Language revival in the news

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BBC Future has a very nice article by Alex Rawlings about the work of Ghil'ad Zuckermann on language revival in Australia and the larger context of such efforts. One new thing I learned about Zuckermann from this article was that before he moved from Israel to Australia, he was a specialist on language revival in Israel. (That's what we generally think of as the revival of Hebrew, but he insists that the modern language is different enough from Biblical Hebrew, because of the influence of all the first languages of those who participated in its revival, to need a different name – he calls it Israeli.) Anyway, it's a nice article. Thanks to Victor Mair for sharing it around the Language Log water cooler.

1 Comment

  1. Bathrobe said,

    March 31, 2019 @ 8:59 pm

    Zuckermann is a very inspiring apostle for language revival / revitalisation. There are those who claim (possibly quite rightly) that attempts to revive moribund or dead languages are privileging language over people — that the linguist who espouses language revival is more interested in the language than the people who speak the language. This is a charge that is difficult to defend against, and most defences run along the lines of “culture, cultural autonomy, intellectual sovereignty, spirituality, well-being, and the soul”. It is hard to compare such intangibles to more pressing issues like economic and social wellbeing within the larger society.

    It was therefore interesting to read Zuckermann's claims that reclaiming one's ancestral language can improve the physical and mental health of the community. This part stood out:

    analysing Canadian census data, the researchers discovered that youth suicide rates “effectively dropped to zero in the few communities where at least half of the members reported a conversational level of their ‘Native’ language”.

    If this is the case, it is a powerful argument for linguistic revitalisation. But it will need more than "anecdotal observations" and "preliminary investigations" to demonstrate that such a link exists.

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