[NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages

Jimm GoodTracks jgoodtracks at gmail.com
Wed Jul 9 00:54:49 UTC 2008

While the situation of revived Hawaiian has been touched upon, does anyone 
know where the revitalized Welch language figures into this discussion.  I 
am aware that it is not the old Welch of the legendary barbs.  Some fluent 
speakers in the conclaves of traditional Wales have remarked on the current 
robust Cymraeg as having strayed from their on-going fluent speaker usage.
Perhaps someone out there who really knows could comment.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <rwd0002 at unt.edu>
To: <siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU>; "Rankin, Robert L" <rankin at ku.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, July 08, 2008 5:18 PM
Subject: RE: [NDNAIM] Activists . . . Endangered Languages

> Quoting "Rankin, Robert L" <rankin at ku.edu>:
>>> 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".
> To get back a bit about what Modern Hebrew is.  The reason I would 
> question that it is a revival would rather be that it has never died in 
> all its spheres of usage. It died as a first language acquired after 
> birth, but it never died as a language of prayer and as a written 
> language. The Jewish tradition of Hebrew education was such that there 
> were always people who could write very fluent Hebrew.  All this made the 
> transition to revived spoken language much easier, and less artificial. 
> There is no situation comparable with Indigenous Languages because (with 
> the exception of Maya) there was no Indigenous tradition of writing.
> It is also interesting to think of Latin. We think of Latin as a dead 
> language, deader than Hebrew, but Latin has had an extremely slow death. 
> Like Hebrew, Latin ceased as a spoken language long ago, but as a written 
> and even spoken language of science, religion and scholarship it continued 
> well into the 19th century.  The literature written by second language 
> speakers or writers of Latin is massive compared to what was written by 
> the Romans themselves.  And Latin is still not dead: there are still 
> individuals, mostly living within the confines of the Vatican, who are 
> able to write and speak quite fluently in Latin.  So, if we needed to 
> revive Latin as an everyday language (I am sure this will never happen), 
> it would be an easy thing to do.  But would it be the same language as 
> what Cesar and Cicero spoke?  In pronunciation, Cesar and Cicero would 
> probably not recognize what they hear as Latin, but in writing they would 
> probably understand it fairly well, and certain usages of modern 
> Latinists, comparable to the Lakota "good morning" example given by Dave 
> Rood, would be very puzzling to them.
> To summarize, the case of Modern Hebrew and (potentially revivable) Latin, 
> are probably not helpful models for activists reviving languages.  But on 
> the other hand, the standards of Modern Hebrew and Modern Latin are quite 
> high.
> When little is documented about the language to be revived, the concern of 
> linguists (not necessarily shared by Indigenous Activists) is that the 
> language looks like some sort of Esperanto relexified with native words.
> It is interesting that one of the specialists in the extinct Mutsun 
> language (a Costanoan language from California, well documented by Spanish 
> missionaries and by J. P. Harrington) is Marc Okrand, also the creator of 
> the artificial language Klingon.  But despite efforts of Mutsun activists, 
> there are now more speakers of Klingon than there are of Mutsun. (Of 
> course, Okrand could be the judge of what is good Klingon, but he wisely 
> does not comment on such speakers, and he does not consider himself a 
> speaker either.)  I asked a Mutsun activist about that, and the answer 
> was:  "Oh, well, what is happening to Klingon is an inspiration to us." 
> We don't all feel this way about it.
> So our goals for a revived language should approach these of Hebrew and 
> Latin as far as authenticity is concerned, and we should be cautious about 
> the temptation to "Klingonize" or "Esperantoize", i.e. simplify the 
> morphology because the existing documentation of the extinct language does 
> not tell us what it should be.
> So, what is a "sufficiently authentic" revived language, will, to be sure, 
> be a matter of debate for quite some time.
> Willem 

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