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Review of  Speaking of Endangered Languages

Reviewer: 'Lorena Cordova' ['Lorena Cordova'] Lorena Cordova
Book Title: Speaking of Endangered Languages
Book Author: Anne Marie Goodfellow
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Anthropological Linguistics
Book Announcement: 22.4102

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EDITOR: Goodfellow, Anne Marie
TITLE: Speaking of Endangered Languages
SUBTITLE: Issues in Revitalization
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2009

Lorena Cordova, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología
Social, Mexico City, Mexico.


This book consists of twelve case studies through which we learn about various
innovative research endeavors and/or challenges faced by the contributors, most
of whom focus on educational programs dealing with the maintenance and
linguistic forms of retention of some Native North American or Polynesian
languages, in order to promote language revitalization (LR).

In the first chapter, the 'Introduction', Goodfellow provides a starting point
for understanding and analyzing the chapters of 'Outside Experts' (i.e.
linguists/activists not native to the communities in question), 'Insiders' (i.e.
native linguists/activists of the communities in question), and other
contributors (i.e. some are natives of the communities and others are not) about
the different ideologies and attitudes found in academic and social fields
toward LR.

At first, Goodfellow recognizes that LR is a form of research which is not
reduced to 'linguistic social work', as Paul Newman (2003) has stated; on the
other hand, the work of linguists and anthropologists on endangered languages is
a type of research that considers the contexts of language use and
'Participatory Action Research' (PAR). Paraphrasing Peter Reason (1994), the PAR
strategy has a double objective; to produce knowledge and action directly useful
to a group of people (through research, adult education, and sociopolitical
action), and to empower people at a deeper level through the process of
constructing and using their own knowledge. With her tendency to favor PAR,
Goodfellow argues for linguistic research exercises that encourage participation
and change in the social situation of endangered languages and their
disagreement with the more orthodox research that only focuses on language
documentation to implement the description of a linguistic system (cf. Flores
Farfán and Ramallo, 2010).

Goodfellow also provides a detailed analysis of the historical development of LR
and mentions the relevance of contact situations when analyzing changes in the
use of languages (e.g. pidgins, creole languages, etc.). With regard to language
planning and standardization of endangered languages, the author suggests the
necessity for revitalization and maintenance of indigenous languages so they do
not reproduce forms of “Self-colonizing” (p. 7). As such, achieving maintenance
and ways of learning the endangered languages not based on colonialist education
policies and practices are at the forefront of the discussion. With this
perspective, Goodfellow also advocates an approach for dealing with ideologies
(e.g. purism, prescriptivism, etc.) that have permeated the development of
language planning and its standardization, as well as metaphors developed for
conceiving languages (e.g. the biological metaphor, bounded entities, and the
ecological metaphor).

In Chapter Two, 'Multilingual Pasts and Futures: An Examination of Language
Shift at Fort Belknap Reservation, Montana', Mindy J. Morgan discusses studying
displacement processes and language shift within a reservation in North-Central
Montana, USA, where two Indian languages and English share a geography. She also
mentions the possibility of LR of the first two languages: Nakoda (Siouan
family) and Gros Ventre (Algonquian Family). This can be done through the
efforts of the Fort Belknap community, in coordination with national
institutions and the state of Montana, to develop, for example, programs
influenced by the Total Physical Response (TPR) method within which language
teaching is realized through certain classes with instructors and “elders”,
regarded as “fluent speakers”, emphasizing the practical use of the language
while momentarily setting aside grammatical aspects. This perspective has
emerged in order to protect traditional knowledge and cultural practices.
Overall, indigenous languages are not seen as a replacement for English. The
goal is for both English and indigenous languages to co-exist and have specific
and determined “usages”.

This chapter also takes a brief look at different historical processes that both
tribes, Assiniboine (i.e. Nakoda Language speakers) and Gros Ventre,
encountered. There is mention of linguistic shifts, which began to occur in both
the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre groups in the late nineteenth century, when both
were forced to be located around military bases and make tax payments in
exchange for protection. Also, since the institutionalization of forms of
government, religion, and education, English gradually became the dominant
language and created changes in social roles. The chapter also talks about
multilingual environments. For example, the Assiniboine established commercial
networks and social alliances with other tribes, in both the USA and Canada
(e.g. Sioux, Cree, etc.), even before the establishment of the Fort Belknap
Reservation. In the seventeenth century, these relationships were crucial to
negotiations between European traders and other tribes. In the case of Gros
Ventre, multilingualism is due to contact and proficiency with the Blackfoot.
However, outside the tribe, the Gros Ventre’s knowledge is reduced, probably
because of the difficulty or complexity of the language. Although there is
little documentation about the Gros Ventre, it is known that both tribes and
communities interacted in multilingual environments even before European contact.

The author also refers to how English became the first language (L1) of children
while growing up at the reservation. Finally, the chapter briefly analyzes the
various educational programs in indigenous languages on the reservation (which
began in 1960) and current community efforts to revitalize languages and
strengthen their culture through specific educational methodologies, production
of materials, classes, and workshops.

In Chapter Three, 'Prospects for the Navajo Language', Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie
and Jon Reyhner present a historical, social and educational framework on
language shifts in the Navajo language (Athapascan language) and its speakers,
the Diné (Navajo), when competing with English, mainly in California, Arizona
and New Mexico. The authors describe some important historical events, such as
the nineteenth century ''Long Walk'', in which more than 8,000 Navajos suffered
from starvation due to a prolonged campaign of burning land. At that time, the
Navajo were also forced to walk hundreds of miles to a reservation on the border
of Texas and New Mexico, where they remained captive in famine conditions due to
the reduction of livestock, economic dependence, etc. In the early 1950s, the
government began to promote the ''Urban Indian Relocation Program'', and on first
of June, 1968, the Navajo were allowed to return to their homes.

In education, there were attempts to allow thirty Navajo children into English
education programs. Beginning in the early 1930s, Navajo children were forced to
attend education and literacy development programs at boarding houses. This led
to the separation of children from their families, which in turn created
disruption in their primary socialization and devastation in the life and
culture of Navajo families. The increasing educational and economic changes in
the second half of the twentieth century began with a rapid linguistic shift,
which led to an increased stigma toward the Navajo. In 1960, the first school
controlled by the Indians, with the intention of creating a program of bilingual
and bicultural education for Navajo children, was initiated. Despite changes in
the type of education, after four decades, most schools of this kind are still
promoting an assimilationist curriculum or transitional bilingualism. However,
the authors also mention the struggles and educational strategies that have been
made to maintain the Navajo language and culture, as well as create new
opportunities for using and reformulating the educational system as one of the
basic means for LR, where the speakers (including elders) are not outside their
nursing education and revitalizing programs.

Chapter Four, 'Aboriginal Languages and Literacies: A Reflection on Two Cases',
is a comparative analysis by Barbara Burnaby performed on the historical,
economical, linguistic, educational, and labor differences and similarities,
among others, of two aboriginal groups living in Labrador (the easternmost part
of the mainland of the North American continent), in Northeastern Quebec,
Canada: the Innu (Innu-aimun speaking group) and the Inuit (Inukut speaking
group). The analysis shows how both groups have experienced different forms of
adaptability and understanding of communication with groups of European origin
with whom they have had contact, and how these different levels of interaction
have resulted in varying degrees of displacement. The author also discusses
different levels of maintenance and revitalization efforts by each group.

In Chapter Five, 'Language Maintenance in a Cree (Mushkegowuk) Community', John
S. Long and Jim Hollander show how, despite the fact that the role of schools
has weakened or displaced indigenous languages through the imposition of the
'English Immersion Program' and the deprivation of Cree as a language of
communication in the school, the community of Kashechewan (Northeastern Ontario,
Canada) and the Mushkegowuk people are getting stronger from taking control of
the community school system (1989). This enables us to rethink the role of
English and the Cree language in the classroom. The authors conduct an extensive
tour of the educational programs developed by various Christian religious groups
(e.g. non-Catholic institutions such as the Anglican Church, the so called
“Christians” (i.e. Evangelicals), and a Catholic order called “The Oblats”) and
the Canadian federal system. The authors also show how the Cree syllabic system
has become an identity marker in Cree, and how they have re-appropriated the
'cooperative system' of education.

In Chapter Six, 'Yours, Ours, and Mayan: Cultural Preservation in San Cristóbal
de la Casas, Chiapas, México', Cristina Abreo provides an overview of the ways,
in contexts of migration from indigenous-rural areas to the city, in which
different social and indigenous organizations have launched educational,
political, and social projects for the preservation of indigenous languages
(e.g. Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol, etc.), as well as the promotion of the 'cultural
identity Maya' in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, done through
a movement that she calls 'Pan-Mayan'.

Throughout the chapter, Abreo shows the shortcomings of the Bilingual Education
Program of the Mexican government for indigenous people. Then she addresses the
various factors that have driven the migration of the indigenous population to
the city of San Cristóbal and the process of unification of urban indigenous
groups that aims to defend and promote their languages and cultures, not only
through social organization, but also through the institutionalization of
language as a subject of study for both indigenous as well as non-indigenous

In Chapter Seven, 'The Reintroduction of Nahuatl into the Aztec Dance Tradition
in New Mexico', George Ann Gregory refers to three communities from Albuquerque,
New Mexico that migrated from Central and Northern Mexico to the United States
over 400 years ago. They are making efforts to revitalize the Nahuatl language
(Uto-Aztecan language) through the re-creation of traditional stories via dance,
song, and theater, all of which include the use of Nahuatl by adults. These
efforts have been enriched through networks that have been established with
Nahuatl speakers from Central Mexico. Gregory employs Joshua Fishman’s Graded
Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) (2001) to illustrate the results of
reintroduction efforts of Nahuatl in New Mexico. Like the Richter Scale in
Geology, the Fishman Scale is characterized by eight stages or degrees. The most
advanced stage, on a scale of 1 to 8, means a higher degree of disruption or
displacement of intergenerational transmission of language. According to
Gregory, Nahuatl in New Mexico is at Stage 8; “The reintroduction is beginning
with adults” (p. 150). In this sense, expectations begin to exist to achieve a
small degree of linguistic reversion so that the Nahuatl language moves to Stage
7 after Nahuatl people from New Mexico visit Mexico. Furthermore, the presence
of children in the ‘Kalpullin’ (community) will help the transmission of
language. The author provides a description of how passion, persistence and
personal commitment of the participants are the key to keeping the
revitalization effort moving forward.

In Chapter Eight, 'Creating Our Future: Creating a Computer Corpus of Written
Choctaw', George Ann Gregory proposes the construction of a computational corpus
(standardized and on-line) that contains various written materials of both
ancient and contemporary Choctaw (Muskogean family of languages) in Oklahoma.
The main idea is to reconnect with the past via the current use of language by
creating a spiritual dimension to resume the process, and to enter into the
realm of old Choctaw concepts through written language. The proposal also seeks
to facilitate linguistic analyses for researchers and specialists, especially
since there is fragility in the language due to the low intergenerational
transmission and the death of older, fluent speakers. However, the author also
presents challenges to overcome in building the corpus, such as ways to
encourage learners to observe the Choctaw language as a marker of identity,
despite their sub-tribal affiliation, in order to ''speak with one voice'', as one

In Chapter Nine, 'A Language to Call My Own', Hana O' Regan shows a new
perspective on the challenges that have faced the process of revitalization of
different sociolinguistic contexts of Te Reo Mäori (the Mäori language) and the
emergence and development of 'The Kai Tahu of the South Island of New Zealand',
which is not restricted to the description of 'language nests'. These language
nests are part of a program of language teaching through total immersion. This
program introduces children to language in environments that relieve the method
in which only the endangered language is spoken. This program has the aim of
children gradually acquiring the language. Generally, texts that address the
revitalization of the Mäori language only describe the process of language nests
and/or success achieved from this program. However, as the author points out, in
the process of revitalization, not all Mäori regions have had the same degree of
success. For example, O’Regan mentions the challenges that Mäori people have had
to face in adapting the Mäori language to a new lexicon through contact with
English. The transliteration of English words allowed development of the
language, which also allows some maintenance. The author does not describe a
single plan of revitalization strategy, but rather revitalization experiences
that have been systematized and evaluated, which can be revisited throughout the

Chapter Ten, 'It Takes a Community to Revitalize a Language: Honoring the
Contributions of All', is a socio-historical tour of the displacement process
and the revitalization efforts tied to the Rapa Nui language (Polynesian
language) in Easter Island (Chile). Marta Hotus Tuki advises that the process of
revitalization of this language should be done through initiatives arising from
within the community of speakers of Rapa Nui, and must stop relying solely on
anthropologists, linguists, or the Chilean government. One example she mentions
is the process that a group of women from the island has been taking part in
since 1994. Rapa Nui women, members of different social classes and with
different occupations, began to develop competitions to promote Rapa Nui
writing. Also, they are promoting the island’s survival via “self-determination”
amongst Rapa Nui people. However, the Rapa Nui women faced different barriers
(e.g. political, economic, educational, etc.) or obstacles in their LR efforts.
In this chapter, these barriers are analytically seen as a relevant factor in
the efforts that are being projected for the future.

In Chapter Eleven, 'Native Language Education and Participatory Research: The
Lummi Tribe of the Pacific Northwest', Michael A. Shepard presents a methodology
designed and an epistemological dimension used in the 'Community Perception of
Language Project' (2005-2007) conducted in the Lummi territory (Northwest
Washington State).

The author introduces us not only to the Coast Salish language shift (Salish
Family), but also to the Native Language Revitalization Movement. Also, the
author explains Participatory Action Research (PAR), a methodology that is a
tool of applied anthropology, as well as Grounded Theory, which “is used to
determine relevant themes from transcript data to make conclusions and/or
develop theories that are grounded in those data” (p. 221). The proposals
submitted by the author, therefore, are reinforced by the perception of project
participants, most of whom are indigenous language learners. Finally, throughout
the text, the author justifies the need for Culturally Based Education (CBE) and
the creation of a Lummi committee that would create a comprehensive plan for LR

In Chapter Twelve, 'Relearning Athabascan Languages in Alaska: Creating
Sustainable Language Communities through Creolization’, the reader sees an
invitation to relearn the Dena'ina language (Athabascan language) in Alaska.
Gary Holton’s perspective not only proposes the continuation of an existing form
of language, but also is interested in learning and promoting new forms of
transmission. Holton calls for developing an 'Athabascan Creole' to help promote
emerging varieties in revitalization programs and to begin to put aside
intolerance toward new Dena'ina language varieties, which can have a restrictive

Throughout the chapter, the author not only refers to the Dena'ina
sociolinguistic changes which have taken place due to contact with English, but
also shows a general analysis of the processes of creolization that are
affecting the Dena'ina language, and thus makes an important proposal to
simplify the (re)learning of Dena'ina as a second language (L2). According to
the author, the first step is to recognize that linguistic change is a natural
aspect of the revitalization process. The second step is analyzing the
simplification of verbal morphology. The third step has to do with recognizing
the differences between the dialectal varieties that are learned (dialectal
homogeneity/ dialectal fusion). Finally, the last step is to put creolization
into practice in order to make Denai’ina revitalization a viable process.

Finally, Chapter Thirteen, 'A Community-Based Language Gut'sala Language
Program', refers to the challenges encountered by members of the community of
Quatsino (Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada) to develop materials for
a curriculum in their language, Gut'sala (Kwak'wala-Wakashan language family).

The author, Anne Marie Goodfellow, refers to the sociolinguistic situation in
which Gut’sala, which mostly has only older speakers, has a strong influence of
English in its internal structure. Also, the author explains the history of the
Kwakwaka'wakw group, who has lived in this traditional territory at least 8,000
years. The main purpose is to observe some aspects of language shift in a
natural way so that the efforts of LR are not in vain. That is, efforts must be
directed toward maintaining the languages as they exist in the present, and from
there, create learning programs based on community practices.


The issue of revitalization and maintenance of minority languages has been, and
remains, an important issue for researchers, activists, and defenders of
'biocultural diversity' (cf. King, 2003). A book that presents the current
efforts being put forth in some apprenticeship programs is very important. Also,
work that shows cases that seek to innovate issues often addressed in the field
of revitalization, as some contributors do in this book, represents a 'must see'
bibliography. The manner in which the contributors have addressed various social
and linguistic situations make this book a major teaching resource for both
specialists in indigenous languages and the general public interested in LR.

In general, the articles are an important reference for learning and
understanding the LR efforts being made in a variety of Native North American
and Polynesian languages. While most of the articles focus on the revitalization
efforts within the school curriculum, one can find interesting examples of
serious and innovative analyses and proposals for LR. In agreement with Morgan,
in this book, we see that “…paradoxically, where schools once aggressively
banned the use of indigenous languages, they are new primary sites for its
continuation” (p. 41).

However, although several cases are mentioned where indigenous groups have begun
to take control of the formal education of their children and thus have been
able to influence the construction of teaching materials and the educational
curriculum itself, in the articles, one cannot perceive the true revitalization
potential of schools. Throughout the book, most authors mention the processes
that different autochthonous groups have experienced through speaking their own
languages, the degree of displacement those languages have, and the actions they
have undertaken to reverse or improve this situation. Unfortunately, most of
them are only making proposals on how a revitalization process should be
undertaken but fail to show systematic evaluations of the experiences so far.

Despite what I have said above, it is necessary to highlight the great
contributions that are made by several chapters. For example, Chapter 1, by
Goodfellow, is important for those interested in the issue of endangered
languages because the author provides a fairly comprehensive report on the issue
of LR and the ideologies developed around language as an intervention object for
its revitalization. In Chapter 9, O’Reagan presents a fine analysis of the
processes of Mäori LR in Southern New Zealand, and, unlike many texts on the
Mäori, this chapter not only addresses the implementation of language nests as
revitalization programs, but also addresses the planning and redirection of
revitalization strategies at the community level. Also, Holton, in Chapter 12,
proposes a new form to potentiate the language shift and the process of
creolization for endangered languages and their revitalization.

In general, within the works that make up the book, language shift for the
displacement of languages is considered an accelerated process that worries
people, especially activists and scholars. However, for the authors, there are
many other changes that endangered languages have been undergoing in the context
of sociolinguistic contact with European languages, such as Spanish, English or
French. This change is a natural and irreversible process, and specifically, is
a very valuable resource for revitalization efforts. Most of the authors
involved in this book call for not stigmatizing these changes that have
coexisted within the everyday use of languages and call for the need to
recognize that new generations will learn to use a new style or variety of
language. However, it does not mean that these generations’ identity and social
cohesion must be threatened. This call to look at linguistic shift through a
different lens is the greatest contribution produced in this book on the
revitalization of languages.


Fishman, Joshua. 2001. From Theory to Practice (and Vice Versa): Review,
Reconsideration and Reiteration. In Fishman, Joshua, Can Threatened Languages be
Saved? Reversing Language Shift, Revisited: A 21st Century Perspective. Pp.
451-483 Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Flores Farfán, José A. and Ramallo, Fernando (ed.). 2010. New Perspectives on
Endangered Languages: Bridging gaps between Sociolinguistics, Documentation and
Language Revitalization. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

King, Linda (Coord.). 2007. Compartir un mundo de diferencias: La diversidad
lingüística, cultural y biológica de la tierra. Barcelona: Angle Editorial.

Newman, Paul. 2003. The Endangered Languages Issue a Hopeless Cause. In Mark
Janse & Sijmen Tol (eds.), Language Death and Language Maintenance. pp. 1-13.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Reason, Peter. 1994. Three approaches to participative inquiry. In N. K. Denzin
& Y. S.
Lincoln (Eds.). Handbook of Qualitative Research. pp. 324-339. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Lorena Cordova is a PhD Student in Anthropology at Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico City, Mexico. She is working on her doctoral thesis about Language Revitalization, in particular, how to create strategies and educational materials for children in order to promote the Language Revitalization of the Chuj Maya language in Mexico.

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