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Review of  Saving Languages

Reviewer: Larisa Leisiö
Book Title: Saving Languages
Book Author: Lenore A. Grenoble Lindsay J. Whaley
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 17.2580

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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

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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521816211
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Pages: 244
Prices: U.K. £ 45.00

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