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  • The journeys of besieged languageseds. by Delyn Day, Poia Rewi, and Rawinia Higgins
  • Jeanette King
Delyn Day, Poia Rewi, and Rawinia Higgins, eds. 2016. The journeys of besieged languages. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. xii + 349 pp. ISBN 978-1-4438-9943-7. ₤68.99, hardcover.

The purpose of the volume is to "hear the voices from some of the languages that find themselves pushed to the peripheries and margins" (vii). As such, the book contains descriptions of fourteen languages, most of which are indigenous and endangered, that have been "besieged" by more dominant languages.

Of particular interest to readers of this journal will be the four chapters that focus on languages of Oceania: Hawaiian, Tahitian, Māori, and Barngarla (an Australian aboriginal language). The other languages span the rest of the globe: Hebrew, Piedmontese, Romani, Kashubian, Kernewek (Cornish), Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Kalaallisut (Greenland), Cree, and Ojibway. The approach and focus of each chapter varies considerably, with some of the chapters written from the perspective of those involved at the grassroots as speakers of the languages concerned. This is the case for the Polynesian languages in this volume.

Many of the chapters are based on presentations given at the Te Kura Roa Minority Language and Dialect conference held in Dunedin, New Zealand, in April 2015. Ch. 1 gives details about the genesis of the conference as part of the three-year Te Kura Roa project funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence. Co-led by professors Poia Rewi and Rawinia Higgins, the project focused on supporting the continuing revitalization of the Māori language by examining both the reasons for the success of community generated initiatives as well as the responsiveness of the state. The Te Kura Roa conference enabled those involved with Māori language revitalization to hear from and interact with international scholars and practitioners from other minority language situations and consider the similarities and differences in each language's situation.

Ch. 2 and 3, written by indigenous academics, are highly personal and powerful testimonies of the effects of language loss. In ch. 2, Lorena Fontaine and Brock Pitawanakwat from Canada each describe their own upbringing with Algonquian languages Cree and Ojibway, which were spoken by their grandparents but not passed on to younger generations. They speak eloquently of the resultant cultural loss.

With regard to revitalization, Fontaine details the results of language surveys administered among 1,400 participants from the Opaskwayak Cree Nations in 2002 and 2013. These surveys revealed a rapid decline in speakers as well as a virtual loss of intergenerational transmission in the home; just three percent of respondents were speaking only Cree to their children. However, questions on attitudes revealed a very high level of appreciation of the Cree language as an important part of tribal identity. The results galvanized the community to start a pre-school language immersion program.

Pitawanakwat outlines an initiative within the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) community to record oral stories in written form. He also notes a 2012 language survey that revealed that only eight percent were using Ojibway at home. These results motivated the Anishinaabe [End Page 513] community to start an immersion program on Manitoulin Island. Both of these examples, confirmed widely with other language groups, illustrate how language surveys can be an empowering catalyst for community action.

Kaiwipunikauikawēkiu Lipe was raised as a speaker of Hawaiian and is currently raising her children as speakers. In ch. 3, she uses the traditional Hawaiian reflective ethnographic methodological framework mo'olelo to provide and analyze details about her personal struggles, challenges, and successes. Lipe describes her personal growth and transformation in the face of the effects of the culture bomb inflicted by the English-only colonial agenda enacted through wider policy and the education system.

In ch. 4, Vāhi Tuheiava Richaud provides a comprehensive overview of the situation of Tahitian as well as the other languages of French Polynesia. She begins with an outline of French colonization, and follows with demographic information about the ethnic makeup of the islands. Statistics about the household use of the various indigenous languages in French Polynesia in 2012...


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