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THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE DEATH . Summary of David Crystal (2000). Language death . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dr. Alicia Pousada 2007. I. What is language death?. The language pool The size of the problem Levels of danger. II. Why should we care?. Because we need diversity

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the nature of language death


Summary of David Crystal (2000). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Alicia Pousada 2007

i what is language death
I. What is language death?
  • The language pool
  • The size of the problem
  • Levels of danger
ii why should we care
II. Why should we care?
  • Because we need diversity
  • Because languages express identity
  • Because languages are repositories of history
  • Because languages contribute to the sum of human knowledge
  • Because languages are interesting in themselves
iii why do languages die
III. Why do languages die?
  • Factors which put people in physical danger
    • Natural disasters leading to death or destruction of habitat
    • Disease (especially AIDS)
    • Economic exploitation
    • Political conflict leading to civil war, ethnic murder, or genocide
Factors which change the people’s culture
    • Cultural assimilation
    • Military dominance
    • Urbanization
    • Media
    • Bilingualism
    • Opposition
Stages of assimilation
    • Immense pressure on people to speak dominant language
    • Emerging bilingualism (point at which L1 can be saved)
  • Shift on part of younger generation
  • L2 along with shame at using L1
  • self-conscious semilingualism L2 monolingualism
bilingualism as salvation
Bilingualism as salvation
  • Dominant language used for outward movement
  • Dominated language used for inward identity (preserves pedigree)
  • Healthy bilingualism has 2 languages as complementary not competing
  • Requires changes in attitudes
forms of opposition
Forms of opposition
  • Open antipathy from governments that see linguistic diversity as divisive-suppression and punishment
  • Indifference
  • Folklorization of indigenous languages
  • Language murder vs. language suicide
establishing top priorities
Establishing top priorities
  • Information gathering
  • Establishing of general theoretical framework
  • Bottom-up and top-down initiatives
  • Long term campaign on many fronts simultaneously
fostering positive community attitudes
Fostering positive community attitudes
  • Negative attitudes very common among small language speakers
  • Need to understand reasons for these
role of outsiders
Role of outsiders
  • Outsiders have important role in seeing more objectively the language issues and bringing linguistic expertise—also training native linguists
Need for language awareness efforts & preventive linguistics to annihilate linguistic apathy (cf. disease prevention)
  • Dispelling of myths about language learning
  • Raising of morale, prestige, self-esteem without falling into elitism
promoting authenticity of community
Promoting authenticity of community
  • All varieties must be recognized
  • Native speakers must be prepared for changes to language as it expands and takes in outside influences—if not, younger generations won’t continue to use it
  • Unyielding traditionalism and purism will lead to death
  • Core of language rescue must be in community and families
seeing language as part of culture
Seeing language as part of culture
  • Issues of group membership and role of language in same
  • Possibility of cultural continuity despite language shift
  • Language as pre-eminent but not exclusive badge of ethnicity
  • Important to provide support for

cultural milieu of language

v what can be done
V. What can be done?
  • Factors which contribute to minority language maintenance
    • Vary from community to community
    • Most common
      • Geographical isolation
      • Economic self-sufficiency
      • Little intermarriage
      • Strong community involvement in education

Most common factors cont…

  • Strong government policies regarding language protection
  • Sympathy from language majority population
  • Presence of professional linguists to render assistance

Professor Juan de Dios Yapita Moya, Bolivian linguist and Aymara speaker.

crystal s postulates for theory of language revitalization
Crystal’s postulates for theory of language revitalization

Endangered languages progress if speakers:

  • Increase prestige within dominant community
  • Increase wealth relative to dominant community
  • Increase legitimate power in eyes of dominant community
  • Have strong presence in educational system
  • Can write language down
  • Can make use of electronic technology
role of linguist
Role of linguist
  • Diagnosis and assessment—determination of priorities
  • Description and analysis—creation of corpus
  • Intervention and re-assessment
  • Consideration of people, not just language
  • Problems of physical danger and interference from opposing forces—very political act
revitalization team
Revitalization team
  • Only community can ultimately save language
  • Steps to take (see p. 155-6)
  • Teamwork necessary
  • Care to protect and not exploit ownership of language materials

Recent demonstrations on Mother Tongue Day by speakers of the Hindko language in Peshawar, Pakistan, a population of 3,000,000 speakers as of 1993.

cases of exemplary language revival
Cases of exemplary language revival
  • Hebrew in Israel
  • Kaurna in Australia
  • Cornish in the U.K.

Eliezer ben Yehudah, Jerusalem, 1921


German missionaries, Clamor Schürmann and Christian Teichelmann, learned and described the Kaurna language. In 1839, they published a grammar, vocabulary of about 2,000 words, and about 200 translated sentences.


Reduction of Cornish-speaking areas


types of cornish
Types of Cornish
  • “Unified Cornish” (1935)-- drawn from Robert Morton Nance’s first full set of grammars anddictionaries
  • “Kemmyn” (1986)—revisions made by Ken George which dealt with spelling, pronunciation and lexical problems--utilized by Cornish Language Board which has produced most language activity—most common today
  • “Late Cornish” (1990)– developed by Richard Gendall based on modern vernacular and written forms.
  • Need for linguistics departments to make language rescue an intrinsic part of training of students
  • Need for funds to be raised and allocated
  • Time is running out