Reclaiming, Revitalizing and Decolonizing Minority Languages

This month we published Rejecting the Marginalized Status of Minority Languages edited by Ari Sherris and Susan D. Penfield. In this post the editors discuss the themes covered in the book.

Our co-edited volume, Rejecting the Marginalized Status of Minority Languages, develops two themes, among others, within the overall context of language revitalization: human rights and decolonization. As such, it would be fair to place this book in a framework which is gaining attention: language reclamation. Where language revitalization focuses squarely on linguistic achievements, such as developing fluency, language reclamation factors in the community history and dynamics that have contributed to language shift. Wes Leonard (2019) describes it as a blend of language revitalization and decolonization. This makes a larger claim and increases the scope of language work for communities which struggle to balance educational efforts focused on their marginalized, often severely endangered, languages against the hegemonic forces still bent on colonization or political control and dominance.

These social forces exist in all parts of the world and, while community responses vary depending on their unique geopolitical settings, some common concerns emerge. Communities must decide how to strategically reclaim their language and consider all that this effort will entail. Among the issues to be considered are

1. How to secure a place for the language within the educational, social and political fabric of the community?

2. Who should teach the language – how, when and where?

3. Will local resources be developed, such as a community-based archive/library?

4. What technology comes into play, if at all, and for what specific purposes?

5. Is literacy a goal and, if so, how will that be achieved and valued?

6. Who assumes the authority for all of these efforts? Often one or two people emerge who spearhead the reclamation movement; some communities form committees or a group to place in charge.

7. How will language change be addressed?

8. Is language and cultural revitalization seen as an integrated activity?

9. Is there a place/need for ‘language activism’ – outreach through publicity locally, regionally, federally? And, can activism contribute in a concrete way to the creation of language policy?

10. Are there outside entities with which to form useful collaborations (this might be other communities, academic institutions, non-profit organizations).

Each chapter presents scenarios of language situations where steadfast educators, language practitioners and language activists are marching into the winds of more powerful and dominant languacultures (Agar, 1995; 2006). The book brings examples from a wide array of Indigenous languacultures, each situated in its own unique set of parameters to deal with the challenges. Included are case studies from teaching Kamsá in Colombia, Saami in Finland and Manx on the Isle of Man, to the challenges of the language regeneration among the Māori in New Zealand and the digital revolution in Indigenous language education of Taiwan. Cultural and language acquisition among the Wichi of Argentina is described, as is the challenge of literacy in the Safaliba language in Ghana, and the development of place-based language education in Hawaii.

Susan Penfield and Ari Sherris

References

Agar, M. (1995). Language Shock. NY: William Morrow.

Agar, M. (2006). Culture: Can you take it anywhere? International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(2), 1-12.

Leonard, W. Y. (2019). Indigenous languages through a reclamation lense. Anthropology News website, September 19, 2019. https://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2019/09/19/indigenous-languages-through-a-reclamation-lens/

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like A World of Indigenous Languages edited by Teresa L. McCarty, Sheilah E. Nicholas and Gillian Wigglesworth.

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