Joshua Fishman's eight steps towards reviving a language

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wikipedia has the following paragraph on its page on language revitalization:

Reversing language shift has been an area of study among sociolinguists, including Joshua Fishman, in recent decades. Reversing language shift involves establishing the degree to which a particular language has been 'dislocated' in order to determine the best way to assist or revive the language.

Steps in reversing language shift

Joshua Fishman's model for reviving threatened (or dead) languages, or for making them sustainable, consists of an eight-stage process. Efforts should be concentrated on the earlier stages of restoration until they have been consolidated before proceeding to the later stages. The eight stages are as follows:

1. Acquisition of the language by adults, who in effect act as language apprentices (recommended where most of the remaining speakers of the language are elderly and socially isolated from other speakers of the language).
2. Create a socially integrated population of active speakers (or users) of the language (at this stage it is usually best to concentrate mainly on the spoken language rather than the written language).
3. In localities where there are a reasonable number of people habitually using the language, encourage the informal use of the language among people of all age groups and within families and bolster its daily use through the establishment of local neighbourhood institutions in which the language is encouraged, protected and (in certain contexts at least) used exclusively.
4. In areas where oral competence in the language has been achieved in all age groups encourage literacy in the language but in a way that does not depend upon assistance from (or goodwill of) the state education system.
5. Where the state permits it, and where numbers warrant, encourage the use of the language in lieu of compulsory state education.
6. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated, encourage the use of the language in the workplace (lower worksphere).
7. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage the use of the language in local government services and mass media.
8. Where the above stages have been achieved and consolidated encourage use of the language in higher education, government etc.

This model of language revival is intended to direct efforts to where they are most effective and to avoid wasting energy trying to achieve the later stages of recovery when the earlier stages have not been achieved. For instance it is probably wasteful of effort to campaign for the use of the language on television or in government services if hardly any families are in the habit of using the language.
The problem with this for artificial languages is that once you get to step three (Esperanto would be around step 2, Ido and Interlingua would still be somewhere within step 1) you have the prerequisite "In localities where there are a reasonable number of people habitually using the language", which is more or less impossible for a language that has never had a geographic location. The only area where this could happen is online but then again that means a written language, not a spoken one. Latin at least has a foothold in the Vatican City, ergo Rome, as a starting point. Esperanto though technically would have the ability to get up to step three if it were able to muster enough effort to create a small patch of land in which the language is used every day (and not just for a few weeks but permanantly).

It might be interesting to identify certain promising locations where a language community could be created with as little effort and cost as possible. Assuming we're looking at Esperanto and Latin, pretty much the only two kind-of-being-used-but-not-technically-living languages that fit this description, the area would want to have the following:
  • Relatively cheap real estate. The cheaper the easier it would be to purchase a certain amount of land to start the community.
  • Good transport. This would not need to be extremely frequent transport, simply a single train station that would enable people to get to and from the location.
  • Proximity to more than one language. It would be a bit silly to have a language community in the midst of a state that was completely English-speaking, for example.
A good location in North America then might be somewhere around the Quebec-United States border or New Brunswick, and in Europe perhaps somewhere around Slovenia to Bulgaria. Latin already has the Vatican, or perhaps Finland which interestingly seems to be the most interested in the idea of Latin as a real auxiliary language for Europe.


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