These factors seem to lie behind some of the success of minority language activism on the internet. One can hypothesise similar advantages for minority languages spoken in similar contexts (e.g. in Western Europe), where we may find the same social factors of high literacy and internet access, as well as the resemblance of both the writing system and grammar of the dominant and minority languages. Websites also enable members of the diaspora, not living in the language area, to use their language when it might otherwise be restricted to phone conversations, and so to maintain their competency and to enable them to participate in language activism 3. However not all these factors will be as productive in contexts where the endangered language is spoken by a marginalised minority, or where there are lower rates of literacy, access to technology, or where there are significant differences in writing systems and language structure, particularly in the sound system – the phonology.
2 See in this book : Vassili Rivron, The Use of Facebook by the Eton of Cameroon.
3 See in this book : Viola Krebs & Vicent Climent-Ferrando, Languages, Cyberspace, Migrations.
Maik Gibson Where this context is different, strategies for online language revitalisation may also look somewhat different. For example, in the case of some Native American communities, substantial language shift has taken place, but websites are being used as part of a broader strategy to pass the language on to younger generations (including, for example, summer language camps, where children are encouraged to use the language with each other). Examples are the Anishinaabemowin language 4, and online lessons in Potawatomi 5. Given that most members of these communities are dominant in English, the websites are also primarily presented in English, and are gateways into the languages they serve. This is in contrast with the case of Sardinian above, where the website does not need to use the dominant language. However the online strategy can still have a major impact, because of the high internet penetration within these communities. Galla [GALLA 2009] gives good coverage of issues related to technology for contexts such as these, particularly for the technologically advanced North American case.
Internet connectivity continues to increase around the world, though there are still significant issues of speed and ease of access especially in developing nations, and particularly in the rural contexts where the endangered languages tend to be spoken. An encouraging sign is the increased penetration of mobile phones into, for example, the Kenyan countryside, along with the reduction of the price of phones which are internet-capable. Because of this, internet access is no longer dependent on a constant electricity supply or broadband cables, as long as solutions are found to charge the phone, e.g. from a car battery, a bicycle, or a solar device. This means that language-revitalisation efforts can use this new technology, as has been demonstrated by K. David Harrison in his online dictionary of the Turkic language Tuvan 6.
In Africa many of the most critically endangered languages are spoken by hunter-gatherers, a small minority of the overall population, who in many cases receive minimal respect from neighbouring peoples. For example in Kenya, according to Brenzinger [BRENZINGER 1992 : 215] “Hunters are looked upon as being ‘poor’, ‘primitive’, ‘living like animals’, etc. by the cattle herders”.
As such, when hunter-gatherer bands enter into symbiotic relationships 4 http://anishinaabemdaa.com 5 http://www.potawatomilanguage.org/revitalisation.php 6 http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tuvan/dict This dictionnary is also available at no charge from the iTunes store as an application for the iPhone.
Maik Gibson with neighbouring peoples, a pattern of abandoning their language and lifestyle can often ensue [DIMMENDAAL 1989]. However this lifestyle is one where levels of literacy in any language, and contact with the internet, are low. Hence internet-based assistance for language maintenance may be of little direct use to the community itself – in some ways the scenario is the opposite of that of Sardinian. However, cultural conditions permitting, posting video and audio material from such a language is still useful both to members of the communities as well as interested linguists and others, preserving aspects of the language for posterity, whatever use the community may wish to put it to in the future 7.
We have presented three different types of scenario :
• That of Sardinian, a language with a large population of well-educated speakers, without significant difficulties in transferring writing skills from Italian, the dominant language, and good internet access. Here using Sardinian for a range of web-based activities presents relatively few challenges ;
• The contexts of many Native American languages share some of these advantages, such as levels of education and access to the internet. But there is often quite a small pool of speakers, with the majority of the population having shifted to English, many of whom might like to learn the communal language. Also the level of linguistic difference between Native American languages and English is much greater than that between Italian and Sardinian. Hence the focus in these contexts is assistance with language learning, along with a strong element emphasising the communal culture ;
• In the context of African hunter-gatherer groups, none of the abovementioned factors favouring internet-based language activism pertain, and initiative may need to be taken by outside advocates in recording instances of language use, to the extent that this is deemed appropriate by the community itself. In such cases internet-based discussion groups and online pedagogical materials may be of limited value, until issues of both internet access and communal motivation to maintain the language are addressed. In some cases there may be no written form of the language, and while this in itself is not an indicator of language endangerment, developing a writing system alongside some written 7 See in this book : Tjeerd de Graaf, How Oral Archives Benefit Endangered Languages.
Maik Gibson materials can help expand the domains of the language, increasing its prestige such that attitudinal motivations for shifting to another language are reduced 8. The three scenarios presented are by no means exhaustive, but demonstrate that internet-based language interventions need to be sensitive to social and linguistic considerations if they are to stand a chance of battling language endangerment.
CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE TYPE OF DOCUMENTATION Given the threat of mass language extinction that faces us, preserving what will or might be lost is a high priority for linguists and those interested in preservation of the associated cultures. While it is evident that professional linguists have a role in this, there is much that other interested parties are able to contribute in this area. Preservation can take many forms including the linguist’s grammar and dictionary, but less academicoriented efforts such as audio and video recordings of the language being used, or collections of stories or accounts of local knowledge, are at least as valuable. In addition, a full dictionary or grammar may be a logistical challenge in some cases, but projects with more limited scope (e.g. a smaller lexicon or glossary covering particular aspects of the language, or a brief introduction to the grammar) may be easier to achieve, and have the added advantage of being accessible to a wider audience. Internet tools such as WeSay 9 exist to help “non-linguists build a dictionary in their own language”. Making such efforts available over the internet also reduces the costs and logistical challenges involved with book production and distribution. However in many contexts with limited access to modern technology, printed books may be the optimal solution – any intervention needs to consider the use of appropriate technology, as well as social values related to language, literacy and appropriateness of materials.
For example, in the case of Munichi, a now extinct language of Peru with a handful of semi-speakers remaining, the existing linguistic documentation [GIBSON 1996] has been placed on the web free of charge by sil International, and so is accessible to the community. However such studies, destined for consumption by linguists rather than by members of 8 See in this book : Evgeny Kuzmin, Linguistic Policies to Counter Languages Marginalization.
9 http://www.wesay.org Maik Gibson the community itself, can be difficult for those without linguistic training to use ; the vocabulary items and examples will be useful, but in the main, linguistic terminology is designed for precision rather than perspicacity to those not trained in linguistics. Fortunately for the people of Munichis, an additional research project has been initiated [MICHAEL 2009] with the goal of making material available for the community, including audio samples. Such materials destined for the community via the internet (or other media) should ideally be presented differently from those whose audience is primarily the academic community – though adaptation from one form to another is a possibility in most cases. Primary material (recording or transcriptions of stories, rituals, conversations, etc.) is useful for both members of the community, and for those who want to do further work in language analysis and development, and should not be supplanted by grammatical treatments. After all, recordings of spoken language are the linguist’s primary data.
In conclusion, it is certainly true that there are many opportunities for people to use the global lingua franca of English on the internet, with some even describing the internet as a force for linguistic uniformity rather than diversity. Nevertheless, the internet can and does facilitate the documentation and use of endangered languages, taking some of the space that may seem to be an aspect of globalisation for the continuance of linguistic diversity. In addition, it is a suitable repository for language materials in whatever form, whether the purpose is preservation, encouragement of use, or pedagogy etc. As we have seen, the manner in which the internet best helps with this task of maintaining diversity is variable, depending on various social, technological and linguistic factors, though these are dynamic, being subject to changing technological capacity and communal attitudes. Therefore we do not advocate a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for using the internet as a resource in combating language extinction and endangerment, but encourage interventions which best suit the existing language ecology, in the hope of maintaining diversity wherever it is found.
BIBLIOGRAPHY [BRENZINGER 1992] Brenzinger, Matthias (1992). Lexical retention in language shift :
Yaaku/Mukogodo-Maasai and Elmolo/Elmolo-Samburu. In : Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.) Language Death : Factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa. Berlin : Mouton de Gruyter. 213-254.
Maik Gibson [BRENZINGER 2003] Brenzinger, Matthias, A. Yamamoto, N. Aikawa, D. Koundiouba, A.
Minasyan, A. Dwyer, C. Grinevald, M. Krauss, O. Miyaoka, O. Sakiyama, R. Smeets, & O. Zepeda. (2003). Language Vitality and Endangerment. Paris : Unesco Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting on Endangered Languages. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ en/endangeredlanguages [COURLANDER 1996] Courlander, Harold. (1996). A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore : The Oral Literature, Traditions, Recollections, Legends, Tales, Songs, Religious Beliefs, Customs, and Humor of People of African Descent in the Americas. New York : Marlowe & Company.
[DIMMENDAAL 1989] Dimmendaal, Gerrit. (1989). On Language Death in Eastern Africa, In : Dorian, Nancy C. (ed.). Investigating obsolescence : Studies in language contraction and death (Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language, 7). Cambridge :
Cambridge University Press. 13-31.
[FISHMAN 1991] Fishman, Joshua. A. (1991). Reversing language shift. Clevedon :
[GALLA 2009] Galla, Candace K. (2009). Indigenous Language Revitalisation and Technology : From Traditional to Contemporary Domains. In : Reyhner, John and Louise Lockard (eds.). Indigenous Language Revitalisation :Encouragement, Guidance & Lessons Learned. Flagstaff, AZ : Northern Arizona University. 167-182.
[GIBSON 1996] Gibson, Michael (1996). El munichi, un idioma que se extingue. Serie Lingstica Peruana No42. Pucallpa : Instituto Lingstico de Verano. [translated by Marlene Ballena Dvila]. http://www.sil.org/americas/peru/pubs/slp42.pdf [HALLET 2007] Hallett, Darcy, Michael J. Chandler and Christopher E. Lalonde. (2007).
Aboriginal language knowledge and youth suicide. Cognitive Development, 22 : 3, JulySeptember 2007, 392-399.
[HARRISON 2007] Harrison, K. David. (2007). When Languages Die : The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York : Oxford University Press.
[LEWIS 2009] Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). Ethnologue : Languages of the World, 16th edition. Dallas : SIL International. http://www.ethnologue.com [LEWIS 2010] Lewis, M. Paul and Gary Simons. (2010). Assessing Endangerment :
Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique LV :2, Special issue on Language Endangerment and Language Death. 103-120. http://www.lingv.ro/ resources/scm_images/RRL-02-2010-Lewis.pdf [MENSCHING 2000] Mensching, Guido. (2000). The internet as a rescue tool of endangered languages : Sardinian. http://www.gaia.es/multilinguae/pdf/Guido.PDF [MICHAEL 2009] Michael, Lev (2009) National Science Foundation Award
#0941205RAPID : Muniche Rapid Documention Project. http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do AwardNumber=[MOSELEY 2010] Moseley, Christopher (ed.). (2010). Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris : Unesco Publishing. http://www.unesco.org/culture/en/ endangeredlanguages/atlas [NICOLLE 2012] Nicolle, Steve. A Grammar of Digo : A Bantu language of Kenya and Tanzania. Dallas : SIL International and The University of Texas at Arlington.
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