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Language death, maintenance and revival

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Presentation on theme: "Language death, maintenance and revival"— Presentation transcript:

1 Language death, maintenance and revival
people stop speaking a language and start speaking another – language shift If every speaker shifts the language is no longer spoken anywhere – language death

2 Language death Very old – languages replaced by Latin and Greek in the Roman Empire, Arabic in West Asia Distinction – slow peaceful change as a language changes into another – Latin – French and Italian – Sanskrit – Hindi and Punjabi – Classical Malay – Modern Malay – is not language death

3 continued Language death – one language is replaced by another
Death of speakers – Australian Aborigines, Native Tasmanians and Native Caribbeans – mainly by disease Most frequently – all speakers shift to other languages – Australia and Americas

4 Language Suicide Gradual replacement by a closely related language
Decreolisation in the Caribbean Maybe Tok Pisin in PNG

5 Causes of death Occasionally by force – boarding school policy for American Indians from 1890s Sometimes disease (Tasmania), flood, earthquakes, AIDS in Africa

6 continued More often cultural and economic – migration to cities, intermarriage, education, conversion to scriptural religions Economic rewards for language death – social and cultural penalties for speaking old language

7 continued Acceleration with rise of modern empires – French, English, Russian -- and migration (note also simultaneous rise of new languages, pidgins and creoles and new varieties – New Englishes)

8 Today 6-10,000 world languages – at least half threatened with extinction One century or two – only languages left? Any language with less than 1 million (100?) speakers is in danger of extinction Especially Americas, Africa, Australia

9 Examples California – 98 indigenous languages
Shift to Spanish before 19th C., then English 45 -- no fluent speakers 17 – 1-5 speakers in 2001 36 spoken by old people 0 spoken by children

10 continued World -- at least 400 languages have only elderly speakers
E.g. Busuu (Cameroon) – 8 Lipan Apache (US) – 2 or 3 Wadjigu (Australia) – 1? Maybe one died while you were writing

11 Who are the murderers? European languages --English, Spanish, Portuguese Regional languages – Hausa, Swahili, Malay Other local languages – esp. in Africa

12 When does a language die?
Common sense – when the least speaker dies (or penultimate?) But Cornish died in 1696 (last monoglot speaker), 1777 (last native speaker), early C19th (last naturalistic learner), 1891 – last student of a native speaker (?) – 1940s Cornish words used for counting fish

13 Is there a life after death?
Dead languages may survive as languages of religion – Coptic, some languages of the Roman Empire – prophecies, magic and ceremony -- Manx Often provide words for local animals and plants and geography E.g. mysterious place names in Britain

14 continued Khoisan languages in southern Africa – words to Zulu and English – gogga (insect) kudu (antelope) North American English – moose and squash (Narragansett), raccoon, pecan hickory (Powhatan), skunk (Abenaki)

15 continued Australian English – dingo, koala, wallaby (Dharuk) – also boomerang Taino (Caribbean) – maize, cassava, yucca Arawak (Caribbean) – cannibal Words for counting sheep in N. England – Celtic language dead for 1000 years

16 Consequences 2003 UNESCO paper – language death results in the loss of unique biological and ecological knowledge Reduces knowledge about human language and mind Death of unique cultures

17 continued Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – language determines culture e.g. Hopi – lack of a sense of time But criticised Close relationship of Australian languages Contradicted by Chomsky and UG

18 Distinctive features of languages
Hawaian – no consonant clusters – only five vowels Khoisan – clicks

19 Loss of local knowledge
North Frisian – word for pituitary gland indicated awareness that stress damages the gland Amazon -- place names indicate where fish can be found Africa – Names for plants indicate medicinal properties

20 Military value? US army – codes in Navaho – also Cherokee (WWI) and Zulu Redundant now?

21 Can dying languages be maintained?
Serious attempts from mid-20th century in US, Australia, Europe Subjects in school, media, education Success is limited – economic and cultural factors in North America and Australia

22 continued Absence of realistic domain except ceremonial and political
Requires motivation to overcome economic disadvantages At best – will be used in formal situations

23 continued Success requires political support – usually absent with small languages Also fairly large population Success stories – French in Canada, Welsh, Maori, Hawaian, Catalan, Irish Becomes a taught second language

24 Canada Language shift from French to English reversed
Coercion – signboards – immigrants and minorities required to be taught in French – control of immigration Required control of provincial govt. Signs that shift is starting again

25 Ireland Shift from Irish to English almost complete by 1920s
Govt required signs in 2 languages – pass in Irish for govt employment – economic subsidies to Irish speaking areas Revival as a taught 2nd language – continued decline as a 1st language

26 continued Language death can be prevented or language death reversed if Supporters control local or national govt Group is distinct for historical or ethnic reasons Language is culturally valued

27 Is revival possible? Can a dead language be revived?
Maybe Hebrew in Israel? – but exceptional Religious and cultural value Tradition of language shift Rejection of spoken languages Continued written and formal use Maybe modern Hebrew a new language

28 continued Dead languages may be studied as a hobby (Cornish), symbol of group identity (Sanskrit) or for religious reasons (Coptic) But no (maybe one) examples of real revival Language creation is just as pointless.

29 Problems Some dead languages not written
Some died before they could be recorded (Cornish) Even if recorded may be problems – last speaker of Dalmatian had no teeth (dental fricatives?) Which variety? – from what period?

30 Final observation New varieties come into existence – Beduin Sign language – pidgins – new dialects – New Englishes In time may become languages – laissez-faire policy for language birth as well as language death?

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