaluating Endangerment: Proposed Metadata and Implementation
      (pp. 35-50)

      AS AWARENESS OF and concern for the loss of linguistic and cultural diversity has grown in the last two decades (e.g., Craig 1992; Fishman 1988, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001; Hale 1992a, 1992b; Jeanne 1992; Krauss 1992; Nettle and Romaine 2000; Watahomigie and Yamamoto 1992), so too has interest in finding a way to evaluate the level of endangerment of the world’s languages. A desire for a comprehensive description of the state of the linguistic world has developed from research on how many languages there are and where they are located to investigation of their transmission, use, and preservation (Brenzinger et...


    • 4 Endangered Language Varieties: Vernacular Speech and Linguistic Standardization in Brazilian Portuguese
      (pp. 53-66)

      THE CENTRAL MOTIVATIONS for the attention paid to endangered languages by linguists and social scientists are twofold: above all there is concern for language as the embodiment or manifestation of the culture and history of the speakers and for the risk to that social and cultural heritage of a people that language loss entails. In addition, there is the professional concern of linguists at the loss of typological evidence about human linguistic capacity and specific evidence about the nature of the endangered language. And the preferred resolution for both of these concerns is to promote the preservation—or failing that,...

    • 5 The Linguistic Negotiation of Complex Racialized Identities by Black Appalachian Speakers
      (pp. 67-80)

      THE DEBATE OVER “where sociolinguistics ‘fits in’ with the main currents of social theory and how it might become more substantively engaged in social theory” has pervaded the consciousness of sociolinguistics since the inception of the discipline (Coupland 2001, 2), and calls for sociolinguistics to advance its relationship with social theory seem recently to have become more urgent. Coupland, for example, specifically argues that current sociolinguistic research needs to incorporate “integrationist” social theories, which are balanced in their attention to structure and agency (i.e., they are neither overly structural nor overly constructivist). Similarly, Eckert (2003) has argued for sociolinguistics to...

    • 6 Working at “9 to 5” Gaelic: Speakers, Context, and Ideologies of an Emerging Minority Language Register
      (pp. 81-94)

      SCOTTISH GAELIC is a minority language that has been undergoing language shift since approximately the twelfth century A.D. in Scotland (Withers 1984).¹ Gaelic is currently the focus of language planning and revitalization efforts in Scotland. One interesting aspect of these efforts is the emergence of an ethnolinguistically identified Gaelic-speaking middle class, a number of whom have become “professional Gaels,” or “language workers” as I term them (after the “culture workers” of Whisnant 1983). This chapter explores the way these language workers negotiate the emergence of “professional Gaelic” as a register in the white-collar office workplace.

      A register may be defined...

    • 7 Voice and Biliteracy in Indigenous Language Revitalization: Contentious Educational Practices in Quechua, Guarani, and Maori Contexts
      (pp. 95-110)

      TWENTY YEARS AGO, I wrote the following, based on my two-year comparative ethnographic study in two highland Quechua communities of Puno, Peru, and their schools, one in the midst of implementing an experimental Quechua–Spanish bilingual program and the other following the traditional Spanish-only curriculum, a study in which I had found greater oral and written pupil participation—in absolute, linguistic, and sociolinguistic terms—when Quechua was the medium of instruction:

      It is often said that Quechua children, and indigenous children in many parts of the world, for that matter, are naturally shy and reticent, and that that is why...


    • 8 Endangering Language Vitality through Institutional Development: Ideology, Authority, and Official Standard Irish in the Gaeltacht
      (pp. 113-128)

      CURRENT PERSPECTIVES on language policy suggest that, in order to be effective, governmental planning efforts must be consistent with a given community’s language practices and beliefs along with other contextual forces that are in play (Spolsky 2004) and that official language policies make up only one aspect of what is often a deeply rooted system of overt and covert practices and beliefs of both government bodies and community members (Shohamy 2006). This chapter reports on a three-and-a-half-year-long survey of members of a specific community in the Irish Gaeltacht to determine how language revitalization efforts by the state have affected the...

    • 9 Scandinavian Minority Language Policies in Transition: The Impact of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Norway and Sweden
      (pp. 129-144)

      THIS CHAPTER is devoted to recent developments regarding the situation of linguistic minorities in two neighboring countries in northern Europe: Norway and Sweden. In these countries formerly existing minority language policies, both overt and covert, have been challenged by the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (or the Charter), which was created by the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1992 and entered into force in 1998 after ratification by five countries. Norway was among the early ratifiers (1993), while Sweden joined in somewhat later (2000). In addition to the Charter, the two countries also signed and ratified another CoE minority...

    • 10 Language Development in Eritrea: The Case of Blin
      (pp. 145-158)

      Blin, also called Bilin or Bilen, is a Central Cushitic (or Agaw) language of Eritrea with approximately ninety thousand speakers. The Blin are located in the ‘Anseba Administrative Zone, centered around Keren, which is ninety-one kilometers northwest of the national capital, Asmara. Most Blin are agriculturalists, conducting mixed farming and breeding of goats, sheep, and cattle (Abbebe 2001; Smidt 2003). The Blin comprise only 2.1 percent of the national population, and even in Keren they form no more than 20 percent of the population. Their nearest linguistic relatives (Xamtaŋa, Kemantney) are in Ethiopia. The Blin are surrounded by a sea...

    • 11 Indigenous Language Policies in Social Practice: The Case of Navajo
      (pp. 159-172)

      INDIGENOUS PEOPLES represent 4 percent of the world’s population, yet they speak 60 percent of the world’s languages (Nettle and Romaine 2000, ix, 12). The contexts in which Indigenous languages are spoken are as diverse as humankind itself, spanning language situations such as that of Quechua, spoken by 8 to 12 million people in six South American countries (and nonetheless an endangered language; see Hornberger and Coronel-Molina 2004; King 2001; King and Hornberger 2004); to that of Aotearoa/New Zealand, where a single Indigenous language, Māori, shares co-official status with English and New Zealand Sign Language (May 2005); to the extraordinary...

    • 12 Heritage Language Education in the United States: A Need to Reconceptualize and Restructure
      (pp. 173-186)

      IN RECENT YEARS interest in the language proficiency of the U.S. population has increased significantly. Calls for individuals with professional-level proficiency in languages other than English have come from several quarters, and new initiatives and legislative actions focus on proficiency in languages considered critical to U.S. security and economic success. The good news is that there is a large population of individuals who live in the United States and speak many different languages, including those languages considered critical to U.S. national interests. Including this population in efforts to develop a language proficient society (Marcos and Peyton 2000) presents both opportunities...

    • 13 Language Diversity and the Public Interest
      (pp. 187-202)

      THE CASUAL COMMENT of a chatty taxi cab driver to a van full of passengers attending the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America encapsulates the popular perception of dialect diversity in American society. On the one hand, language variation is so transparent that it can be assumed that most speakers of English, particularly native speakers but also speakers of English as a second language (Damann 2006), will readily notice these differences. On the other hand, the remark exposes the presumption common among nonlinguists that all language users can make accurate and informed observations about language diversity without any...


    • 14 At What Cost? Methods of Language Revival and Protection: Examples from Hebrew
      (pp. 205-218)

      THE THEME of this volume is “sustaining linguistic diversity: endangered and minority languages and language varieties”; thus most chapters focus on how to revive and protect languages that are perceived to be “endangered.” This chapter takes a different approach, discussing how such efforts can in fact entail oppressive, draconic, colonializing, and monopolizing methods. Such methods or mechanisms implicate personal rights, ethicality, morality, and freedom of speech. The act of reviving and protecting languages is deeply embedded in ideologies, beliefs, and political factors (Schieffelin, Woolard, and Kroskrity 1998); thus it can demand high costs from the individuals required to comply with...

    • 15 Unendangered Dialects, Endangered People
      (pp. 219-238)

      THE TOPIC I deal with here is a difficult one, especially in a forum devoted to the struggle to save endangered languages and support endangered dialects.¹ The majority of chapters in this volume are concerned with the problem of how to preserve linguistic and cultural diversity throughout the world. Nothing that I present here should be taken to diminish or undercut the importance of these programs. But this chapter will deal with another side of diversity. I will be looking at social factors that lead dialects to diverge, develop, and flourish and at forms of cultural diversity that need no...