LINGUIST List 23.3692

Tue Sep 04 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Documentation: Cope (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 04-Sep-2012
From: Jessica Cox <>
Subject: Applied Linguists Needed
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
EDITOR: Lida CopeTITLE: Applied Linguists NeededSUBTITLE: Cross-disciplinary Networking in Endangered Language ContextsPUBLISHER: 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 andlanguage practitioners, gives a comprehensive look at how applied linguists cancontribute to programs aimed at language revitalization and maintenance. Itschapters come from a colloquium at the 2010 annual meeting of the AmericanAssociation for Applied Linguistics in Atlanta, Georgia. The editor notes in theintroduction that there is still a gap between the documentation work oftheoretical linguists and the educational and policy needs of endangeredlanguage communities; this gap could be filled by well trained applied linguists.

Each chapter in the book represents one facet of the theme of appliedlinguistics and endangered languages. An introduction and epilogue bookend thefive papers that form the main content. The introduction gives a brief summaryof the papers to come and explains the impetus to joining them together in thisvolume.

“Language Hotspots: what (applied) linguistics and education should do aboutlanguage endangerment in the twenty-first century” (Gregory D.S. Anderson)presents the view that Language Hotspots (Anderson & Harrison, 2006) -- thoseareas in which one or more language family or families is endangered -- shouldbe the focus for all linguists, including applied linguists, who address theissue of endangered languages. He uses the Eastern Siberia Language Hotspot as acase study; in this region, there are 21 indigenous languages of 9 geneticunits, all but one of which are currently endangered. He reports that the mostsuccessful model of maintenance has been the immersion school, but curriculardevelopment and “application of best practice” (p. 17) in these schools wouldbenefit greatly from the expertise of applied linguists and educators. There arespecial needs for applied linguists with capability in technology, and with K-12education, as those are two pivots for the maintenance process: technology forrecording the language; and education for inspiring a positive image of thelanguage. Moreover, Anderson urges all educators to include the issue ofendangered languages and language revitalization in global K-12 curricula inorder 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 appliedlinguists fit?” (Susan D. Penfield and Benjamin V. Tucker) examines the roles oflanguage documentation and language revitalization in endangered languagecommunities, and gives specific suggestions to where applied linguists areneeded to join in. Language documentation usually results in dictionaries, wordlists, grammars, and narratives recorded for science, and the degree to whichthe 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 tointegrate the materials into the community. On the other hand, languagerevitalization programs are often led by community elders who are speakers ofthe target language, but do not necessarily have any experience in languageteaching. Although there are many training opportunities for individualsinterested in language documentation and/or revitalization, few are led byapplied linguists. Penfield and Tucker argue that applied linguists’ involvementin such projects will increase the quality of assessments, materialsdevelopment, and language planning. At the same time, they point out that thespeech communities with which revitalization and documentation projects areconcerned are not the same types of environments as the ESL, EFL, ormodern-language teaching most applied linguists study. They conclude with anexample from their own work with the Colorado River Indian Reservation inArizona, where field linguists created the academic materials (e.g. electronicdictionaries) and community members working with applied linguists createdphrase books, picture dictionaries, etc., for community use.

“Language revitalization and language pedagogy: new teaching and learningstrategies” (Leanne Hinton) builds on the previous paper by defining thedifferences between foreign-language, majority-language, heritage-language, andendangered-language teaching in terms of five characteristics: (1) the primarygoal 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 thefuture; (4) possible influence of L1 on the language being learned; and (5)special considerations for teaching. For example, the members of a generationwhose study of endangered language is influenced by its native English will passthat influence to the next generation because they are the only speakers of thelanguage. Successful models for teaching endangered languages include the“language survival schools” in Hawaii that are fully bilingual andMaster-Apprentice programs in California which pair fluent speakers withlearners. Moreover, Breath of Life workshops aim to teach learners endangeredlanguages from their documentation, without the use of native speakers(generally because there are no longer native speakers available). There is alsoa growing trend in family language revitalization, in which adultssimultaneously study the endangered language of their community and use it withtheir children at home. Clearly, there are several success stories in languagerevitalization programs, but there could be many more with the involvement andexpertise of applied linguists trained to work with endangered languages.

“Applied field linguistics: delivering linguistic training to speakers ofendangered languages” (Sally Rice) describes the Community Linguist Certificate(CLC) program offered at the University of Alberta. This program is unique dueto its focus on both field and applied linguistics. It is a three-week summerschool program aimed at giving speakers of indigenous languages the tools toeffectively record their languages and teach them in classrooms. Courses includean introduction to linguistics; phonetics, morphosyntax, and sentence anddiscourse patterns of indigenous languages; technology for recording languages;and language policy and planning. Several graduates of the program are currentlyworking on linguistic projects in their speech community. Overall, the outlineof this program gives compelling motivation to train community linguists in bothdocumentation 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 intoaccount the complexity of the TL community; (2) the TL itself; (3) the societalcontext 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 ofthe TL community and the linguistic variations that are or are not included inthe final materials. At the same time, the shifts in society that lead tolanguage loss are complex and, to one extent or another, necessary, or else thedecline in use would not have occurred. At the same time, the linguists and theTL community can be in disagreement about the documentation of the language. Inthe example given, the society may argue for unique representations to emphasizethe uniqueness of their culture, whereas linguists tend to prioritize ease oflearning (p. 80). Whaley concludes with a list of characteristics that alinguistic team should possess to avoid these pitfalls; essentially, good peopleskills and a deep understanding of the communities in question.

David Bradley’s “Resilience linguistics, orthography and the Gong” describes thedifficulties encountered with the language documentation of the Gong inThailand, even after establishing an orthography, teaching materials, and goodrapport with the community. After outlining the Gong language, Bradley explainshow the model of resilience linguistics might apply to the Gong. Resiliencelinguistics, coming from ecology to social sciences, states that it is naturalfor societies to go through stages of growth, conservation, release, andreorganization. The linguist’s role is to guide a community in release so thatthey do not lose their language when reorganizing. In doing so, the author hasidentified 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 futurerevitalization project and, he hopes, has helped to counteract the negativeself-image the Gong were developing.

“From ethnocultural pride to promoting the Texas Czech vernacular: currentmaintenance efforts and unexplored possibilities” (Lida Cope) reports aparticipant observer applied linguist’s view of the status of the Texas Czechdialect. She argues that a historic immigrant dialect is just as informative ofhuman linguistic capabilities as the endangered languages of the world. Sheconcludes with the potential roles an applied linguist can play in such asituation: curricular development for heritage language learners; serving asliaisons 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 ofprofessions 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 inthe discipline, can and should form part of these teams, since their expertisecan help the project be successful and blur the line between documentation andrevitalization, thereby bringing all members of the team closer together. Thecaveat is that applied linguistics for majority languages is not wholly the sameas applied linguistics for endangered languages, but with some additionaltraining, 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 newspaperarticles and the recent production of the documentary, ''The Linguists''. Thisvolume clearly and concisely outlines successes and challenges of the twodisciplines, 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 suchprofessionals. In addition to applied linguists who have an interest in fieldlinguistics, this volume could also be of use to language documentation andrevitalization teams who might be considering adding an applied linguist totheir team. Finally, it could be useful to undergraduate linguistics studentsfor gaining a better understanding of a small sampling of linguistics-relatedcareers and specializations to consider in the future.

Specifically, Penfield and Tucker’s chapter, as well as Hinton’s, are valuablefor their explanations of the theories and realities linking applied linguisticsand language revitalization, which include pitfalls applied linguists could fallinto by making assumptions about endangered languages. These distinctions areclearly necessary before applied linguists jump headlong into a new field.Otherwise, they risk offending field linguists and community members alike, aswell as potentially jeopardizing projects. The chapters also provide usefulmaterial for incorporation into introductory courses on applied linguistics, sothat such courses can begin to be groundwork for a wider variety of studies thantraditional classroom foreign language instruction. This diversification ofapplied linguistics has already begun with the recognition of heritage languagelearning and majority language learning of immigrants as being distinctsociocultural, and thus to some extent educational, processes; it is naturalthat the paradigm now expand to include endangered language study, too.

In addition, the program detailed in Rice’s chapter is a unique approach to thedilemma because it educates community elders in theoretical and appliedlinguistics, thus changing the role of the professional applied linguist;instead of the outside applied linguist being the person in charge ofestablishing or running an endangered language program, he or she becomesresponsible for educating the community members who will do so. This resolvesthe issue of the natural gap in understanding and goals between appliedlinguists, field linguists, and community language experts, by giving the latterthe tools they need to implement language programs and having movement towardrevitalization and/or maintenance evolve truly from within the community, ratherthan being a pressure coming from outside the community. Since many endangeredlanguage communities are also endangered culturally in general, and thus wary ofoutside mainstream societal forces, programs such as the Community LinguistCertificate may be the best route toward language maintenance. It is also aprogram that could be instituted in other universities to address the needs oftheir nearby language minority groups, making the chapter’s information usefulto a wide audience.

On the other hand, the case studies that conclude the volume, especially thoseof Whaley and Bradley, are much less clear in their implications for projects,other than those described in the papers. They may be useful for raisingawareness about two cultural situations in which language revitalizationprograms are ongoing, but their specificity to the linguistic and culturalgroups in which each project is taking place results in overly vague conclusionsfor applied linguistics and linguists who might find themselves in differentsituations.


Anderson, G.D.S. and K.D. Harrison. 2006. Language Hotspots: Linking languageextinction, biodiversity, and the human knowledge base.


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.

Page Updated: 04-Sep-2012