[NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages

Rankin, Robert L rankin at ku.edu
Sun Jul 6 20:45:53 UTC 2008

> Willem writes: At least one morphological feature of Modern Hebrew, its typically Semitic nonconcatenative morphology, is not Slavic and is still productive. That cannot be explained through relexification of a Slavic language.

The morphology is non-concatenative when viewed by a professional linguist who sees historical  and derivational relationships in terms of processes.  This isn't necessarily true of the learner though.  S/he can just plug newly-memorized lexical items into the Slavic syntax and happily chatter away.  I argued Willem's point with Wexler when he lectured here, since he made similar claims for Romanian (which retains its Romance morphology pretty much intact).  So I agree his definition of Israeli Hebrew as a Creole may be extreme, but that doesn't alter the fact that what is taught/spoken there is very different from Hebrew when it was spoken as a natural language.  I question whether we can call it "revival".

But my point is that teaching English relexified with Siouan vocabulary would be a darned sight easier for both teacher and student than trying to teach genuine Siouan syntax and irregular verb morphology.  But we cannot do that in most cases; elders would steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the result as a successful revival, and they'd be right to do so.  So I feel that I have to accept the fact that teaching a language by substituting English syntax and idioms and plugging in native words just isn't the same as reviving the language itself.  It would be hypocritical of me to define language one way in syntax, morphology and phonology class and then turn around and define it solely in terms of vocabulary for retention or revival purposes.  

> Bryan writes:  I would say that it is impressive that it was revived regardless of its status as relexified Eastern Semitic.
You say Eastern Semitic twice, but I think you mean E. Slavic.
But one thing we're ignoring here is that people have many ideas of what constitutes success when they take language classes.  Complete and utter fluency may be one of them, but we've all taken languages in school or college and know that goal is unrealistic most of the time.  Our job is to serve those who have lesser goals as well as the more ambitious.  Some wish only a small amount of contact with their language; others wish to learn specific tasks like how to pray or how to read.  I agree with Paul that the most ambitious of the goals are probably quite unrealistic, considering earlier attempts, but lots of other uses of elements of language can be successfully taught and learned.

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