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Working with a group to maintain their language can be mutually beneficial, with positive community and scholarly outcomes. We have seen in Chapter 3 how to behave in an ethical way in the community, in Chapter 4, how community attitudes and identity function and change, in Chapter 5, how language learning and use is crucial, in Chapter 6, some of the non-linguistic factors which may be important, in Chapter 7, some likely linguistic outcomes of the process, in Chapter 8, various policy and planning settings and activities to reinforce a language, in Chapter 9, strategies which have worked in language reclamation efforts and, in Chapter 10, techniques for carrying out socially grounded scholarly research.
As we saw in Chapter 3, a community will often be suspicious of a researcher who does not attempt to learn the language. One must have adequate initial ability in another language known within the community. Part of the preparation for fieldwork is reading all available materials on the target group, as well as the area and other nearby groups, and whatever has been done on the group’s own language. Fieldwork will be much more effective if the language is learned fairly well during the process; this is not a short-term task. Unfortunately, most scholarly linguistic materials are not designed for learning conversational skills; but there may be materials aimed at tourists or incoming local government workers; see, for example, Bradley et al. (1991, first, second and third editions) for a brief introduction to five minority languages of mainland South East Asia and southern China.
Ethical research is not just a moral obligation, inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable. It can have bad consequences for a community and for later researchers; no one welcomes the eleventh nerd. Communities and individuals within them have priorities, and they usually do not include spending time with an outsider whose future intentions and use of the material collected are unknown. They often suspect that researchers wish to benefit financially from what is collected; and in truth nearly all researchers do wish to benefit, at least in terms of advancing their academic discipline and their own career. It is wise to have a truthful and understandable reason why you want to do your research in a particular place which you can explain to people.
From the perspective of an individual, personal life history, capacities and choices determine their abilities in whatever languages they speak. The outcome for the languages in their repertoire is often that an individual’s knowledge of the dominant language in the larger society will increase, while their knowledge of their in-group endangered language may cease to develop after a certain age, and may even contract. The process of language endangerment is an overall collective outcome of the choices made by individuals, families and communities to acquire and use another language rather than a traditional in-group language, more of the time in progressively more situations.
This chapter discusses the types of change which occur in languages when they become endangered. As most of them involve linguistic structures, there will be extensive use of linguistic terminology here; all terms are first introduced in bold and are explained in the Glossary. Some readers with less background in linguistics may find some of the material in this chapter fairly difficult and may wish to pass over it.
Apart from the various nonlinguistic factors included in the indices of language endangerment discussed in Chapter 2, there have been many previous studies listing, classifying and discussing sociolinguistic setting factors, such as Ferguson (1962), Fishman (1962, 1985), Kloss (1968), Haugen (1972), Kibrik (1991), Edwards (1992), Krauss (1992), de Vries (1992) and many more.
This chapter discusses various subtypes of language reclamation: revitalization, revival, renativization, nativization and heritage. A further possibility is denativization, as seen for Rumantsch in Chapter 8; this is a top-down language unification strategy, imposing an artificial standard. Sadly, heritage activities, including limited language use, is the likely future for N‖ng (Chapter 3) and many other languages around the world. Language reclamation work in a community depends crucially on the current situation of the endangered language; concerning levels and stages of endangerment, see Chapter 2. See Chapter 8 concerning the four components of language planning (Selection, Codification, Elaboration and Dissemination) for reclamation, and the required actions, such as work on orthography, pronunciation, structural and interactional patterns and vocabulary.
Language policy and planning has a long history, but an explicit theoretical framework has only developed in the last fifty years. The process is regarded in a unitary way, and called language planning, while the decisions involved constitute language policy. Tollefson (1995), Hornberger (2008) and others discuss planning and implementing supportive policies for minority language education and cultural maintenance. Chapter 9 investigates planning related to reclaiming endangered languages; see also Hinton (2001a, 2011), Hinton et al. (2002), Lewis and Simons (2015b), among others. For a number of relevant case studies, see Hinton and Hale (2001), and Hinton, Huss and Roche (2018).
In the early days of work on language endangerment, many negative terms were used to refer to this field: language death, language contraction, obsolescence (Dorian, 1989); perilinguistics (peril + linguistics), thanatoglossia and necroglossia (Matisoff, 1991: 201, 224). Endangered languages used to be called dying languages or, less negatively, threatened languages, and languages no longer spoken were said to be dead languages. In the last twenty years, we have moved away from these morbid metaphors and the terminology has become more stable, but the situation has continued to deteriorate, even though public awareness of language endangerment and scholarly attention to it have greatly increased.
The above strong and emotive quote poses the key problem which motivates this book. Krauss indicated that most of the endangered languages then spoken would stop being spoken during the twenty-first century. In Krauss (2007a: 3) he increases this further, and indicates that 95 per cent of the world’s languages are endangered to some degree. It is clear that a high proportion of the world’s linguistic diversity is endangered, as Robins and Uhlenbeck (1991), Wurm (1996, 2001), Brenzinger (2007a), Moseley (2007), UNESCO (2009) and recent editions of the Ethnologue since Lewis and Simons (2014), among many other sources, also indicate.
Identity is complex, multifarious and fluid. Groups define themselves and others with names, by group and other categories and their composition and with their attitudes (Llamas & Watt, 2010), and in many other ways (Fishman, 1977, 1989). These combine to form individuals’ identities – overt and covert, often multiple and shifting. Where enough of this is negative, the result may be language endangerment. Thus, changing negative attitudes is one of the most important precursors for language reclamation (Chapter 9).
Up to ninety percent of humanity's traditional languages and cultures are at risk and may disappear this century. While language endangerment has not achieved the publicity surrounding environmental change and biodiversity loss, it is just as serious, disastrously reducing the variety of human knowledge and thought. This book shows why it matters, why and how it happens, and what communities and scholars can do about it. David and Maya Bradley provide a new framework for investigating and documenting linguistic, social and other factors which contribute to languages shifting away from their cultural heritage. Illustrated with practical in-depth case studies and examples from the authors' own work in Asia and elsewhere, the book encourages communities to maintain or reclaim their traditional languages and cultures.