Language Revitalization

Andrea Wilhelm

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:
Language Revitalization

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Language Families
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics


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Language revitalization is a fairly recent subfield of linguistics that is concerned with halting and reversing the extinction of languages. Language extinction has increased rapidly in the last one hundred years, and occurs now at a staggering rate. It is estimated that 50 percent to 90 percent of the world’s six thousand to seven thousand languages will no longer be spoken by the end of this century. Linguists encounter more and more speakers and communities who are struggling for the survival their languages. In response to the global crisis and to a grassroots movement, the discipline of linguistics is shifting from treating languages as an object of study to engaging in efforts to save languages. This includes (a) assessing the situation of individual languages, (b) understanding the complex causes of language decline and death, (c) engaging in public and political advocacy, (d) documenting languages, and, most important, (e) working directly with members of communities whose languages are threatened, supporting their efforts to save or revive these languages. Since language revitalization is an emerging field, its theoretical foundations as well as its models of practice are still developing. Many publications are devoted to the fundamental task of increasing the knowledge base by reporting on revitalization projects on specific languages, often in specific communities. Revitalization efforts take a variety of forms; the best known are perhaps the language nests pioneered in New Zealand and Hawaii, various forms of bilingual education (in Europe and elsewhere), and political movements, such as the modern revival of Hebrew or Basque and the language legislation of Quebec, Canada. These examples reveal that language revitalization is not only an applied field, but also a very interdisciplinary one. Mainstream linguistic training is only a partial preparation; knowledge of sociolinguistics, first and second language acquisition, language teaching (and education more generally), and community development are also essential. The theoretical understanding of language endangerment, which is fundamental to successful revitalization, is equally interdisciplinary. The threat to languages often goes hand in hand with threatened communities, cultures, and, particularly in the case of small indigenous languages, natural environments. The theoretical literature of language revitalization draws heavily on sociolinguistics, anthropology, history, sociology, education, and ecology.

Article.  16423 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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