Language revitalization

Language revitalization

Language revitalization is the attempt by interested parties, including individuals, cultural or community groups, governments, or political authorities, to recover the spoken use of a language that is endangered, moribund, or no longer spoken. Language death is the process by which a language ceases to be used by the people who formerly spoke it. Although the goals of language revitalization vary by community and situation, a goal of many communities is to return a language that is dead or endangered to daily use.

Perhaps the most celebrated example of successful language revival is the Hebrew language, which now exists as a living tongue in daily use in the state of Israel. Other official attempts to revive endangered languages, such as the promotion of the Irish language in the Ireland ("see Gaelic revival"), Welsh in Wales and Catalan in Catalonia, Spain, have met with mixed success. Some other endangered languages that have been the subject of revivalist campaigns by enthusiasts or governments include:

* Ainu
* Belarusian
* Breton
* Basque
* Chinuk Wawa
* Cocama, revival efforts in Peruvian Amazonia
* Comanche
* Coptic
* Cornish
* Faroese
* Galician, with some criticism from reintegrationist groups.
* Hakka
* Hawai'ian

* Leonese
* Manx
* Maori
* Mirandese
* Romansh language
* Sami languages
* Sanskrit
* Shanghainese
* Scots
* Scottish Gaelic
* Tlingit
* West Frisian
* YiddishOften the organization reviving the language chooses a particular dialect, even standardizes one from several variants, and adds new forms, mainly modern vocabulary, through neologisms, extensions of meaning for old words, calques from sibling languages (Arabic for Modern Hebrew, Welsh for Manx), or plain borrowings from the modern international languages.Supporters of other variants can feel that the chosen form is not "the real one", and that the original purpose of the revival has been defeated.


In Europe, in the 19th and early 20th century, the use of both local and learned languages declined as the central governments of the different states imposed their vernacular language as the standard throughout education and official use (this was the case in France and Italy).

In the last few decades, local nationalism and human rights movements have made a more multicultural policy standard in European states; sharp condemnation of the earlier practices of suppressing regional languages was expressed in the use of such terms as "Linguicide". Campaigns have raised the profiles of local languages to such an extent that in some European regions, the local languages have acquired the status of official languages, along with the national language. The Council of Europe's action in this area (see European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages) is in contrast to the European Union's granting of official status to a restricted number of official languages (see Languages of the European Union).

On the other end of the spectrum, Latin, the learned language in which higher education and academic communication was carried out in Europe for many centuries, thus providing a cultural link to the continent across all of its universities until the aforementioned period, has also been the object of a language revival movement and is precariously growing in number of speakers (cf. Living Latin), although, as a language which is native to no people, this movement hasn't received support from any governments, national or supranational.


In recent times only, more than 750 languages have already become extinct around the world. Still others have only a few known speakers; these languages are called endangered languages.

The UN estimates that more than half of the languages spoken today have fewer than 10,000 speakers and that a quarter have fewer than 1,000 speakers and that, unless there are some efforts to maintain them, over the next hundred years most of these will become extinct.

The Endangered Language Fund is a fund dedicated to the preservation and revival of endangered languages.

Reversing language shift

Reversing language shift has been an area of study among sociolinguists, including Joshua Fishman, in recent decades. Reversing language shift involves establishing the degree to which a particular language has been 'dislocated' in order to determine the best way to assist or revive the language.

teps in reversing language shift

Joshua Fishman's model for reviving threatened (or dead) languages, or for making them sustainable, consists of an eight-stage process. Efforts should be concentrated on the earlier stages of restoration until they have been consolidated before proceeding to the later stages. The eight stages are as follows:

#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).
#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).
#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.
#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.
#Where the state permits it, and where numbers warrant, encourage the use of the language in lieu of compulsory state education.
#Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated, encourage the use of the language in the workplace (lower worksphere).
#Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage the use of the language in local government services and mass media.
#Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage use of the language in higher education, government etc.

This model of language revival is intended to direct efforts to where they are most effective and to avoid wasting energy trying to achieve the later stages of recovery when the earlier stages have not been achieved. For instance it is probably wasteful of effort to campaign for the use of the language on television or in government services if hardly any families are in the habit of using the language.

Factors which help an endangered language to progress

David Crystal, in his book 'Language Death', proposes six factors which may help a language to progress. He postulates that an endangered language will progress if its speakers:

#increase their prestige within the dominant community
#increase their wealth
#increase their legitimate power in the eyes of the dominant community
#have a strong presence in the education system
#can write down the language
#can make use of electronic technology

ee also

*List of revived languages
*List of extinct languages
*List of endangered languages
*Language policy
*Linguistic purism
*Punana leo
*Minority language
*Regional language
*List of language regulators
* Second language acquisition
*Sacred language


* "Endangered Languages : Language Loss and Community Response" (ISBN 0-521-59712-9)
* "Language Death" (ISBN 0-521-01271-6)
* "Vanishing Voices" (ISBN 0-19-515246-8)

External links

* [ Endangered Language ChatBots] , develops and hosts endangered language bots that send translations to any communication device including computers, phones, mobile devices, talking toys, and more.
* [ Project for reviving the speaking of Latin, with lessons available for download in Spoken Latin via podcast]
* [ Schola] , Scribendum est nobis!
* [ The Language Conservancy]
* [ Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project]
* [ The Endangered Language Fund]
* [ Foundation for Endangered Languages]
* [ Cajun Ethnicity and the Intergenerational Transmission of Louisiana French]
* Rosetta Stone [ Endangered Language Program] , creates not-for-profit immersion software for use in language revitalization


* 1991 Reversing language Shift: Theory and Practice of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon, Multilingual Matters. []
* 1999 Reyhner, Jon (Ed.). (1999). Revitalizing indigenous languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University, Center for Excellence in Education. ISBN 0-9670554-0-7.
* 2000 Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? Clevedon, Multilingual Matters. []
* 2000, David Crystal, Language Death, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-65321-5 (417.7).

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