Language Revitalization

Language Revitalization is the movement to reverse the possible death of nearly extinct or endangered language. If a community has a unique language, but perhaps only the elderly or isolated speak it, then no new generation of speakers are being produced, and it’s on a path to extinction.

In British Columbia, and across the world, efforts and movements are happening to save endangered languages. Welsh in Wales, Cornish in Cornwall, Galician in Galicia, Basque in Basque Country, Catalan in Catalonia, and Hebrew have all achieved certain levels of success. There are on-going efforts in British Columbia as well, but unfortunately they are not achieving the desired effect.

Saving a language needs three things, says noted linguist and language revival expert Joshua Fishman: patience, prudence, and functional specificity. Activists championing the cause will need patience in many area’s to face the challenge. Prudence is required by all involved to push through, and remain steadfast to accomplish their goals. And functional specificity is where language-learners understand that some language have their specific function that make them useful for that culture, ethnic group, or context. Simply, the language doesn’t need to be used for everything we do in our lives when another language accomplishes that better.

He also championed an 8 stage model for achieving language revitalization.
Efforts need to be focused on earlier steps before moving forward on the rest until they have been achieved. The eight stages are as follows:

  1. Acquisition of the language by adults, who in effect act as language apprentices (recommended where most of the remaining speakers of the language are elderly and socially isolated from other speakers of the language).
  2. Create a socially integrated population of active speakers (or users) of the language (at this stage it is usually best to concentrate mainly on the spoken language rather than the written language).
  3. In localities where there are a reasonable number of people habitually using the language, encourage the informal use of the language among people of all age groups and within families and bolster its daily use through the establishment of local neighbourhood institutions in which the language is encouraged, protected and (in certain contexts at least) used exclusively.
  4. In areas where oral competence in the language has been achieved in all age groups encourage literacy in the language but in a way that does not depend upon assistance from (or goodwill of) the state education system.
  5. Where the state permits it, and where numbers warrant, encourage the use of the language in compulsory state education.
  6. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated, encourage the use of the language in the workplace (lower worksphere).
  7. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage the use of the language in local government services and mass media.
  8. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage use of the language in higher education, government etc.

This approach for language revitalization is meant to focus programs, efforts, and plans to where they are most effective.  It avoids wasting energy, times, resources on accomplishing later stages when earlier stages have not been achieved.

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Comments
One Response to “Language Revitalization”
  1. Maria Myers says:

    This is really interesting. I would love any more information that you have on language.

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