[NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages

David Kaufman dvklinguist2003 at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 6 21:22:54 UTC 2008

In response to Paul's earlier question about references, a good book on the subject of linguistic revitalization is Hinton and Hale's "The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice."  We used this book in one of my classes.  This book contains articles written by indigenous peoples, including Hawaiian and Maori, and what they've had to grapple with, in their own words, in the course of language revitalization.  
The Hawaiians are concerned with English influence on the "modern" Hawaiian language, and I had this discussion while taking the Hawaiian class with modern Hawaiians who were questioning this very issue: Is what we're learning "real" Hawaiian or something else?  Their concensus seemed to be that of course the "modern" language would be different than the "old" language, but they reasoned that languages change anyway and younger people don't necessarily speak the same way their elders did in any language.  There are examples of Hawaiian "smoothing out around the edges" as "modern" speakers tend not to use more complicated or lesser understood grammatical features.  I'm sure this issue will be as relevant to revitalized Siouan languages as any other.  I guess the important thing is how conservative these new language learners feel their revitalized language should be.

--- On Sun, 7/6/08, Bryan James Gordon <linguista at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Bryan James Gordon <linguista at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages
To: siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU
Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008, 1:55 PM

In defence of the thesis that contemporary Hebrew is more Slavic than Semitic, I would submit the following:

* The extensive calquing and evidence on new word formation patterns reflect European, not Semitic, models. Taxonit, as described by Rosen, comes from an inherited root meaning "camp for the night", and was originally absorbed into Israeli Hebrew to translate French "se stationer". Since then it has become a basic unit for translating any European cognate of "station" including "radio station", "train station", etc. Compare the words for these same concepts in the Arabic languages and Neo-Aramaic, and you will see that there is nothing Semitic about Hebrew word formation.
* The sound structure of the standard variety has been thoroughly Europeanised (although I have noted some initial examples of a Semitic-like but not necessarily specifically Semitic lowering of vowels before khaf where traditionally this is only supposed to happen before chet). The loss of gemination has profoundly affected the morphosyntax in various areas.
* Even morphosyntax has been Europeanised where necessary to reproduce European semantic paradigms. The three-tense system is an obvious example of this - the present tense, derived from historical gerunds, no longer looks morphosyntactically like a gerund construction, but is a fully functional tense alongside past and future (which were historically something more akin to concrete/potential). The promulgation of copulas in the spoken standard variety where they are not allowed in the written standard variety (as Willem notes, the written standard is more consciously Semitic) is another example of Europeanised morphosyntax.

Getting away from linguistics and back to real life for a second, Bob is absolutely right that there are many ideas of what constitutes success in revival, and these ideas almost always differ from those of linguists (except in the rare instances when a programme is being led by a Western-trained indigenous linguist - problematic in its own right).

- Bryan

2008/7/6 <rwd0002 at unt.edu>:

--- On Sun, 7/6/08, Rankin, Robert L <rankin at ku.edu> wrote:

From: Rankin, Robert L <rankin at ku.edu>
Subject: RE: [NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages
To: siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU
Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008, 8:21 AM

I'd add a third way.  Modern Hebrew has been seriously reconfigured, some
would say creolized.  Paul Wexler at Tel Aviv Univ. goes so far as to call it a
"Slavic language in search of a Semitic past."  His contention is that
it is relexified E. Slavic (he simply called it "Ukrainian" in a
lecture he gave at KU).  It was relexified with German vocabulary to form
Yiddish and with Hebrew vocabulary to form modern "Hebrew".  So
eastern European immigrants don't actually learn a Semitic language in
Israel -- just vocabulary.  To the extent that this may be true, it pretty much
erases the only really convincing case of revival.  Wexler's website has the
details if you're interested.


The Hebrew revival is indeed very different, we all agree on that. Hebrew never died out as a religious language nor as a written language.  However, I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that Modern Hebrew is a relexified Slavic language.  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 Jewish activists who revived Hebrew were extremely conscious of the Semitic morphological features of Hebrew, (and heard Arabic, a related Semitic language, spoken around them), so they did all they could to make sure Hebrew retained, maybe not a fundamental, but at least an strong indexical, Semitic character.  Even Yiddish, certainly more clearly a Slavic language relexified with Germanic than Modern Hebrew is, retains some uncannily Semitic morphological features.

To reconnect to Siouan, it is an interesting ideological issue, relevant to all people interested in reviving an extinct language.  Suppose we wanted to revive an extinct Siouan language, in addition to Siouan lexicon, what sorts of morphological features would we wanna insist on to convince ourselves this is a genuine Siouan language?  Split intransivity? instrumental prefixes?, locative prefixes?


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