By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
EDITOR: Lida Cope TITLE: Applied Linguists Needed SUBTITLE: Cross-disciplinary Networking in Endangered Language Contexts PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2012
Jessica G. Cox, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Georgetown University
This slim but informative volume, directed at both applied linguists and language practitioners, gives a comprehensive look at how applied linguists can contribute to programs aimed at language revitalization and maintenance. Its chapters come from a colloquium at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Atlanta, Georgia. The editor notes in the introduction that there is still a gap between the documentation work of theoretical linguists and the educational and policy needs of endangered language communities; this gap could be filled by well trained applied linguists.
Each chapter in the book represents one facet of the theme of applied linguistics and endangered languages. An introduction and epilogue bookend the five papers that form the main content. The introduction gives a brief summary of the papers to come and explains the impetus to joining them together in this volume.
“Language Hotspots: what (applied) linguistics and education should do about language endangerment in the twenty-first century” (Gregory D.S. Anderson) presents the view that Language Hotspots (Anderson & Harrison, 2006) -- those areas in which one or more language family or families is endangered -- should be the focus for all linguists, including applied linguists, who address the issue of endangered languages. He uses the Eastern Siberia Language Hotspot as a case study; in this region, there are 21 indigenous languages of 9 genetic units, all but one of which are currently endangered. He reports that the most successful model of maintenance has been the immersion school, but curricular development and “application of best practice” (p. 17) in these schools would benefit greatly from the expertise of applied linguists and educators. There are special needs for applied linguists with capability in technology, and with K-12 education, as those are two pivots for the maintenance process: technology for recording the language; and education for inspiring a positive image of the language. Moreover, Anderson urges all educators to include the issue of endangered languages and language revitalization in global K-12 curricula in order to raise awareness of the issues involved and of the real-life results, such as language policies.
“From documenting to revitalizing an endangered language: where do applied linguists fit?” (Susan D. Penfield and Benjamin V. Tucker) examines the roles of language documentation and language revitalization in endangered language communities, and gives specific suggestions to where applied linguists are needed to join in. Language documentation usually results in dictionaries, word lists, grammars, and narratives recorded for science, and the degree to which the speech community has access to these materials varies from case to case. While the modern-day trend is to return the materials to the speech community, not all communities have members who are trained and knowledgeable in ways to integrate the materials into the community. On the other hand, language revitalization programs are often led by community elders who are speakers of the target language, but do not necessarily have any experience in language teaching. Although there are many training opportunities for individuals interested in language documentation and/or revitalization, few are led by applied linguists. Penfield and Tucker argue that applied linguists’ involvement in such projects will increase the quality of assessments, materials development, and language planning. At the same time, they point out that the speech communities with which revitalization and documentation projects are concerned are not the same types of environments as the ESL, EFL, or modern-language teaching most applied linguists study. They conclude with an example from their own work with the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Arizona, where field linguists created the academic materials (e.g. electronic dictionaries) and community members working with applied linguists created phrase books, picture dictionaries, etc., for community use.
“Language revitalization and language pedagogy: new teaching and learning strategies” (Leanne Hinton) builds on the previous paper by defining the differences between foreign-language, majority-language, heritage-language, and endangered-language teaching in terms of five characteristics: (1) the primary goal of the program; (2) learner’s motives for studying the target language (TL); (3) the relationship the learner expects to have with the TL in the future; (4) possible influence of L1 on the language being learned; and (5) special considerations for teaching. For example, the members of a generation whose study of endangered language is influenced by its native English will pass that influence to the next generation because they are the only speakers of the language. Successful models for teaching endangered languages include the “language survival schools” in Hawaii that are fully bilingual and Master-Apprentice programs in California which pair fluent speakers with learners. Moreover, Breath of Life workshops aim to teach learners endangered languages from their documentation, without the use of native speakers (generally because there are no longer native speakers available). There is also a growing trend in family language revitalization, in which adults simultaneously study the endangered language of their community and use it with their children at home. Clearly, there are several success stories in language revitalization programs, but there could be many more with the involvement and expertise of applied linguists trained to work with endangered languages.
“Applied field linguistics: delivering linguistic training to speakers of endangered languages” (Sally Rice) describes the Community Linguist Certificate (CLC) program offered at the University of Alberta. This program is unique due to its focus on both field and applied linguistics. It is a three-week summer school program aimed at giving speakers of indigenous languages the tools to effectively record their languages and teach them in classrooms. Courses include an introduction to linguistics; phonetics, morphosyntax, and sentence and discourse patterns of indigenous languages; technology for recording languages; and language policy and planning. Several graduates of the program are currently working on linguistic projects in their speech community. Overall, the outline of this program gives compelling motivation to train community linguists in both documentation and pedagogy of endangered languages.
“Some ways to endanger an endangered language project” (Lindsay H. Whaley) addresses four common mistakes in field linguistics: (1) failing to take into account the complexity of the TL community; (2) the TL itself; (3) the societal context of TL use; and (4) linguists taking too much control of the project. Those working on revitalization projects have the power to define the limits of the TL community and the linguistic variations that are or are not included in the final materials. At the same time, the shifts in society that lead to language loss are complex and, to one extent or another, necessary, or else the decline in use would not have occurred. At the same time, the linguists and the TL community can be in disagreement about the documentation of the language. In the example given, the society may argue for unique representations to emphasize the uniqueness of their culture, whereas linguists tend to prioritize ease of learning (p. 80). Whaley concludes with a list of characteristics that a linguistic team should possess to avoid these pitfalls; essentially, good people skills and a deep understanding of the communities in question.
David Bradley’s “Resilience linguistics, orthography and the Gong” describes the difficulties encountered with the language documentation of the Gong in Thailand, even after establishing an orthography, teaching materials, and good rapport with the community. After outlining the Gong language, Bradley explains how the model of resilience linguistics might apply to the Gong. Resilience linguistics, coming from ecology to social sciences, states that it is natural for societies to go through stages of growth, conservation, release, and reorganization. The linguist’s role is to guide a community in release so that they do not lose their language when reorganizing. In doing so, the author has identified five key internal and external factors: identity, vitality, setting, domains, and policy. While the future of the language is still uncertain, Bradley has used this model to create the materials needed for a future revitalization project and, he hopes, has helped to counteract the negative self-image the Gong were developing.
“From ethnocultural pride to promoting the Texas Czech vernacular: current maintenance efforts and unexplored possibilities” (Lida Cope) reports a participant observer applied linguist’s view of the status of the Texas Czech dialect. She argues that a historic immigrant dialect is just as informative of human linguistic capabilities as the endangered languages of the world. She concludes with the potential roles an applied linguist can play in such a situation: curricular development for heritage language learners; serving as liaisons between school districts and Czech cultural organizations in the area; and, of course, documenting the language before it diminishes more.
Concluding the collection of papers is an epilogue (Lida Cope and Susan D. Penfield) that synthesizes the previous chapters by pointing out the variety of professions needed in language documentation and revitalization projects: educators, linguists, policy-makers, and of course, members of the TL community. Applied linguists, either in the form of outside experts or insiders trained in the discipline, can and should form part of these teams, since their expertise can help the project be successful and blur the line between documentation and revitalization, thereby bringing all members of the team closer together. The caveat is that applied linguistics for majority languages is not wholly the same as applied linguistics for endangered languages, but with some additional training, skills and expertise can be transferred from one to the other.
Language documentation and revitalization projects are certainly a worthy cause, and one gaining in public support and interest, as seen by various newspaper articles and the recent production of the documentary, ''The Linguists''. This volume clearly and concisely outlines successes and challenges of the two disciplines, and lays a framework for applied linguists to enter the paradigm. While not all chapters seem to have direct information for applied linguistics (e.g. Whaley), they are all of interest and potentially informative to such professionals. In addition to applied linguists who have an interest in field linguistics, this volume could also be of use to language documentation and revitalization teams who might be considering adding an applied linguist to their team. Finally, it could be useful to undergraduate linguistics students for gaining a better understanding of a small sampling of linguistics-related careers and specializations to consider in the future.
Specifically, Penfield and Tucker’s chapter, as well as Hinton’s, are valuable for their explanations of the theories and realities linking applied linguistics and language revitalization, which include pitfalls applied linguists could fall into by making assumptions about endangered languages. These distinctions are clearly necessary before applied linguists jump headlong into a new field. Otherwise, they risk offending field linguists and community members alike, as well as potentially jeopardizing projects. The chapters also provide useful material for incorporation into introductory courses on applied linguistics, so that such courses can begin to be groundwork for a wider variety of studies than traditional classroom foreign language instruction. This diversification of applied linguistics has already begun with the recognition of heritage language learning and majority language learning of immigrants as being distinct sociocultural, and thus to some extent educational, processes; it is natural that the paradigm now expand to include endangered language study, too.
In addition, the program detailed in Rice’s chapter is a unique approach to the dilemma because it educates community elders in theoretical and applied linguistics, thus changing the role of the professional applied linguist; instead of the outside applied linguist being the person in charge of establishing or running an endangered language program, he or she becomes responsible for educating the community members who will do so. This resolves the issue of the natural gap in understanding and goals between applied linguists, field linguists, and community language experts, by giving the latter the tools they need to implement language programs and having movement toward revitalization and/or maintenance evolve truly from within the community, rather than being a pressure coming from outside the community. Since many endangered language communities are also endangered culturally in general, and thus wary of outside mainstream societal forces, programs such as the Community Linguist Certificate may be the best route toward language maintenance. It is also a program that could be instituted in other universities to address the needs of their nearby language minority groups, making the chapter’s information useful to a wide audience.
On the other hand, the case studies that conclude the volume, especially those of Whaley and Bradley, are much less clear in their implications for projects, other than those described in the papers. They may be useful for raising awareness about two cultural situations in which language revitalization programs are ongoing, but their specificity to the linguistic and cultural groups in which each project is taking place results in overly vague conclusions for applied linguistics and linguists who might find themselves in different situations.
Anderson, G.D.S. and K.D. Harrison. 2006. Language Hotspots: Linking language extinction, biodiversity, and the human knowledge base. http://livingtongues.org/hotspots.html.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jessica G. Cox is a PhD Candidate in Spanish Applied Linguistics at
Georgetown University. Her research interests include bilingualism and
third language acquisition, cognitive individual differences in second
language acquisition, and implicit/explicit language learning.