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FW: Book Review - Language Death

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@ANATOMY.USYD.EDU.AU] Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2000 5:55 AM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Book Review -
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      FW: Book Review - Language Death

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2000 5:55 AM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Book Review - Language Death


      An HTML version of this book review can be found at
       http://dannyreviews.com/h/Language_Death.html
      along with more than five hundred other reviews.

       TITLE: Language Death
       AUTHOR: David Crystal
       PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press 2000
       SUBJECTS: linguistics, popular science
       OTHER: 198 pages, references, index

      In _Language Death_ David Crystal looks at present and future
      threats to languages -- and at what can be done to counter them.
      Crystal's relatively unemotional, reasonable, and balanced approach
      is unlikely to ever gain him the acclaim of more populist science
      writers, but he is always readable and informative and _Language
      Death_ is no exception.  A succinct overview with a good selection
      of examples and case studies, it has something for anyone involved
      with either linguistics or indigenous cultural survival.

      Crystal begins by looking at the scale of the threat to minority
      languages.  There are debates over the definition of "language" and
      estimates of the number of languages vary, but a figure somewhere
      around 6000 is plausible.  Perhaps more important is the distribution
      of speakers, with 4% of languages accounting for 96% of people and 25%
      having fewer than 1000 speakers.  There are different ways of classifying
      "danger levels", but there is no doubt that a large number of languages
      face extinction in the immediate future, while in the longer-term even
      quite widely spoken languages may be in danger.

      Why should we care about language death?  Crystal presents five arguments:
      from the general value of diversity, from the value of languages as
      expressions of identity, as repositories of history, as part of the sum of
      human knowledge, and as interesting subjects in their own right.  None of
      these are likely to convince either aggressive monolingualists or the
      apathetic, but Crystal includes some thought-provoking details and quotes.

      How do languages die?  Obviously a language dies if all of its speakers
      die as the result of genocide or natural disasters, or are scattered
      in such a way as to break up the language community.  More commonly
      languages die through cultural change and language replacement, by
      assimilation to a "dominant" culture and language.  This process is
      broad and complex, but one major factor is negative attitudes to a
      language, both in government policy and local communities.

      What can be done about this?  Crystal looks first at general needs:
      gathering information, raising awareness (both in local communities
      and in the international community), and fostering positive community
      attitudes (sometimes people don't want to save their own language).
      Any approach must promote the authenticity of the whole community
      (accepting change and recognising all dialects) and consider language
      as part of broader culture.

      Crystal suggests six key themes in language revitalization: increasing
      the prestige, wealth, and power of language speakers; giving the language
      a strong presence in the education system; giving the language a written
      form and encouraging literacy; and access to electronic technology (the
      latter being more of a "possibility" than a reality in most cases).
      He also argues for a stronger emphasis on descriptive linguistics and
      fieldwork, and stresses the need to build a rounded "revitalization
      team", involving a broad range of community leaders, teachers, and other
      specialists as well as linguists.

      --

      %T      Language Death
      %A      Crystal, David
      %I      Cambridge University Press
      %C      Cambridge
      %D      2000
      %O      hardcover, references, index
      %G      ISBN 0-521-65321-5
      %P      x,198pp
      %K      linguistics, popular science

      9 October 2000

              ------------------------------------------------------
              Copyright (c) 2000 Danny Yee <editor@...>
              Danny Yee's Book Reviews      http://dannyreviews.com/
              ------------------------------------------------------

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