LINGUIST List 24.5240|
Mon Dec 16 2013
Review: Anthropological Ling.; Language Acq.; Lang. Documentation: Hinton (2013)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Mara Barbosa <mbarbosapurdue.edu>
Subject: Bringing Our Languages Home
E-mail this message to a friend
Discuss this message
Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-1781.html
EDITOR: Leanne Hinton
TITLE: Bringing Our Languages Home
SUBTITLE: Language Revitalization for Families
REVIEWER: Mara R Barbosa, Purdue University
Leanne Hinton’s “Bringing our Languages Home” collects biographies of language
activists who have struggled to revive and maintain their endangered heritage
languages. Hinton gains insights from people who have more than theoretical
knowledge about how to reclaim a language and keep it in a family or
community. What unites the central figures in this book is the belief that the
family must be the root of any process of language revitalization and
Anyone interested in language revitalization and maintenance will find the
book worth reading, from linguists to language activists working in the field
to those who may not classify themselves as linguists or activists, but who
also do not want languages to be lost or killed by the hegemony of other
cultures and languages. The volume is particularly important for people who
are or want to be involved with language maintenance efforts, since the
narratives are filled with advice and strategies that can be applied to one’s
The book is divided into five parts, plus an introduction and a conclusion
written by the editor, with chapters 2 to 13 addressing biographies of
language activists and their struggles to save their endangered languages.
Hinton’s introduction gives an overview of how languages are threatened by
conflicts among civilizations and by the fear that majority populations have
of other languages and cultures menacing their hegemony. The introduction
informs the reader about the situation of the endangered Indigenous languages;
especially in North America, Europe and Australia. It also introduces the
reader to the movements dedicated to the reclamation of such languages, and
demonstrates well how valuable they are.
The chapters in part I, “Starting from Zero”, tell stories of families working
on the revitalization of languages with no living native speakers. Chapter 1,
“Miami: myaamiaataweenki oowaaha: Miami spoken here” by Daryl, Karen, Jessie,
and Jarrid Baldwin, tells the story of the Baldwin family, and how the father
learned his heritage language, widely known as Miami, and engaged his whole
family in the task. There were many challenges in the process of learning a
no-longer-spoken language; Daryl had to become a linguist and learn the
language by himself. Currently, he directs a project at Miami University in
Oxford, Ohio that offers language camps for children, and Miami language and
cultural education for people of Myaamia heritage. A project that was started
by a single family now impacts the whole Myaamia community and a language that
had not been spoken for generations was reclaimed and is now spoken again.
In chapter 2 “Wampanoag: How Did This Happen to my Language?”, jessie little
doe baird tells how she assumed responsibility for her lost language by going
back to school and becoming a linguist. With her knowledge, she started to
reconstruct the language and learn it by herself. Among her steps has been
raising her daughter as a Wampanoag native speaker, and founding the Wampanoag
Language Revitalization Project (WLRP), which aims to increase the population
of fluent speakers through medium charter and immersion schools.
The two chapters in part II, “Learning from the Elders”, are about families
working to revitalize languages with few native speakers left. Elaina and Phil
Albers narrate their story of learning the Karuk language from Auntie Violet.
They describe how their emotional connection to the Karuk language was tied to
Auntie Violet, and how they lost motivation to speak it when she passed away.
They regained it through a desire to see their children speak the language,
bringing it back to their family. Probably the most efficient strategy that
the Albers used was trying to always stay one step ahead of their children.
This is a situation that affects most parents aiming to revitalize a language:
kids learn fast, and it is hard for parents to stay ahead of them.
The revitalization of a hard-to-reconstruct language is described in chapter
4, “Yuchi: Family Language without a Language Family” by Richard A. Grounds
and Renée T. Grounds. For this family who learned about Yuchi from the elders,
the biggest challenge was not having a sister language to help reconstruct the
Yuchi forms. Other challenges were the small number of native speakers (only
5), the lack of recognition of Yuchi as a nation, and, because of this, the
lack of funding to support revitalization. The most interesting strategy used
was taking children out of public school completely, and taking them to a
daily conversation with Yuchi native speakers. Consistency also played an
important role in Richard families’ language learning. For everything they
knew how to say in Yuchi, they would say it only in Yuchi and abandon the
Part III, “Families and Communities Working Together”, includes chapters 5
through 9 and presents stories of families working with the support of their
communities to save endangered languages from becoming extinct. The first is
of Margaret and Theodore Peters. In chapter 5 “Mohawk: Our Kanien’kéha
Language”, Margaret describes the challenges of being a teacher in a school
without governmental support for its non-English programs. She gives examples
of students who participated in the immersion program and are now successful
at what they do in their lives and careers, which shows that it is possible to
succeed while preserving their native languages.
Hana O’Regan tells her story of struggle, at home and within her community, to
revitalize her heritage language in Chapter 6 “Māori: My Language Story”.
Hana’s target was to have 1000 homes speaking Māori. When she became a mother
and saw all the difficulties in teaching her child her heritage language, her
goal for the community seemed further away than ever. For her, the successful
strategy was the one-parent, one-language method. With this approach she
succeeded in having her child’s first words be in Māori.
Chapter 7 “Hawaiian: E Paepae Hou ‘Ia Ka Pōhaku: Reset the Stones of the
Hawaiian House Platform”, by William H. Wilson and Kauanoe Kamanā, presents
the story of how a family fighting against language extinction successfully
gained the support of the academic community. William and Kauanoe were engaged
in teaching and promoting the Hawaiian language since they were in graduate
school. They were the first couple in their community to start speaking solely
Hawaiian at home and raise their children as Hawaiian first language speakers.
When they both became professors, they founded a Hawaiian academic department
and established a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian. Currently there are at least
50 homes in their community in which at least one parent speaks solely in
Hawaiian to the children.
Margaret Noori tells the story of her campaign to revitalize the
Anishinaabemowin language in chapter 8 “Language, Family, and Community”. She
and a friend are language activists and teachers who share the belief that
language revitalization must have its roots in the speakers’ families. Their
strategies include extending the concept of family; they see any person close
to them as family, and therefore as someone who has potential to help in the
language revitalization process. Visitors to their homes are invited to learn
a few words of Anishinaabemowin if they do not know the language.
A comparison of two efforts to revitalize the Irish language is presented in
chapter 9 “Belfast’s Neo-Gaeltacht”, by Aodán Mac Póilin. He reports on a
government effort to keep the Irish language alive, where the main strategy
was to teach the language in schools, along with English. The project was not
successful in language revitalization, because even though the language was
taught, it was not used by the community. Póilin, on the other hand, started a
small community where children are raised speaking exclusively Irish. Now
non-Irish speakers are starting to join the community. There is no way to
predict if the Irish language will prevail there, but the efforts have shown
positive results so far.
Part IV, “Variations on a Theme”, presents two different cases in chapters 10
and 11: in the first, a family tells how they decided to move from the US to
Cyprus, so that their son would have more contact with the language. In the
second, a man talks about his experience learning Walrpiri in the U.S. and
using it to communicate only with his father.
In chapter 10, “Making Choices: Enriching Life”, Aigli Pittaka and Brian
Bielenberg talk about the challenges they faced trying to raise their child as
a first-language speaker of Kypriaka, a dialect of Greek unintelligible to
Greek speakers in a mainly English-speaking country -- the U.S. Educators told
them that the child would develop better if he was raised speaking English
only, yet maintaining their language was important to them. This is the first
chapter to mention a challenge we would expect many parents in this situation
to face: the fear that their children could avoid speaking the minority
language to better fit in with the majority. In response to their desire to
maintain their family language, the family chose to move to Cyprus.
Chapter 11, “About Dad”, is a tribute to the linguist Ken Hale, written by his
son Ezra Hale. Ezra reports his father’s passion for Warlpiri, a language with
around 300 speakers in Central Australia. He also tells how his father would
speak only Warlpiri to him and his brother, and how proud they were of
speaking it. Warlpiri was not a heritage language to Ezra or Ken Hale, but it
is a language that Ken learned and shared with his sons. They used the
language mainly for jokes, contributing to a different connection among them.
In Part V, “Family Language-Learning Programs”, chapters 12 and 13 introduce
programs for language revitalization in communities through language classes
and orientation for families who want to participate in the process of
language revitalization. Chapter 12, “The Kawaiisu Language Program at Home”
by Laura Grant and Julie Turner, describes the Language at Home Program with
its challenges and successes. The Kawaiisu group trains a person who will
promote language learning in her own family. Teachers are encouraged to
develop everyday activities with the family, using the Kawaiisu language. This
way, speaking the language and passing it along to other generations becomes
Chapter 13, “Taic/CNSA and Scottish Gaelic” by Finlay M. Macleoid, describes
the efforts of dedicated activists to save the Gaelic language and culture
through the development of stimulating and innovative resources. In 1982 they
created the Comhairle Nan Sgoiltean Araich (CNSA) organization with the
following aims: to bring language back to people’s everyday life, to promote
Gaelic language and culture, to provide children with good Gaelic-medium
education, and to create learning materials that families could use at home.
Chapter 14, “Bringing Your Language into Your Own Home”, concludes with a
guide for parents who want to raise their children speaking an endangered
language. Leanne Hinton draws on the experiences described throughout other
chapters. For each issue, she discusses how the contributors to the book felt
and what they did about it. The author also reflects on how the contributors
created opportunities for the use of the target language in several family
activities. A list of the possible activities using the target language in
which one can engage the family is presented. It includes games, songs,
chores, and many other activities that families generally do, all designed to
enhance proficiency in the target language
Hinton’s book covers a multitude of topics relevant to endangered language
activists, providing examples of activist efforts working with Kawaiisu,
Scottish Gaelic, Hawaiian, among others. It does not present much information
about how extinguished languages were reconstructed as language systems.
However it is an enjoyable read for linguists and non-linguists interested in
the strategies people use to bring back their languages, and how successful
they can be.
The author achieves her goal of telling the stories of families working to
revitalize their endangered languages. These families decide to reclaim their
heritage languages because of their personal and sentimental values. While the
author could have written the stories herself, she asked the families to
participate in the writing process, including the families’ own voices and
emotions towards their beloved languages. Her aim of encouraging readers who
want to participate in the process of reclaiming their endangered or dormant
languages is also supported by the reported successes of the contributors.
The diversity of experiences presented in the chapters about extinguished
languages and endangered languages is of great exemplary and instructional
value. Each story represents a fight for a similar cause, yet each story
depicts the particularities of specific situations and unique relationships
that people have with their languages. The emotional connection between people
and their languages is often the biggest motivation for their activism.
In addition to family stories, the details of the individual stories guide
families through the reclamation process, and the book concludes by addressing
the realities of “Bringing your language into your own home”. The conclusion
exposes possible problems and obstacles that parents may encounter upon
bringing a language into the home and draws examples from the chapters to
explain how such problems may be overcome.
The collection offers insights to facilitate language maintenance and
revitalization for those committed to bringing their languages back. Yet, in
some chapters there could be more information about the language programs and
their results. Macleoid’s chapter about the Taic programs, for example,
presents a thorough description of the programs, their motivations and
approaches, but doesn’t report results.
The book gathers a series of works in the field of language revitalization.
While the academic field has witnessed important work by respected scholars,
such as Williams 2000 and Meek 2012, the time has come to hear the voices of
non-linguist language activists in the discussion. This gap is filled by
“Bringing Our Languages Home”.
Meek, Barbra A. 2012. We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language
Revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community. Tucson: University of
Williams, Colin H. (ed.). 2000. Language Revitalization: Policy and Planning
in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Mara Barbosa is a PhD student in Spanish Applied Linguistics at Purdue
University. Her research interests include the effects of language prejudice
on Spanish heritage language maintenance in the U.S.
Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue
Page Updated: 16-Dec-2013
While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed
on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.