LINGUIST List 31.1787

Thu May 28 2020

Review: Anthropological Linguistics; Language Documentation; Sociolinguistics: Sallabank (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 17-Mar-2020
From: Zuzana Elliott <>
Subject: Attitudes to Endangered Languages
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Julia Sallabank
TITLE: Attitudes to Endangered Languages
SUBTITLE: Identities and Policies
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Zuzana S Elliott, University of Edinburgh


Julia Sallabank’s book explores her insider’s perspective with activist’s leanings, her involvement that is reflected through her awareness of celebrating linguistic diversity and multilingualism across the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Her insights made this book an invaluable tool for exploring language attitudes and ideologies, while addressing issues on how to “save a language,” with a reference to what it means to the islanders and how it affects them in the first place. The chapters contribute towards an understanding of language revitalisation efforts, while considering theoretical contexts such as language ideologies.

The chapters are organised thematically, where the initial three chapters introduce the islanders and their vernacular languages, language policy practices, and the islanders’ attitudes and ideologies towards their heritage and future of their vernaculars. The subsequent chapters discuss the findings and implications, using the current and follow-up studies, and how these contribute towards understanding language revitalisation efforts and applying them to global perspectives.

The first chapter explores language globalisation and its place among previous and current matters on language endangerment, formation of identities and ideologies. Sallabank sets off introducing language endangerment in the academic field, and records community responses in bi- or multilingual contexts of language endangerment in both the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. She argues that the “small islanders” as a community switch between indigenous varieties, such as Norman, French, standard English, and local dialects of English, as a result of expressing their feelings, attitudes and reactions towards power and economic success of the language. The chapter defines the basic concepts of endangerment and sets the pace on explaining the ideological viewpoints and linguistic purism associated with traditional speakers in Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man. The literature review is essential as it provides the social, political, and linguistic context necessary for understanding the analysis in later chapters. Of particular note is the model of language policy, which is used repeatedly in later chapters as the foundation of her narrative.

In the second chapter, Sallabank brings together extra-linguistic factors which contribute towards the sociolinguistic development of Manx (Isle of Man), Jèrriais (Jersey), and Guernesiais (Guernsey) language varieties. The chapter outlines the small islands, their political background in relation to the European language policy and their social position in relation to the rest of the Great Britain. Although the Ministry of Justice (2006) granted these islands their own separate parliaments, their local languages still have no official role or status, and as Sallabank comments, “[they have] never been taken seriously enough to be seen as language[s] of public life” (p. 34). The indigenous varieties have been under myriad influences due to dynamic cultural shifts and population growth in recent generations. In particular, the chapter touches on in- and out-migration, as well as how the islanders’ personal preferences are reflected through their attitudes and ideologies concerning their local languages and cultures, mainly with respect to recent immigration from England, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. The chapter closes with thoughts on how the Channel Islands’ geographical proximity to France and political proximity to England is thus reflected in their sociolinguistic situation.

The third chapter examines processes involved in researching language attitudes and ideologies. Sallabank opens the chapter by exploring traditional research on language attitudes and language ideologies as a means of understanding how cross-generational economic stability and growth might fulfil a prerequisite for identity, as defined by individuals in the small islands (p. 67). The chapter highlights that studies on language endangerment tend to emphasise decline in language use, and rarely examine motivations of people who are involved in attempts to cease or reverse a language shift. The revitalisation process is thus presented as meeting an urgent need, which if well addressed and acted upon is often most successful via the utilisation of multiple different campaigns. Sallabank approached her study using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to investigate societal tendencies and changing ideologies among individuals on the small islands. Ethnographic interviews and observation techniques enabled a greater familiarity with local informants, and brought insights into their public and private opinions on their indigenous language. She ends the chapter by encouraging researchers to continue engaging with locals, activists, and language planners simply because locals’ language ideologies need to become the starting point of revitalisation research rather than being dismissed altogether.

In Chapter Four, Sallabank explores new avenues for language revitalisation via social media use in the small islands. The chapter starts by exploring the islands’ usage of Twitter and Facebook as two means of revitalising indigenous languages among the local population. Her research finds that in Jersey and Guernsey islands, the fluent speakers are predominantly elderly residents who have no interest in using media, while the vast majority of young people are not fluent enough to read literature in their local languages. Social media has seen some exceptions, such as Badlabeque’s Twitter, which often tweets in the Jèrriais variety. The hope of the revitalisation activists is that this Twitter feed may promote minority languages and encourage new learners to feel comfortable expressing their views in local tongues without engaging with speakers face-to-face, allowing learners greater freedom of expression and capacity for trial and error from the comfort of their homes. It is the main aim of revitalisation efforts that blogging and texting in endangered languages might motivate younger learners and thus create an opportunity to rebuild the community of speakers who use endangered languages.

Chapter Five examines the extent to which local attitudes, identities, and language ideologies have shifted over the years, and how language use has been viewed as a means of heritage in the process of language maintenance and revitalisation. The chapter starts with introducing the minority vernaculars, Guernesiais, Jèrriais, and Manx, and their role in social advancement. Sallabank explains that for much of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the role of these languages was mostly undermined and that people were taught from a very early age that “only stupid people” spoke the local vernacular (p. 106).

Sallabank’s use of methodologies attempted to verify anecdotal reports of attitude shifts among the local residents on the small islands. The Guernsey surveys aimed to collect explicit attitudes in the manner of an opinion poll or market survey, and were distributed to workplaces, civil service, education, and banking sectors. As part of her follow-up studies, Sallabank describes how she continued her research by incorporating language activists, politicians and officials, and the general Channel Islands population. Her findings indicate that people with less educated backgrounds tended to express fewer positive attitudes towards local vernaculars than did those with higher (i.e. postgraduate) qualifications. Her ethnographic observations show that locals found the use of their vernacular language less practical than British English in relation to the modern world. Also, her findings revealed that Guernesiais supporters split up into groups of those who wish to expand their domains of language and open it to new speakers, while the “traditionalists”, or language purists, favoured attachment to their heritage that reflects their nostalgia. Sallabank concludes the chapter that along with class, occupation, and origin, language attitudes cannot simply be correlated with what she calls “essentialist interpretation of ethnic identity and nationalism” (p. 112), due to the islands’ increasing ethnic diversity.

Chapter Six compares language policies, planning processes, and management in the small islands. Sallabank examines case studies in the language-related school programs, adult learning, and corpus planning. Using one-on-one interviews, she visited each island to talk to language activists and learners, civil servants and politicians, business people and the general public to explore how locals’ opinions towards vernaculars shape their language attitudes and practices. In particular, she investigated language revitalisation efforts in Guernsey and influences by appointed Language Officers, whose goal was to establish government language policies and support revitalisation efforts of the islands’ languages. Officers’ tasks have met with largely positive response, particularly among young people, resulting in increased support for language learning and promotion of the local languages. However, despite revitalisation efforts met by government, Sallabank finds that people cease using their language at home because each local vernacular continues to be perceived as inappropriate at school. Notions of low prestige tend to be reinforced at school, and thus the revitalisation movement faces a challenge in gaining acceptance at schools. However, formal education is not a guarantee that the language will be accepted outside school, unless the users themselves participate in it. A further challenge Sallabank indicates is that the increasing age and isolation of locals are factors leading to individual and societal language loss. As a result, revitalisation efforts on the islands aim to replace the traditional views and networks with opportunities for interaction with other speakers and learners.

The seventh and final chapter considers implications for language policies in endangered language revitalisation. Sallabank discusses the language status, education, and issues of beliefs and ideologies, and questions who has the authority to speak on behalf of the community and make decisions for the future of the endangered languages. She highlights that the language for each small island is a powerful tool in preserving cultural identity, a symbol that represents both traditional and modern practices. However, labelling cultural identity as either traditional or modern tends to be misleading, as neither label is fully shared by everyone who wishes to participate in language revitalisation. Guernsey continues to see tensions between traditionalist self-appointed language owners and more modern language revitalisers. The divergent ideologies in Guernsey reflect subjective identification with language, as well as tensions between past and present use. Sallabank notes that traditionalists feel threatened by language revitalisation efforts due to their perception that they can no longer effectively claim ownership of the language, even when increased positive attitudes about the language gain attention from political and financial sponsors. Meanwhile, her research finds that young people on the small islands recognise values to their local language via their heritage and future, and as such are at the forefront of revitalisation efforts. Sallabank argues that language documentation plays a more important role in language revitalisation than just recording the historical events of the language. Instead, language documentation provides information, multimedia, references, and teaching materials that all exhibit “authentic” usage, including pronunciation, traditional songs, and more (p. 210).


Researchers interested in language endangerment and revitalisation will certainly find Sallabank’s in-depth study of revitalisation efforts an interesting and inspiring resource. The book addresses what it means to save a language with specific reference to people on the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and utilises a combination of ethnographic approach and quantitative surveys to investigate “beliefs about language, culture, identity, language change, ownership, legitimacy and authority” (p. xiii).

Overall, the book provides valuable reading for anyone interested in the fields of sociolinguistics and language endangerment, as the primary focus applies to speech communities that are losing their local traditions, language(s), and identities. This volume presents accounts of the locals from the small islands interviewed by the author, Julie Sallabank, who is herself a Guernsey local and insider, and considers Guernesiais to be her “heritage language.” As a researcher interested in language variation and change across minority communities, I found these accounts to be a great contribution to my research.

Covering the speech and revitalisation efforts across all three islands within a single book while examining case studies in myriad contexts is a challenge, especially considering the similarities and differences Sallabank explored. But by doing so she was able to employ a comparative approach in her assessment of language endangerment, whereas three separate studies covering a single island each would create barriers for an outsider’s understanding of their similarities and differences. The fact that she has done a combination of ethnographic research and quantitative surveys is what makes this volume special: the author confronts the key issues (i.e. discussion of symbolic ethnicity, authenticity, and linguistic landscape) that often go unnoticed in other research on endangered languages.

Reading this as a researcher focusing on minorities, their attitudes, and the construction of their identities, I found Chapter 5, “Language attitudes, ideologies and identity on a small island,” somewhat difficult to understand effectively. A particular hurdle in this chapter is how Sallabank moves between discussing her findings from her PhD study and her subsequent research. Although all studies were relevant to the small islands, the frequent swaps between her own findings and those of the subsequent Marquis & Sallabank study (2013) made the narrative rather unnecessarily complicated. Additionally, I would appreciate the details of the production study, which is only briefly mentioned in the chapter but does not explain its relevance to the attitudes. More detail on methodologies used, such as types of attitude statements asked or description of the ethnographic research, would enable students to better understand how to approach and replicate future studies. Finally, I would have liked to have seen more about identity and ideologies, and how these were constructed among the islanders in relation to the locals, British, and other minorities living in the area.

However, the challenges listed above are far outweighed by the book’s contributions to research in language documentation. Sallabank creates a thorough and detailed narrative exploring language revitalisation efforts across the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, acknowledging both the absence of similar analyses in previous research and the cultural, political, and logistical challenges facing revitalisation efforts. By demonstrating the effective use of the numerous social research tools at her disposal, this book serves as an excellent resource to stimulate discussions with students and colleagues alike.


Marquis, Y. and Sallabank, J. (2013). Speakers and language revitalisation: a case study of Guernesiais (Guernsey). In M. C. Jones and Ogilvie, S. (Eds.), Keeping languages alive. Cambridge University Press.


I am a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where I am involved in a number of projects that focus on sound change, multilingualism, Asian Englishes and globalisation. I finished my Ph.D. in 2018, during which I investigated sociolinguistic variation in language production, attitudes, and identities among the Slovak immigrant community in Edinburgh. My research interests relate to sociophonetics, second language acquisition, language attitudes and ideologies, language variation and change. I am particularly interested in the sociolinguistics of migration and globalisation, and language documentation.

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