Julia Sallabank, "Attitudes to Endangered Languages: Identities and Policies" (Cambridge UP, 2013)


As linguists, we're wont to get protective about languages, whether we see them as data points in a typological analysis or a mass of different ways of seeing the world. Given a free choice, we'd always like to see them survive. Which is fine for us, because we don't necessarily have to speak them. But for a language to survive and thrive, someone has to be speaking it, and encouraging them to do so is no straightforward matter. In Attitudes to Endangered Languages: Identities and Policies (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Julia Sallabank discusses some of the issues that arise among (actual or potential) endangered-language speech communities. She focuses on the languages of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, and discusses how speakers relate to those languages and to the revitalisation efforts that are currently underway. She argues persuasively that we cannot treat these communities as homogeneous groups: in fact, the attitudes of the established speakers to the future of their language are potentially complex and equivocal, as revitalisation preserves the language for future generations but risks alienating the current generation from it. In this interview, we discuss this situation, and look at the efficacy of language revitalisation measures. We explore the questions of what it means for a language to survive, to what extent change is inevitable, and the challenge of remaining objective when confronted with competing and sometimes entrenched linguistic interests.

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