About two years ago, I read Dr. K. David Harrison's book When Languages Die and subsequently posted about it here. Dr. Harrison then suggested that I read a book called Saving Languages, by Lenore A. Grenoble and Lindsay J. Whaley.
It is very interesting to read and think about these two books. Dr. Harrison writes about what happens when we lose a language and Dr. Grenoble and Dr. Whaley write about how we can prevent that from happening, and thus they should be read in that order.
Saving Languages talks about working in a "community-driven, bottom-up" way, which means that it is the people themselves who should decide whether to save their tongue and how, and not the government or other authorities. Dr. Grenoble and Dr. Whaley also give suggestions for how languages can be revitalized.
In their book, they discuss issues of literacy (which is a very important topic, in part since many people are not literate and/or written language is not always prioritized or emphasized, how language policies in countries can affect revitalization (for example, Syria apparently bans the use of Kurdish), attitudes towards language, and the influence of religious groups (Bible translations can be the first or only texts in certain languages or missionaries can be the first foreigners to learn a certain tongue). They also give information on different kinds of revitalization systems, such as total-immersion programs (which they say are the best but are not always possible), partial-immersion or bilingual programs (which they say tend to develop into transitional programs, and they do not advocate this idea), teaching the language as a second language, community-based programs, master-apprentice programs (so elders work with language learners, and this takes place solely in the language to be taught and involves real-life situations and activities, and focuses on oral skills), language-reclamation models (reviving languages that are not longer spoken, and also documenting (though this is not really resuscitating a language, merely recording it, though it helps in reviving a tongue).
In addition, they discuss creating or standardizing a written form of a language, issues of orthography, the usage of different scripts (some groups choose a certain script or other aspects of orthography deliberately to avoid having one like that of the majority language, such as how the Inuit based their alphabet on a Cree one rather than the Roman one, as a way of showing identity, or how Croatian uses the Roman alphabet while Serbian uses Cyrillic). And they give advice for creating a language program, looking into financial, language, and human resources, assessing the vitality of a language, and the needs of the community as well as their attitudes; as well as for avoiding potential problem situations, both internal and external to the community. And Dr. Grenoble and Dr. Whaley use case studies to explore different ways of saving and revitalizing languages.
Dr. Harrison's When Languages Die and Dr. Grenoble and Dr. Whaley's Saving Languages are fascinating books, and I recommend them both.
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