Foundation for Endangered Languages

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10. Book Reviews

Chris Moseley on Hinton & Hale: The Green Book

Leanne Hinton and Ken Hale (eds.), The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego, Academic Press, 2001. Hardback (paperback due out soon), 450 pp.

“To the brave people who work against all odds to help their endangered heritage languages survive” reads the dedication of this Green Book. The title is of course an acknowledgement of the UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages, and is meant to be complementary to it. If enough effort is made on behalf of the languages represented here, the editors reason, the languages can be removed from the Red Book (which is not so much a book as an electronic data bank).

The Red and the Green Books have now each lost one of their prime movers: in the case of the UNESCO project, the late Professor Stephen Wurm; and now this volume has proved to be the last published work of the prodigiously gifted linguist Ken Hale, one of its two eminent editors. Ken Hale’s stamp is clearly evident in both the spirit and the letter of this venture. His particular fields of interest are particularly strongly represented – Native American language revitalization and in particular its healthiest representative, Navajo, as well as Australian indigenous languages – and the emphasis on practical measures to revive languages has perhaps not been so strong in any other book so far in the rapidly expanding library on language endangerment.

In that sense, this is an immensely important book. It is Leanne Hinton who writes comprehensive introductions to the various sections – on Language Policy, Language Planning, Maintenance and Revitalization, Immersion, Literacy, Media and Technology, Training, and lastly and most intriguingly, Sleeping Languages. The nine sections include a total of 33 chapters, each written by an active participant in the field of revitalization, wherever possible a native speaker. New material on the revitalization of Hawaiian, with an interesting comparison with Maori, is especially welcome and well presented, but the book’s particular strength is its comprehensive coverage of North American revitalization efforts. Some of the experiences and experiments it would be difficult to imagine being transferred to other continents. The relative brevity of the Literacy section, compared with the broad coverage in the following section on Media and Technology, points up an interesting trend: multi-media applications of minority languages are nowadays tending to take precedence over basic literacy teaching.



The strengths of this pioneering work also reveal one serious weakness: some parts of the world, notably Africa and Asia, are greatly under-represented. Perhaps this is inevitable, and the editors make no claim to cover the whole world equally. One looks in vain for articles on language revival in the Indian subcontinent, for instance; Africa and Latin America are ignored, which makes the inclusion of Western European languages like Welsh and Irish look like mere tokenism, fascinating though the chapters on these languages are.

Still, this is a most welcome addition to the literature, spearheaded by two of the greatest experts in the field of language revival, and even specialists in the languages of areas not represented in it will get a lot of practical help and advice from it. Christopher Moseley

Nicholas Ostler on Drysdale: Mother Tongues

Helena Drysdale Mother Tongues: Travels though Tribal Europe. London: Picador 2001. Hardback, 401 pp.

This is the tale of an adventure by design: artist husband and writer wife pack up two small girls in a mobile home, and set off to experience the linguistic extremities of Europe. The result is a review of some real attitudes to small languages by the people who speak them, away from the ideology, and a sense of Europe's human scale. It takes time, and zig-zag routes to get to these people.

The book is full of contrasts and contradictions: footloose modern travel as a way to view the age-old permanence of the language communities; the children in the car at an age for effortless language absorption, but with never enough time anywhere to learn; citizens of Britain, a European country little stirred or scarred by the turmoil of World War II, witnessing the unfinished bitterness and confusion that it has left behind, as far apart as Saamiland, the Basque country, Brittany and Macedonia: above all, English as the uncommitted but indispensable lingua franca to give access to the aspirations expressed in ten stateless languages.

If there is a conclusion in this Odyssey, it is that languages and homelands are only there to be loved. Love gives a faculty to see something in the beloved that strangers cannot. And paradoxically that is what this charming book, by strangers for other strangers, is able to suggest.
Nicholas Ostler