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  • Keeping languages alive: Documentation, pedagogy, and revitalization ed. by Mari C. Jones and Sarah Ogilvie
  • Lindsay J. Whaley
Keeping languages alive: Documentation, pedagogy, and revitalization. Ed. by Mari C. Jones and Sarah Ogilvie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 269. ISBN 9781107029064. $99.99 (Hb).

This volume of sixteen articles was born out of the first Cambridge International Conference on Language Endangerment held in March 2011. Paralleling the structure of the conference, Keeping languages alive is divided into three sections: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization. This provides a useful overarching organization for the volume, though the content of many of the articles straddles two, or even all three, of the categories.

The Documentation section provides helpful examinations of a range of issues that arise when considering how best to develop materials to capture not only the structures of a language, but also its various usages. Peter Austin (‘Language and meta-documentation’) makes an appeal for the development of a new subfield of linguistics that he refers to as meta-documentation. The focus of this enterprise would be to ‘document the goals, processes, methods and structures of language documentation projects’ (15), and it would have the goal of developing more self-reflection by the field, so that linguists would use best practices in project design, archiving, providing access to data, and standardizing how metadata is applied. In ‘Re-imagining documentary [End Page 736] linguistics as a revitalization-driven practice’, David Nathan and Meili Fang similarly advocate rethinking documentary methods, though they underscore the need to place community objectives above others in making choices about what and how to document. They argue that documentation should prioritize collecting data that could be put into the service of revitalizing a language. For example, simple songs can be very effective tools in language learning. They also advocate a broader notion of documentation for languages in need of revitalization than that for languages with a more stable speaker base. In particular, they suggest that the documentation include outputs from revitalization efforts such as lesson plans developed by teachers and ‘learner-created’ texts. To do this well, of course, requires input from community members, if not their control, in determining how a documentation project should proceed. John Henderson offers some observations about how this might be done in ‘Language documentation and community interests’. He examines a protocol that was developed over a three-year period to guide the digitization of field materials collected on the Noongar language in 1931. He then extrapolates from this process and describes ten themes that must be addressed in soliciting community input, including who has authority over the documentation materials and how individuals who contribute to the documentation should be recognized.

The remaining articles in the Documentation section are case studies of specific documentation projects. Two of them treat the unique issues arising from work on signed languages: Ulrike Zeshan and Hasan Dikyuva describe their project on Mardin Sign Language in Turkey, and Jeffrey Davis outlines his work in developing an archive of American Indian signed languages. A notable finding in the latter project is that there was a sign lingua franca employed by ‘members of more than forty linguistic and cultural groups’ (75). Amanda Hamilton, Jawee Perla, and Laura C. Robinson describe the application of the Hawai‘i Assessment of Language Access (HALA) to speakers of Adang, a language spoken on the Indonesian island of Alor. HALA is a tool designed to test language proficiency by measuring reaction times for lexical retrieval. Though the results of their experiment failed to reach statistical significance due to the small size of the data set, Hamilton and colleagues believe that HALA could be applied to various language settings in order to provide psycholinguistic evidence for language attrition. The contribution of Michael Riessler and Elena Karvovskaya raises the crucial question of how attitudes about ‘pure’ forms of a language affect a language documentation project. In their work on exclusive focus particles in Kildin Saami, they have found that perceptions of ‘correct’ Saami influence speakers’ actual...


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