Foundation for Endangered Languages
11. Book Reviews & Announcements
Joshua A. Fishman (ed.) Can Threatened Languages be Saved? — reviewed by Chris Moseley Clevedon: Multilingual Matters (series number 116), 2001. ISBN 1-85359-492.X. £24.95
It is ten years now since Joshua Fishman made a major published contribution to the study of language endangerment, with the publication of Reversing Language Shift (Multilingual Matters, 1991). Fishman’s name will be well known, however, to anyone even remotely concerned with the field of sociolinguistics, and in particular language shift; he has been active in the field for thirty years and more. Now Fishman returns to the field of language endangerment as editor of a new collection of 18 studies from around the world addressing the specific topic of rescuing languages. Emphasising the continuity with his previous study, he maintains the term Reversing Language Shift, abbreviated to RLS, throughout the volume.
The terminology and frame of reference of the previous Fishman volume are maintained consistently. The book is divided into geographical sections: The Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, and The Pacific. The section on the Americas includes immigrant languages in its purview (Puerto Rica Spanish and Yiddish in New York, for example). Lee and McLaughlin’s paper on Navajo language shift reversal represents one of the more hopeful cases among indigenous languages of North America, and the practical steps proposed in it seem quite feasible. Likewise, in Central America, Lastra’s account of the partial reversal of Otomí language shift to Spanish in Mexico gives some grounds for cautious optimism. Even Quechua, with its millions of speakers, is endangered, but to different degrees according to the amount of institutional support and prestige it receives in the various countries where it is spoken.
Turning to Europe, Pádraig Ó Riagáin’s paper deals with the unique situation of Irish, where institutional support has been stronger than public response in the past two decades. Two languages whose status of endangerment according to Fishman’s criteria have remained relatively static are Frisian (Gorter) and Basque (Azurmendi, Bachoc and Zabaleta).
African languages are rather under-represented in this volume, so we must take as typical of the continent in general Adegbija’s study of Oko. This is a language of Kogi State, Nigeria, with its relative stability hitherto in the village setting but gradual erosion in the wider context owing to immigration, emigration and incipient failure of intergenerational transmission.
Turning to Asia, the effect of central intervention by a large and powerful state in the tiny language community is described in the papers on Andamanese (Annamali and Gnanasundaram) and Ainu (Maher).
Ensuing chapters concentrate more on RLS itself than on endangered languages, with Spolsky and Shohamy’s paper on a century of the cultivation of Hebrew, and Clyne’s essay “Can the Shift from Immigrant Languages be Reversed in Australia?” (It could be, but not much has been done despite the availability of many services and media to immigrant communities, he concludes).
If the situation for immigrant languages in Australia is not bright, then that for indigenous languages has grown even more parlous in the ten years since Fishman’s RLS criteria were set, according to Lo Bianco and Rhydwen in their bleak assessment, “Is the Extinction of Australia’s Indigenous Languages Inevitable?” Australia’s already bad record has been worsened (at the national level at least – there are flecks of brighter hope in some locations) by government policies that have set “literacy” (= literacy in English) as the primary goal for indigenous people and acted according to an “economistic” agenda — more so than ever at the time of writing.
Still in the Antipodes, Benton and Benton’s paper on the New Zealand situation is a thorough analysis of the current status of Ma¤ori – a language which has the potential to run through the full gamut of Fishman’s graded scale, yet for which the efforts so far have revealed a kind of well-meaning tokenism at the official level and varying responses at the native-speaker level.
Fishman himself has the last word. A decade is a short time in the life of a language, as he admits, and so comparisons with the worldwide situation in RLS ten years ago ought to be made cautiously. The terms of reference applied throughout this book are set out as a useful reference in this chapter, in a table headed “Stages of Reversing Language Shift: Severity of Intergenerational Dislocation”. Trends have been far from uniform; conclusions are hard to draw. He tries to answer the question set out in the title: Can threatened languages be saved? “Yes, more of them can be saved than has been the case in the past, but only by following careful strategies that focus on priorities and strong linkages to them, and only if the true complexity of local human identity, linguistic competence and global interdependence are fully recognised.” Chris_Moseley@mon.bbc.co.uk
Tove Skutnabb.Kangas Linguistic Genocide in Education or World Wide Diversity and Human Rights — reviewed by Nigel Birch
Question: “Why don’t you allow Kurdish broadcasting, Kurdish education in schools?”
Answer: “…. if we do that, the PKK will be rewarded. It will say it wants autonomy; then a flag; then a state… Turkey has to protect her unity.” President Süleyman Demirel, 1994, quoted in Atatürk’s Children by Jonathan Rugman and Roger Hutchings.
There is no future for minority languages. The nation-state demands conformity; the majority rule. How often have you heard that argument and seen quotes like the one above? They are heard worldwide, from the US to Asia, from the north to the south.
But is this true? Does the world have to be like this? The message of this book is a resounding No!
Make no mistake - this is no lightweight read (especially at nearly 1.6 kilos - which is the answer to one of the more comfortable challenges posed). It sets out to ask what the author describes as the “uncomfortable why questions”. It challenges common assumptions and misconceptions and then goes on to suggest how education and linguistic and human rights can be combined without being threatening to the majority.
The book is in three sections. It starts by taking a look at the current state of the world’s languages and the links between biodiversity and linguistic and cultural diversity. It then moves on to look at the relationships between language death and state policies, including globalisation (a section I found particularly illuminating giving, as it did, some of the history of free trade agreements and organisations such as the World Bank; issues much in the news in the wake of Seattle, Genoa, etc). The final section looks at the struggle for linguistic and human rights in education. Importantly, it shows examples of the positive benefits that can accrue by granting such rights.
The book is, as you would expect, well supplied with references to allow the reader to follow up the points being made. However it is also liberally sprinkled with examples in Inserts which often relay personal accounts relevant to the text. Not only do these illustrate the subject under discussion, many are very moving. There are also Information boxes and Definition boxes which give deeper explorations of the concepts being described, as well as Address boxes which point to relevant organisations.
Finally, there are the Reader Tasks. The book is not an easy read. As well as being packed with information many of the Reader Tasks hold up a mirror to the reader. You may not like what you see!
The book is a mine of information and a must for anyone with an interest in education and human rights. It provides the answers and examples to counter quotes like the one I opened with. My only quibble is that the constant emphases in bold type can seem rather hectoring. If you
read Vanishing Voices (D. Nettle & S. Romaine, 2000) and want to know what to do next, this is the book you need. As the author hopes in her preface, I did indeed “become angry, desperate, frustrated as well as reflective (and) optimistic.” And, yes the book has changed “the way I see at least a few things”. I now look at some countries I had previously thought of as liberal and enlightened in a new way. I have also had some existing prejudices strengthened as well! Nigel.Birch@epsrc.ac.uk
Northern Realities: Vincent McKee Gaelic Nations - Politics of the Gaelic Language in Scotland & Northern Ireland in the 20th Century — reviewed by Kenneth MacKinnon London: Bluestack Press, 1997 . ISBN 1 90214 7 00 6, price: £10 (UK & Eire).
Now that 2001 unequivocally sees us all in the 21st Century, a review of the Gaelic language in Scotland and. the Six Counties is timely. There have been remarkable changes in the politics of these two countries throughout the 20th Century, and as it has, progressed if that is always the right word! issues of language in politics have become increasingly salient. Vincent McKee's study has valuably drawn these strands together into one story up to the point of the 1997 Labour government and the measures leading to the Good Friday Agreement — and all that has flowed thereafter.
There are of course numerous academic, and accessible and popular studies of Irish in Ireland (0’ Coileain, 0’ Huallacháin, 0’ Murchú, Hindley) — and in the North in particular (Maguire, MacPoilín, 0’ Snodaigh). There are for Scottish Gaelic substantial. academic studies such as those of Charles Withers (and a less academic effort of my own). But until this study there was none that brought these two stories of the separated Gael together into one comparative account. That it was timely is borne out by much that has happened since, hard on its heels: some sort of official recognition of Irish in Northern Ireland, the Columba Initiative linking the Gaeldoms of Scotland, the North and the Republic, and initiatives such as the Gaelic Identities and Language Links conferences at Queen's University of Belfast focusing on politics of language in Ulster and Scotland. (McCoy & Scott, Kirk & 0’ Baoill)
McKee has provided a sketch of historical background in the pre 1914 Gaelic revival and its aftermath in the post independence situation in the devolved Six Counties within the UK state. The facts and figures here are good to have in comparative format likewise some thirty photographs of people, places and events. The ensuing period 1920-1965 is captioned Gaeldom's Barren Years. After the great days of the Land League, crofting legislation and the 1918 Gaelic education clause, much might have been hoped, but Gaeldom in Scotland sang itself asleep with little other than the annual mòd as its public face. McKee painstakingly charts the tiny and. hesitant steps forward in Scotland and has really dug hard to uncover what there was in Northern Ireland chiefly by way of maintenance in the catholic education sector.
The beginnings of resurgence in both countries are seen as getting under way between 1965 1985 as a 'Mini Renaissance'. Although numbers were declining, Gaelic was stirring, and. McKee outlines how it was that in this period the foundations were being firmly put in place for what was to happen at an increasing pace as the century concluded. In Scotland at least, Gaelic was, advanced by the establishment of institutions such as, Sabhal Mór Ostaig (the Gaelic College), the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Gaelic Books Council, the playgroups organisation CNSA, and many others. By now what was happening in one Gaelic or Celtic country was manifest to the others, and progress in one led to calls for similar in the others. We started to realise we had a lot to learn from one another and Gaeldom was quick to learn its political lessons too. In Scotland the failure of Donald Stewart's Gaelic Bill was, the spur to much else.
The penultimate section: Gaelic in the Communities rightly focuses on a grassroots perspective and details much that was happening on the ground between 1985 1997. And there was a lot that did. This story is good to have because it explains how much progress was possible even although the political climate was not ostensibly the most favourable. These were the latter years of the UK 1979-1997 Conservative administration, and Northern Ireland was still under direct rule. Before these days are forgotten, Gaels in both countries would do well to put such an account as this on their bookshelves, as a reminder and as a reference source. Whatever the future holds, our recent history has much in it to remind us not to slacken pace, and we should remind ourselves too where we have so recently come from.
The study concludes by looking at Gaelic medium education in both countries. If there is to be a future for the language, it has to be developed and secured here. In both countries the efforts to establish Gaelic medium education were enormous. Gabrielle Maguire recounts elsewhere the heroic story of establishing Irish medium education in the Falls and Andersonstown area of West Belfast. This formed the heart of the nua Gaeltacht in an urban setting. In Scotland, Gaelic medium units were eventually wrung out of reluctant education authorities and unsympathetic central education departments in 1985 by sheer parental persistence and replaced the weaker 'bilingual' and 'second language' models. From then on there is a success story in both countries (albeit with response to demand held back by teacher shortage and the old, old 'scarce resources' chestnut).
In his conclusions, the author is optimistic both of the European setting as a political reality, and, of the lobbying strategies the Gaels have developed across the political spectrum. There is more than a hint that cross party cultural politics might be a good card to play in Ulster too. McKee rightly observes that there is much that militates against an alliance between Scottish Gaelic and nationalist politics on the Irish model. But as events have developed, new — and more productive — alliances are being formed. The book leaves the reader anticipating what may develop, from the establishment of a Scottish Parliament — and indeed from the return of devolved government in the North. The author's final words are to reject obituaries such as Hindley's and to demonstrate how traditional politics have outlived their usefulness. The book's purpose has been to explain how Gaeldom's survival into the third millennium has been established upon painstakingly laid foundations. The book's value has been in detailing these and reminding those of us working in this field that the achievements in enabling Gaelic to survive in the face of much adversity have been considerable. The task now is to secure them.
Developments since the book was initially published have moved. on swiftly. There is now a further story to tell. In Scotland we now have our Parliament. It was swift to start to do things for Gaelic. In Northern Ireland the Good Friday Agreement brought devolution back. Cross border institutions for the support of Irish have been established. Between Scotland, and Ireland, hands across the Sheugh have taken our common Gaelic heritage further in all sorts of dimensions. New realities have come into being in both countries for the peoples of the North. It is very much to be hoped that a further edition or a sequel from Dr McKee may soon tell this story too.
Rob Amery Warrabarna Kaurna! Reclaiming an Australian Language — reviewed by Karen Johnson-Weiner Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger B. V. I-xix, 289 pages. (Dfl. 120.00/ AUS$92.00/ EUR 54.00)
This is a “must read” for anyone interested in reversing language shift. The most recent volume in the Multilingualism and Linguistic Diversity Series (Series editor: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas), this study explores the “renaissance” (1) of the Kaurna language, which, at the time of first European contact, was spoken by the people of the Adelaide Plains, but, by the end of the 19th century, was considered “dead.” The last native speaker of the Kaurna language died in 1929, but, Amery notes, the language had not served for everyday communication for over a century. This work is a longitudinal study of language “reclamation,” the revival of a language no longer spoken and about which little is known orally by the descendants of those who spoke it. As Amery makes clear, in reclaiming the Kaurna language, the Kaurna people are reclaiming their culture, history, and identity within the larger Aboriginal community and the dominant Australian society. Amery begins by setting the Kaurna language and the Kaurna people in the broader context of history, Australian geography, and modern Australian society. Chapter 1, “Locating the Study,” describes the physical setting of the Kaurna culture, their historical relationship to neighboring languages and Aboriginal groups, and the Kaurna people today, including the reawakening of a distinct Kaurna identity and the dominance of competing indigenous languages and “Nunga English,” the variety of English spoken as an in-group language by Aboriginal peoples. In Chapter 2, “Language Reclamation,” Amery challenges the assumptions of many (the majority?) of linguists about reversing language shift and, indeed, about the role of language. At the start of the reclamation project, the Kaurna language has neither native speakers nor semi-speakers left, and the language survives only in the writings of explorers, missionaries, and a few letters from school children. Reclaiming the Kaurna language means building on what is left, drawing on knowledge of linguistic processes, the lessons of historical linguistics, and data from a variety of sources, some not so authoritative, to have Kaurna as a means of expressing a particular ethnic identity.
Amery assumes that the revival of language is a social process, the reuniting of the language with its community (36). In Chapter 3, “An Ecological Approach to Language Revival,” he calls on Haugen’s 1972 notion of “ecology of language” to focus the study of language revival on the human beings shaping the language as they bring it back into use. Throughout this work Amery reminds us of the tension between language as “historical relic” and language as “dynamic resource for the future” (48). Chapters 4 and 5, “A Sociolinguistic History of Kaurna” and “Kaurna Sources” respectively, show us the former, the language as it once existed. One is struck by the paucity of linguistic information and the lack of a coherent picture of the language. European observers, even the most conscientious, were influenced by their assumptions about Aboriginal religion and daily life and their limited experience of the physical setting of the Kaurna people. Different spellings, annotations, and even inaccurate copying make their records and the language data even less trustworthy. In Chapter 6, “Restoring and Transforming the Kaurna Language,” Amery describes the process of reconstructing the sound system and lexicon. The goal, he argues, is to “develop a language that meets the needs and aspirations of the contemporary Kaurna community and can be taught in formal language programs” (115). In Chapter 7, “Kaurna Language Programs,” Amery discusses the development of formal language programs for teaching Kaurna, looking at both the evolution of Kaurna programs in the framework of Aboriginal language policy and to explore the place of these programs in Kaurna society and their relationship to Kaurna revival efforts.
The scope of Amery’s study is wide. In addition to his study of formal teaching programs, Amery looks at the social aspects of Kaurna revival. From naming to singing to dancing, Kaurna, he points out is becoming a vehicle of Kaurna identity, even for those who have little interest in learning the language for broader communicative purposes. Chapter 9, “Kaurna Language Revival: the Formulaic Method,” explores the methodology of Kaurna language revival, arguing the need to focus on achievable limited goals, and, in Chapter 10, “Sociopolitical Dimensions of Kaurna Language Revival,” Amery focuses on the political and social forces driving (and hindering) the reclamation of Kaurna. Here we see issues that linguists of 20 years ago could not have foreseen. Who owns Kaurna? Who decides what methods are most useful in expanding the lexicon or creating discourse rules. How “authentic” is the reclaimed language? Is a reclaimed Kaurna that is not demonstrably the same as the Kaurna spoken 200 years ago, one that reflects such aspects of European culture as base 10 counting, still Kaurna? Amery makes clear in his conclusion that these questions must be resolved by the Kaurna people. Challenging notions of language as a “natural” phenomenon, Amery argues that “successful language revival comes from within the language community” (249). He’s not the first to make this claim, but this work is, to my mind, the most compelling argument for it.
Amery acknowledges readily that this is not an unbiased work. He is an outsider and Kaurna is not his language, yet, since the writing of 6 songs began formal efforts to reclaim Kaurna in 1990, he has been in the front lines of the Kaurna reclamation struggle, and he remains actively involved in Kaurna language reclamation. An important aspect of this work is Amery’s self-conscious questioning of the role of the linguist in language reclamation efforts. His discussion of language “ownership” and the politics of language revival is important and enlightening.
In Warrabarna Kaurna! Reclaiming an Australian Language, Amery challenges our assumptions about the role of language in identity and the goals of language revival, our linguistic understanding of “natural” and “artificial,” and our notions of what can be done with “dead languages.” It is an optimistic work, essential reading for those attempting to reconnect with their ancestral language or culture. Ideal for use in advanced courses in sociolinguistics or language and culture, this work will appeal to a wide audience. I recommend it for those involved in language revival efforts, educators, policy makers, and linguists. Karen M. Johnson-Weiner Anthropology, SUNY Potsdam, NY 13676 firstname.lastname@example.org
Little Jack Horner’s Christmas Pie: Alwin Fill & Peter Mühlhäusler ed. Ecolinguistics Reader: language ecology & environment — reviewed by Nicholas Ostler London: Continuum. viii, 296 pages. 2001. ISBN 0 8264 4912 3 hbk; 0 8264 4911 5 pbk.
The first question brought by a reader of this book is “What is Ecolinguistics?” No clear, or unitary answer, is ever given. Some play is made with the biological metaphor that Einar Haugen dreamed up in 1970, in his essay The Ecology of Language:
What in fact is offered is a slightly punning amalgam of two subjects: the study of language in its environment (especially its physical environment, pace Haugen — although language diversity and the roots of language endangerment get a fair amount of attention); and language from the ecologist’s or environmentalist’s point of view, i.e. the criticism of bureaucratic English as serving to avoid green issues, or more often (as expounded) to disguise or deny patent (green) truths.
This is not then a collection of developments, and critiques of the consequences, of a particular set of axioms (as, e.g., a reader in Historical Linguistics, or Optimal Phonology, might be); but rather an unruly set of essays that fall under one or other of these two rubrics. Ecolinguistics is not a discipline, and hardly even a subject, despite the bold claim of the editors (p. 1) that “in the early 1990s ... a unified — though still diverse— branch of linguistics was established...” Rather, it fits the Roman satirist Juvenal’s accout of what he was doing in his work:
This is not to deny that there are good things in the midst of all this. Little Jack Horner can still find a few plums in here.
The leading paper by Edward Sapir is magisterial in its tone and coverage, laying down where language is actually interestingly formed by its environment, and even more definitely where it is not; it is enlightening too, to see how dismissive even this saint of sensitive linguistics was prepared to be in 1911: “... primitive peoples, for among these culture has not attained such a degree of complexity as to imply practically universal interests.” (pp. 14-15). Mühlhäusler, and Goatly, are both stimulating and trenchant in their analyses of how (they believe) modern European languages’ apparent objectivity, and syntactic flexibility, distort and hide the true relations of things in the world, when policymakers talk about the environment, and what people do to it.
Mackey (“The Ecology of Language Shift”) begins the search for some universals that apply in the relative propensity and speed of languages to shift, noting some recent evidence (e.g. in Quebec) for languages more closely related genetically to yield to one another, but different genetic types to act as a buffer on shift. Denison (“A Linguistic Ecology for Europe”), while sympathizing with smaller languages, argues tough-mindedly that policy makers must recognize the economic costs (in public funds) of preserving scientific and technical publication in a smaller language.
Finke (“Identity and Manifoldness”) argues that there is a possibility of learning something from the manifoldness of diverse languages, something quite different from the increasingly unitary trend of hard science. Weinrich (“Economy and Ecology in Language”) points out that part of language’s function is to convey a sense of the speaker’s considerateness to the hearer, the very antithesis of economy and minimalism. Mühlhäusler (“Babel Revisited”) pushes our thoughts in the direction of the positive value that may be derived from language diversity per se; Laycock gives some concrete examples from Melanesia where that kind of diversity has been effective (serving e.g. as a warning of “I see strangers”); and Glausiusz recapitulates Daniel Nettle’s argument to account for the geographical coincidence of high rainfall and language density.
Others will no doubt find other plums here, so suit their particular outlook. But on the testimony of this book, ecolinguistics cannot be seen as any sort of probative or empirical science. The papers on green discourse and “ecocritical discourse analysis” are part of literary criticism, serving to elucidate the sensibility of the author, aand their loyalty to Mother Earth or Gaia, but hardly to convince the uncommitted.
Ultimately, I put down this book disappointed, because I am interested in the way that languages live and die through their situations in the world, and the promoters of Ecolinguistics have obviously not yet even begun to build a discipline in this area. But I was also inspired, because the task of explaining some very real facts, that here one language spreads, while another shrivels and disappears, is still wide open to the enterprising and imaginative researcher. email@example.com