LINGUIST List 24.5240
Mon Dec 16 2013
Review: Anthropological Ling.; Language Acq.; Lang. Documentation: Hinton (2013)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
Mara Barbosa <mbarbosa
Bringing Our Languages Home
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-1781.html
EDITOR: Leanne HintonTITLE: Bringing Our Languages HomeSUBTITLE: Language Revitalization for FamiliesPUBLISHER: HeydayYEAR: 2013
REVIEWER: Mara R Barbosa, Purdue University
SUMMARYLeanne Hinton’s “Bringing our Languages Home” collects biographies of languageactivists who have struggled to revive and maintain their endangered heritagelanguages. Hinton gains insights from people who have more than theoreticalknowledge about how to reclaim a language and keep it in a family orcommunity. What unites the central figures in this book is the belief that thefamily must be the root of any process of language revitalization andmaintenance.
Anyone interested in language revitalization and maintenance will find thebook worth reading, from linguists to language activists working in the fieldto those who may not classify themselves as linguists or activists, but whoalso do not want languages to be lost or killed by the hegemony of othercultures and languages. The volume is particularly important for people whoare or want to be involved with language maintenance efforts, since thenarratives are filled with advice and strategies that can be applied to one’sown situation.
The book is divided into five parts, plus an introduction and a conclusionwritten by the editor, with chapters 2 to 13 addressing biographies oflanguage activists and their struggles to save their endangered languages.
Hinton’s introduction gives an overview of how languages are threatened byconflicts among civilizations and by the fear that majority populations haveof other languages and cultures menacing their hegemony. The introductioninforms the reader about the situation of the endangered Indigenous languages;especially in North America, Europe and Australia. It also introduces thereader to the movements dedicated to the reclamation of such languages, anddemonstrates well how valuable they are.
The chapters in part I, “Starting from Zero”, tell stories of families workingon 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 fatherlearned his heritage language, widely known as Miami, and engaged his wholefamily in the task. There were many challenges in the process of learning ano-longer-spoken language; Daryl had to become a linguist and learn thelanguage by himself. Currently, he directs a project at Miami University inOxford, Ohio that offers language camps for children, and Miami language andcultural education for people of Myaamia heritage. A project that was startedby a single family now impacts the whole Myaamia community and a language thathad not been spoken for generations was reclaimed and is now spoken again.
In chapter 2 “Wampanoag: How Did This Happen to my Language?”, jessie littledoe baird tells how she assumed responsibility for her lost language by goingback to school and becoming a linguist. With her knowledge, she started toreconstruct the language and learn it by herself. Among her steps has beenraising her daughter as a Wampanoag native speaker, and founding the WampanoagLanguage Revitalization Project (WLRP), which aims to increase the populationof fluent speakers through medium charter and immersion schools.
The two chapters in part II, “Learning from the Elders”, are about familiesworking to revitalize languages with few native speakers left. Elaina and PhilAlbers narrate their story of learning the Karuk language from Auntie Violet.They describe how their emotional connection to the Karuk language was tied toAuntie 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 thatthe 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 chapter4, “Yuchi: Family Language without a Language Family” by Richard A. Groundsand 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 theYuchi forms. Other challenges were the small number of native speakers (only5), the lack of recognition of Yuchi as a nation, and, because of this, thelack of funding to support revitalization. The most interesting strategy usedwas taking children out of public school completely, and taking them to adaily conversation with Yuchi native speakers. Consistency also played animportant role in Richard families’ language learning. For everything theyknew how to say in Yuchi, they would say it only in Yuchi and abandon theEnglish equivalent.
Part III, “Families and Communities Working Together”, includes chapters 5through 9 and presents stories of families working with the support of theircommunities to save endangered languages from becoming extinct. The first isof Margaret and Theodore Peters. In chapter 5 “Mohawk: Our Kanien’kéhaLanguage”, Margaret describes the challenges of being a teacher in a schoolwithout governmental support for its non-English programs. She gives examplesof students who participated in the immersion program and are now successfulat what they do in their lives and careers, which shows that it is possible tosucceed while preserving their native languages.
Hana O’Regan tells her story of struggle, at home and within her community, torevitalize her heritage language in Chapter 6 “Māori: My Language Story”.Hana’s target was to have 1000 homes speaking Māori. When she became a motherand saw all the difficulties in teaching her child her heritage language, hergoal for the community seemed further away than ever. For her, the successfulstrategy was the one-parent, one-language method. With this approach shesucceeded in having her child’s first words be in Māori.
Chapter 7 “Hawaiian: E Paepae Hou ‘Ia Ka Pōhaku: Reset the Stones of theHawaiian House Platform”, by William H. Wilson and Kauanoe Kamanā, presentsthe story of how a family fighting against language extinction successfullygained the support of the academic community. William and Kauanoe were engagedin teaching and promoting the Hawaiian language since they were in graduateschool. They were the first couple in their community to start speaking solelyHawaiian at home and raise their children as Hawaiian first language speakers.When they both became professors, they founded a Hawaiian academic departmentand established a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian. Currently there are at least50 homes in their community in which at least one parent speaks solely inHawaiian to the children.
Margaret Noori tells the story of her campaign to revitalize theAnishinaabemowin language in chapter 8 “Language, Family, and Community”. Sheand a friend are language activists and teachers who share the belief thatlanguage revitalization must have its roots in the speakers’ families. Theirstrategies include extending the concept of family; they see any person closeto them as family, and therefore as someone who has potential to help in thelanguage revitalization process. Visitors to their homes are invited to learna few words of Anishinaabemowin if they do not know the language.
A comparison of two efforts to revitalize the Irish language is presented inchapter 9 “Belfast’s Neo-Gaeltacht”, by Aodán Mac Póilin. He reports on agovernment effort to keep the Irish language alive, where the main strategywas to teach the language in schools, along with English. The project was notsuccessful in language revitalization, because even though the language wastaught, it was not used by the community. Póilin, on the other hand, started asmall community where children are raised speaking exclusively Irish. Nownon-Irish speakers are starting to join the community. There is no way topredict if the Irish language will prevail there, but the efforts have shownpositive results so far.
Part IV, “Variations on a Theme”, presents two different cases in chapters 10and 11: in the first, a family tells how they decided to move from the US toCyprus, so that their son would have more contact with the language. In thesecond, a man talks about his experience learning Walrpiri in the U.S. andusing it to communicate only with his father.
In chapter 10, “Making Choices: Enriching Life”, Aigli Pittaka and BrianBielenberg talk about the challenges they faced trying to raise their child asa first-language speaker of Kypriaka, a dialect of Greek unintelligible toGreek speakers in a mainly English-speaking country -- the U.S. Educators toldthem that the child would develop better if he was raised speaking Englishonly, yet maintaining their language was important to them. This is the firstchapter to mention a challenge we would expect many parents in this situationto face: the fear that their children could avoid speaking the minoritylanguage to better fit in with the majority. In response to their desire tomaintain their family language, the family chose to move to Cyprus.
Chapter 11, “About Dad”, is a tribute to the linguist Ken Hale, written by hisson Ezra Hale. Ezra reports his father’s passion for Warlpiri, a language witharound 300 speakers in Central Australia. He also tells how his father wouldspeak only Warlpiri to him and his brother, and how proud they were ofspeaking it. Warlpiri was not a heritage language to Ezra or Ken Hale, but itis a language that Ken learned and shared with his sons. They used thelanguage mainly for jokes, contributing to a different connection among them.
In Part V, “Family Language-Learning Programs”, chapters 12 and 13 introduceprograms for language revitalization in communities through language classesand orientation for families who want to participate in the process oflanguage revitalization. Chapter 12, “The Kawaiisu Language Program at Home”by Laura Grant and Julie Turner, describes the Language at Home Program withits challenges and successes. The Kawaiisu group trains a person who willpromote language learning in her own family. Teachers are encouraged todevelop everyday activities with the family, using the Kawaiisu language. Thisway, speaking the language and passing it along to other generations becomessomething natural.
Chapter 13, “Taic/CNSA and Scottish Gaelic” by Finlay M. Macleoid, describesthe efforts of dedicated activists to save the Gaelic language and culturethrough the development of stimulating and innovative resources. In 1982 theycreated the Comhairle Nan Sgoiltean Araich (CNSA) organization with thefollowing aims: to bring language back to people’s everyday life, to promoteGaelic language and culture, to provide children with good Gaelic-mediumeducation, and to create learning materials that families could use at home.
Chapter 14, “Bringing Your Language into Your Own Home”, concludes with aguide for parents who want to raise their children speaking an endangeredlanguage. Leanne Hinton draws on the experiences described throughout otherchapters. For each issue, she discusses how the contributors to the book feltand what they did about it. The author also reflects on how the contributorscreated opportunities for the use of the target language in several familyactivities. A list of the possible activities using the target language inwhich one can engage the family is presented. It includes games, songs,chores, and many other activities that families generally do, all designed toenhance proficiency in the target language
EVALUATIONHinton’s book covers a multitude of topics relevant to endangered languageactivists, providing examples of activist efforts working with Kawaiisu,Scottish Gaelic, Hawaiian, among others. It does not present much informationabout how extinguished languages were reconstructed as language systems.However it is an enjoyable read for linguists and non-linguists interested inthe strategies people use to bring back their languages, and how successfulthey can be.
The author achieves her goal of telling the stories of families working torevitalize their endangered languages. These families decide to reclaim theirheritage languages because of their personal and sentimental values. While theauthor could have written the stories herself, she asked the families toparticipate in the writing process, including the families’ own voices andemotions towards their beloved languages. Her aim of encouraging readers whowant to participate in the process of reclaiming their endangered or dormantlanguages is also supported by the reported successes of the contributors.
The diversity of experiences presented in the chapters about extinguishedlanguages and endangered languages is of great exemplary and instructionalvalue. Each story represents a fight for a similar cause, yet each storydepicts the particularities of specific situations and unique relationshipsthat people have with their languages. The emotional connection between peopleand their languages is often the biggest motivation for their activism.
In addition to family stories, the details of the individual stories guidefamilies through the reclamation process, and the book concludes by addressingthe realities of “Bringing your language into your own home”. The conclusionexposes possible problems and obstacles that parents may encounter uponbringing a language into the home and draws examples from the chapters toexplain how such problems may be overcome.
The collection offers insights to facilitate language maintenance andrevitalization for those committed to bringing their languages back. Yet, insome chapters there could be more information about the language programs andtheir results. Macleoid’s chapter about the Taic programs, for example,presents a thorough description of the programs, their motivations andapproaches, 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 ofnon-linguist language activists in the discussion. This gap is filled by“Bringing Our Languages Home”.
REFERENCESMeek, Barbra A. 2012. We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of LanguageRevitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community. Tucson: University ofArizona Press.
Williams, Colin H. (ed.). 2000. Language Revitalization: Policy and Planningin Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWERMara Barbosa is a PhD student in Spanish Applied Linguistics at PurdueUniversity. Her research interests include the effects of language prejudiceon Spanish heritage language maintenance in the U.S.
Page Updated: 16-Dec-2013