The Big Picture

Modern-day language death is the lingering legacy of colonialism.

It is the view of the ICTWB that, at least among endangered indigenous and other linguistically disadvantaged peoples, the lack of language security is the principal obstacle to achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 ).

Thus, to help achieve in particular the following goals:
SDG 1 : No Poverty
SDG 2 : Zero Hunger
SDG 3 : Good Health and Well-Being
SDG 4 : Quality Education
SDG 8 : Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 : Reduced Inequalities
SDG 11 : Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 12 : Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG 16 : Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
SDG 17 : Partnerships for the Goals
the ICTWB will focus its actions on the following groups of people:

Indigenous Peoples Speaking Endangered Languages
Indigenous peoples don’t present a homogenous block. Some indigenous peoples’ linguistic rights are more or less secure, and their languages not endangered. It also so happens that they enjoy the lion share of the focus and funds of international organizations and nonprofits specialized in assisting indigenous peoples.

However, indigenous peoples are so numerous, often have so few members and are so isolated geographically, that many slip through the nets of international aid and relief agencies. This is particularly the case of linguistically disadvantaged indigenous groups, which represent about 37% of the world’s indigenous peoples (136 million out of 370 million). The ICTWB’s main aim is to help these groups, the poorest of the poor, the world’s forgotten peoples, poverty’s last-frontier tribes.

Very often, the languages of these miniscule groups have never been written down, no spelling system nor orthography created for them, no grammar written up, no other form of formal description done. So while all of them have oral traditions and literatures, these last-frontier peoples have no written literature at all. But the worst is that in many cases, for a variety of reasons, sometimes purely psychological, formal transmission of the mother’s tongue to her children has stopped, setting the language on the slippery slope of endangerment and rapid extinction.

We believe the first thing to do to ensure respect of all the other rights of such endangered indigenous groups is to ensure the survival of their language, because language is the principal reservoir and carrier of culture, identity and knowledge. A strong and vibrant language is the first link in the chain of social empowerment that people use to access their rights, the first by which the cycle of poverty is broken, by which hunger stops, by which health improves, by which education is bettered, by which a local economy grows, by which inequalities are reduced, by which communities become sustainable, by which justice is obtained, and by which new partnerships for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are formed.

Other Endangered or Linguistically Challenged Peoples
Not all linguistically challenged peoples are included in either the formal United Nations definition of indigenous peoples, or identified by UNESCO as having an endangered language. The ICTWB’s objectives include finding and assisting people groups who have slipped through the international safety net cast by the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Once identified, we devise ways of bringing such peoples into the fold of the internationally recognized ones that qualify for national and international assistance.

One such language is Reunionese Creole, spoken on France’s Reunion island in the Indian Ocean. Reunionese Creole is a language in its own right, distinct from French. Yet, its literary development is handicapped by the fact that no spelling system in Reunionese Creole has even received the official sanction of the French government, nor does any homegrown Reunionese language academy exist to harmonize spelling and grammar. As such, Reunionese Creole speakers don’t enjoy full language security. This is reflected by the cultural stigma and many other forms of typically post-colonial linguistic discrimination (linguicism) the speakers of Reunionese suffer from; examples of which include high levels of substance abuse, high unemployment, low linguistic and cultural self-esteem, self-loathing and other factors contributing to poverty and social issues.

Similar phenomena can be observed in many other previously colonized peoples around the world (e.g. South Africa, Australia, Canada, USA, Argentina, etc.).

The ICTWB will support for the right of Reunionese Creole speakers (and other speakers of creole languages) to have a formally recognized spelling system, an important step on the way to cultural invigoration, language revitalization and thus the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Descendants of Extinct Language Groups
Some peoples have lost their ancestral languages and assimilated linguistically into dominant cultures and languages, but still view themselves as members of a distinct culture or tribe. Many Aboriginal peoples of Australia, for example, find themselves in this category. Very many now speak English only but still call themselves by their tribal Aboriginal names. Such peoples exist in many other countries of the world too.

Since such peoples’ ancestral languages have become extinct, one can no longer speak of language revitalization. However, in some cases, it is possible to revive (or reclaim) their languages making use of writings, grammars, translations and other linguistic aids that had been compiled while the language was still alive.

As is the case with other revived and reinvigorated languages (e.g. Hebrew, Maori, Hawaiian, Sanskrit), the revived language will never be entirely like the extinct language, but will resemble those former languages to a fair or even significant degree. In the minds of new speakers, it will in fact be the same language, have the same name, and will once more become their preferred vehicle to achieve cultural, social and economic empowerment.

Thanks to the lessons provided by the new social and linguistic science of revivalistics ( https://researchers.adelaide.edu.au/profile/ghilad.zuckermann ), more and more role players are beginning to believe that language loss can be reversed, that even extinct languages can once more be turned into living, developing, vibrant languages. It is about time, if we were to stop the current 2539 endangered languages from disappearing from the face of the earth altogether!

Extinct Language Interest Groups
Some extinct languages disappeared so long ago, that there are no people left who claim to be close descendants of them. Ancient Greek is a case in point. Modern Greek differs significantly from the various ancient forms of Greek. Today’s citizens of Greece and Cyprus and other Greek-speaking communities around the world do claim ancestry from the Ancient Greeks, but speak their modern version of the language, which differs so much from ancient Greek that many see it as a totally different language. The vast majority of modern Greek speakers have no identitarian need to return to Ancient Greek.

However, some Greek scholars dream of reviving Ancient Greek and one, Prof. Christophe Rico of the Polis Institute in Jerusalem, is actually trying to do just that. The ICTWB will look for ways to actively support Prof. Rico’s work and provide researchers to help the revival gather traction, perhaps in ways similar to how Ancient Hebrew was raised from the proverbial ashes to become a vibrant, developing language with some 9 million speakers today, 7 million of whom speak it fluently.

In his upcoming manual on language revival (REVIVALISTICS, From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond : Awakening Sleeping Beauties. Language Revival, Cross-Fertilization and Social Wellbeing), Professor of Endangered Languages Ghil‘ad Zuckermann introduces the concept of a LAnguage Revival Diamond (LARD) with 4 quadrants (see below) representing language owners, linguists, educators and government.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): https://www.edx.org/course/language-revival-securing-future-adelaidex-lang101x-1

Prof. Zuckermann explains that: “Reviving a language is complex and involves a great deal of time and the help of many people. The LAnguage Revival Diamond (LARD) consists of four core quadrants, each of which is interdependent and necessary in reviving any language:

(1) Language Owners: depending on the stage of the language under revival, these are the (native) speakers who are ancestrally-tied to the language or those who will carry it into the future. This is often a starting point for revival but it is possible to start anywhere in the Diamond. It is always an organic process, with interdependent and always-moving parts.

(2) Linguistics: A key early point in the process is about recording and documenting the language, where that is still possible; and collating or reconstructing existing material and sources. It also includes work on spelling, orthography, … dictionaries, and grammar. Moving forwards and to compound the work, it is crucial to engage in and create New Media resources and learning material.

(3) Education: This includes working in Art, Song, and Traditional Rituals to pull out or extend the language; Methods and Strategies, for example: in the case of revitalization and reinvigoration (but not in reclamation, of a no-longer spoken language) the Master/Apprentice (or Mentor/Apprentice) method. Education also includes Learning, Teaching, Schooling, and Immersion. This is key to ensuring the longevity of a language, particularly once there are several or many speakers.

(4) Public Sphere: This final quadrant is all about moving the language under revival into the public domain. It includes working with the general public and government where desired and changing the langscape (linguistic landscape), the signs where the language belongs.

Typically … successful language revival results from collaboration between owners-custodians-speakers on the one hand, and linguists, teachers, and IT specialists on the other. It often involves collaboration within schools, universities, government at various levels, philanthropic organizations, and sometimes even private enterprises and large corporations. For example, both the Myaamia people of Ohio in the United States and the Kaurna of Adelaide in South Australia have formal Memoranda of Understanding within Miami University, Ohio, and the University of Adelaide, respectively.”

The Close-Up

The elderly
In most cases, it is the elderly members of endangered indigenous peoples who are the main depositories of linguistic knowledge. Protecting the elderly and training them up to transfer their language is therefore a cornerstone of ICTWB actions (see ‘Language Nests’).
To preserve a mother tongue, it goes without saying that the focus must also be on mothers who are key to transferring language in early childhood and into adolescence. To do so, mothers must be convinced of the value of their language, that their children have a future learning it and speaking it. This goes back to the ICTWB’s mission of ‘Restoring language pride’.
For the ICTWB, children are the last but most important link in the language transmission chain, the community members on whom most of our efforts are focused (see ‘Language Nests’). Without language transmission to children and their becoming fluent in their parents’ language, the tongue will inevitably fall into the endangerment levels defined by UNESCO.
Once primary education in mother tongue has been established, gradually the range of areas where children can use their language are to be increased, up to university level where possible. This will only be feasible once there has been a significant increase in the number of language users as well as once their mastery of the different registers and fields of language of expertise (from colloquial to specialist) has been accomplished. All of this spells long and hard work that might span many years, certainly decades, perhaps even more…
Schools, Community Organizations and other Nonprofits
The work is too big for any one organization. Besides, success can only be achieved in such multi-decade programs when one joins forces with the primary interested parties and community organizations already existing in endangered languages. Where none exist, the ICTWB will seek to set them up, but always with the help and involvement of the language owners and other longtime interested parties.
Displaced Speakers of Endangered Languages (Migrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers)
Owing to their marginalized state and economic hardships, a non-negligible number of endangered language speakers opt to leave for greener pastures and end up in inner cities and other places typically providing shelter for immigrants in the Western, and very often also in other third world countries.
The ICTWB will partner with international institutions like the UNHCR, International Organization for Migration, Red Cross and other nonprofits working with migrants to identify groups of speakers of endangered languages that have moved to other countries, and look for ways to help them keep alive their languages within their host countries while encouraging them to cooperate with policies aimed at helping them integrate into their host societies.
At the same time, the ICTWB will work to increase understanding in host societies for migrants that wish to retain their original identity while acquiring a new one.
Language Specialists (Teachers, Writers, Translators, Linguists)
The vibrancy of a language and its chances of perpetuating itself is closely linked to the emergence of a class of language experts in the endangered language that include teachers, writers, translators, linguists, songwriters, etc.
Writers and poets, for example, contribute greatly to the prestige of a language and the way that not only native speakers but also outsiders view the tongue. Just think, for example, of the immeasurable and up to the present day, ongoing contribution by Shakespeare for the past 400 years to the preeminence of English as a world language today.
The ICTWB will therefore devise strategies to create wellsprings of literature and other forms of linguistic creation (e.g. songwriting) in endangered languages that up to the present day and age have never enjoyed a tradition of literary creation. Groundbreaking work indeed!

Books on Language and Language Revitalization and Revival







And, to be published in April 2020: Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond, by Ghil’ad Zuckermann (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/revivalistics-9780199812790?lang=en&cc=us ) 

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