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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Review of  Applied Linguists Needed

Reviewer: Jessica G. Cox
Book Title: Applied Linguists Needed
Book Author: Lida Cope
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Documentation
Issue Number: 23.3692

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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

“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


Anderson, G.D.S. and K.D. Harrison. 2006. Language Hotspots: Linking language
extinction, 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.

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