27.5047, Review: Discipline of Ling; Lang Documentation; Socioling: Sallabank. Austin (2015)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-27-5047. Fri Dec 09 2016. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 27.5047, Review: Discipline of Ling; Lang Documentation; Socioling: Sallabank. Austin (2015)

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Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:46:48
From: Zoe Bartliff [0908450b at student.gla.ac.uk]
Subject: The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/26/26-4300.html

EDITOR: Peter K.  Austin
EDITOR: Julia  Sallabank
TITLE: The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Zoe Bartliff, University of Glasgow

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


‘The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages,’ edited by Peter Austin and
Julia Sallabank, presents a comprehensive overview of the realities of and
reactions to language endangerment and is aimed at opening up the critical
issues involved to both academics and enthusiasts alike. Over the past two
decades, the importance of preserving languages which, through various
reasons, are becoming lost has become increasingly evident to linguists after
the ground-breaking article by Hall et al (1992) warning of the scope of
language endangerment. This has resulted in a number of strategies being
implemented by both the academic community and, in some cases, governmental
agencies. This volume guides the reader through its four sections, each with
contributions from a number of eminent linguists, to understand causes and
features of language endangerment, the practicalities of language
documentation, professional responses and approaches to limit the loss, and
finally the challenges faced by those attempting to do so.

The well-rounded introductory chapter, written by the editors of the volume
Austin and Sallabank, commences with a definition of language endangerment and
an overview of the context of language loss. Touching on the causes of
language loss the majority of the introductory chapter is concerned with the
ethics of preservation. It discusses concerns such as the benefits and
drawbacks of language homogeneity and the cultural boundaries and
discriminations implemented against certain minority languages. One of the key
boundaries faced by linguists concerned with the preservation of minority
languages is the apathy of native speakers or the prejudices or simple
dominance of one culture over another. The chapter culminates with a brief
discussion of the strategies, including null strategies, utilised by societies
to preserve minority languages. In short, the introductory chapter follows the
format of the book at large and aims to provide for all readers a base level
of knowledge to prepare for more in depth discussion throughout the volume.

The first section of the book, Endangered Languages, commences with Lenore
Grenoble’s ‘Language ecology and endangerment,’ an in depth assessment of the
distribution of languages, the varieties of language shift and the gradation
of language endangerment. From this point, Colette Grinvald and Michel Bert in
‘Speakers and Communities’ discuss the human aspects of language loss focusing
upon speech communities. This chapter discusses the typology of the speech
communities and offers an innovative theory of endangered language speaker
identification and gradation. The aim of such categorisation is to aid in the
evaluation of language vitality. One of the key arguments within the chapter
is the inappropriateness of traditional terminology with regard to language
loss. Grinvald and Bert note that established terminology trends towards a
sense of limitation, deviation and doom and that this perspective ought to be
flipped to focus on survivability rather than degradation. The chapter by
David Bradley ‘A survey of language endangerment’ offers a case study of
language endangerment in South-East Asia. It offers discussion on the
difficulties of surveying languages and classifying language dialects. Carmel
O’Shannessy in ‘Language contact and change’ discusses the phenomenon of
language shift induced by cultural contact. Multilingualism is possible but
pressures from dominant languages can result in a variety of changes within a
minority language. Chapter six (Structural aspect of language endangerment’
Naomi Palosaari and Lyle Campbell) is a survey of the unique linguistic
features found within minority languages and their importance to linguistics
at large. Following on from this, Palosaari and Campbell discuss the types of
linguistic change to which minority languages are subject. Lev Michael
incorporates the theory that language and culture are intertwined and explores
this critically through the use of conceptual theories of cultural definition
and language culture interaction. The final chapter of this section sets
language shift and loss in the context of society at large. Bernard Spolsky
argues that, much like language and culture, language and society shift and
evolve together and so the distributions of languages within society are
essential to the     comprehension of language degradation.

Section Two, ‘Language Documentation’ commences with a chapter of the same
name by Anthony Woodbury. Language documentation is an important strategy for
mitigating the language loss but, as discussed in this chapter, there are a
number of issues that must be addressed before a uniform strategy can be
created. The majority of this section is concerned with the discussion of such
issues. ‘Speakers and language documentation’ by Lise Dobrin and Josh Berson
address the ethical issues surrounding the use of native speakers within the
social science of documentary linguistics. In contrast Jeff Good takes a more
quantitative approach by analysing ‘Data and the language of documentation.’
This chapter is a useful guide for those wishing to engage in language
documentation, guiding the reader from the earliest stages of data collection
through to an overview of the responsibilities of a documenter to maintain the
highest standards of research. The final chapter of this section, Lisa
Conathan’s ‘Archiving and language documentation’ discusses the relevance of
archival practices towards language preservation. This leads smoothly into the
final chapter, David Nathan’s ‘Digital archiving’ which presents the details
of the essential practice of digital archiving for the preservation and access
of endangered languages.

The second half of this volume, rather than focusing on the practicalities of
working with endangered languages, focuses on the public and academic
reception of language loss. The third section, ‘Responses,’ commences with the
chapter ‘language policy for endangered languages’ by the editor of the
volume, Sallabank. Originally associated with post-colonial states and the
standardisation of national languages, language policy often treats
multilingualism as a problem, discouraging minority languages. Sallabank
discusses how this has changed with regard to language revitalisation, a
subject which is the focus of Leanne Hinton’s ‘revitalization of endangered
languages’ chapter. Hinton discusses the strategies used to revitalise
endangered and dormant languages, from school based learning to family based
approaches to specialised language centres. Friederike Lüpke in the chapter on
‘orthographic development’ raises the important issue of a written presence to
the proliferation and propagation of a language. The struggle to graphisize an
endangered language is complex, incorporating a balance of culture and
identity. Lüpke goes into great detail about the practicalities involved in
orthography creation for endangered languages. Logically the next chapter,
contributed by Ulrike Mosel, expands onto the difficulties of lexicography for
endangered and lesser described languages. The chapter ‘Language curriculum
design and evaluation for endangered languages’ discusses the variety of
approaches taken toward the teaching of endangered languages, both formal and
informal. The final chapter of this section again moves from the physical
world to the digital. Gary Holton writes on ‘The role of information
technology in supporting minority and endangered languages’. The key critical
issue here is the potential for alienation of the target audience through the
increasing computerisation of curricula. In addition to this, however, it also
analyses the various approaches to language learning through multi-media. 

The final section of this volume turns to the roadblock faced by those engaged
with language preservation. The first chapter in this section, Wayne Harbert’s
‘Endangered languages and economic development’ offers an overview of the
complex socio-economic factors that affect language users although concludes
that despite the strategies in place, it is unclear which is the most
effective approach to preserve the minority languages. Anthony Jukes’ chapter
on ‘researcher training and capacity development in language documentation’
discusses the challenge faced by researchers and the establishment of best
practices for language preservation most notably those found within higher
education institutions. Chapter 22, ‘New roles for endangered languages’ by
Máiréad Moriarty, gives an intriguing assessment of the increasingly
centralised position of endangered languages and the positive movement into
new forms of media. Such movements have provided useful quasi-organic models
for effective language preservation above and beyond the educational

The concluding chapter to the volume almost serves to stand on its own as it
is a step by step how-to guide for the implementation of ‘Planning a
language-documentation project’. This is the culmination of the volume
encompassing aspects discussed throughout in an applied and practical fashion.


As with the majority of the Cambridge University Press publications read by
this reviewer, this volume is of the highest quality. The text is highly
accessible, subdivided throughout into small easily digestible well-headed
sections, making the information within the volume easy to navigate. The
feature of highlighting key technical terminology on first appearance is
exceptionally helpful and on the whole the editors and authors have gone to
great lengths to ensure that, on first appearance, key terms are fully
explained. The only problem with this feature is the lack of a collected
glossary. Given that the volume is edited to allow for small sections of the
text to be read in isolation a glossary would ensure complete comprehension
for those not familiar with the specialist language.  

On a structural note, again on the whole the evolution of critical issues is
excellent with the relevance of each contribution clear upon reading. The
addition of an editor’s introduction and conclusion at the beginning and end
of each section would have aided in this, fully cementing the key ideas of the
chapters within the reader’s mind. It is true that, on the whole, the
introductory chapter does accomplish this, but to have additional summaries of
the contributions engaged with critically within each section would again aid
the readability and accessibility of the volume. 

‘The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages’ is without a doubt a welcome
contribution to the field of linguistics and language preservation. One of the
key aspects of preserving minority languages is public engagement, so the
production of easy to read and highly accessible texts such as this is an
important step in the process. It is authoritative and comprehensive,
providing both facts and current academic theory to great and provocative


I am a PhD candidate within the Translation Studies department of The
University of Glasgow. My thesis is titled 'Wales and the Grammatica' and
involves the analysis of medieval Welsh and Latin translation utilising corpus
and comparative linguistics.


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