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LINGUIST List 17.2580

Wed Sep 13 2006

Review: Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics: Whaley; Grenoble (2005)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <lauralinguistlist.org>


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        1.    Larisa Leisiö, Saving Languages


Message 1: Saving Languages
Date: 12-Sep-2006
From: Larisa Leisiö <Larisa.Leisiouta.fi>
Subject: Saving Languages


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

SUMMARY

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 situations
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 MAORI (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 the 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.

EVALUATION

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.

REFERENCES

Thomason, Sarah G. (2001) Language contact. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

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.
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