Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties

Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties

Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties

Sustaining Linguistic Diversity: Endangered and Minority Languages and Language Varieties

Synopsis

In the last three decades the field of endangered and minority languages has evolved rapidly, moving from the initial dire warnings of linguists to a swift increase in the number of organizations, funding programs, and community-based efforts dedicated to documentation, maintenance, and revitalization. Sustaining Linguistic Diversity brings together cutting-edge theoretical and empirical work from leading researchers and practitioners in the field. Together, these contributions provide a state-of-the-art overview of current work in defining, documenting, and developing the world's smaller languages and language varieties.

The book begins by grappling with how we define endangerment -- how languages and language varieties are best classified, what the implications of such classifications are, and who should have the final say in making them. The contributors then turn to the documentation and description of endangered languages and focus on best practices, methods and goals in documentation, and on current field reports from around the globe. The latter part of the book analyzes current practices in developing endangered languages and dialects and particular language revitalization efforts and outcomes in specific locations. Concluding with critical calls from leading researchers in the field to consider the human lives at stake, Sustaining Linguistic Diversity reminds scholars, researchers, practitioners, and educators that linguistic diversity can only be sustained in a world where diversity in all its forms is valued.

Excerpt

In the last three decades, what might be called the field of endangered and minority languages has evolved rapidly. in short order we've moved from the initial dire warnings of linguists such as Michael Krauss in the 1980s and early 1990s (Krauss 1992), to the explosion of media attention on “last speakers” throughout the 1990s, to, in more recent years, the development and refinement of theoretical frameworks for assessing linguistic health and endangerment as well as critiques of some of the assumptions underlying those models (e.g., unesco Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages 2003; Fishman 1991, 2001; King 2001; Nettle and Romaine 2000; Romaine 2006). Further, we have seen the rapid development of organizations, funding programs, and community-based efforts to document, maintain, and develop receding languages and language varieties (Grenoble and Whaley 1998, 2006; Hinton and Hale 2001; unesco Endangered Languages Programme 2007).

A wide range of individuals has participated in these developments, with members of endangered language communities rightly playing an increasingly vocal role. Yet while general interest, scientific investigation, and practical work have exploded over the last decades, efforts have also become more differentiated and diffuse and, in turn, more embedded in academic subareas and in particular local endangerment situations. As a result, the connections and comparisons—across different research paradigms but also across different communities—have become more difficult to make. Concomitantly, as more descriptive work from a wide range of world regions and perspectives has been conducted, there is growing recognition that some of our current terminology, frameworks, and research approaches are inadequate. As more and more data are gathered, even seemingly basic questions become increasingly complicated: How do we determine which languages count as “endangered”—or even “minority,” for that matter? Who makes such classifications, and what's at stake? Moreover, what are the different meanings and functions of “language revitalization” in linguistic, political, and ideological terms? There are pressing practical questions as well. For instance, how do we make sure that language data are widely accessible while also preserving confidentiality? How do we maintain the trust of the speakers whose generosity we depend on as we seek to further our knowledge of the full scope of human language variety? More broadly, should we focus solely on the most highly endangered and smallest languages, or can we also learn about the linguistic and . . .

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