SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Language support and revitalisation

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This module will investigate what it means to ‘support’ and ‘revitalise’ a language, using examples from around the world. Students will examine case studies and examples of revitalisation projects in terms of their methods, appropriacy, effectiveness, and applicability elsewhere.

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate a broad understanding of the main issues in language support and revitalisation, and an understanding of the complex factors that affect the success or otherwise of projects.

Students will be guided towards in-depth reading on the topics and given the opportunity to develop their the skills of analysis and synthesis of theoretical and methodological issues. Students will also be equipped with the core analytical skills necessary to engage in research on language support and revitalisation, including baseline surveys, programme evaluation and presentation.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a lecture.

Scope and syllabus

This module complements existing modules on Issues in Language Documentation and Language, Society and Communication, and Language Planning and Policy. It will help students to gain an understanding of the processes and causes of language endangerment, and issues involved in attempting to reverse it. It will be useful for students on the MA in Language Documentation and Description, especially those in the Support and Revitalisation strand.

The module considers language support not only as preservation through documentation, but as an active process involving the whole community, both speakers and non-speakers. Emphasis is put on developing ways to support language communities’ own revitalisation efforts, e.g. through resource development. The main focus will be on bottom-up approaches rather than top-down official language policy, although areas of overlap will be considered.

The module will also examine the role of the researcher and external ‘expert’ in language revitalisation, e.g. in developing awareness of issues and procedures, links with other communities, or through advocacy.

The module will cover areas such as:

  • Why support endangered languages?
  • Assessing language vitality
  • Issues in language revitalisation
  • Language rights, education
  • Models for revitalisation and case studies
  • Literacy and orthography (with case studies)
  • Creating a language revitalisation programme: assessing needs, goals, attitudes
  • The role of the researcher and external ‘expert’ (and case studies)
  • Maintenance, revitalisation, revival: ‘dead’ or ‘sleeping’ languages
  • Related factors: language ideologies, religion, identity, social networks, etc.

This module is CORE for students on the Language Support and Revitalisation pathway of the MA in Language Documentation and Description.

Method of assessment

a project or essay of 3500 words to be submitted on day 1 of Term 3 (80%); presentation; handouts of slides to be submitted on Monday of Week 6 (20%).

Suggested reading

Course text

Grenoble, Lenore A., and Whaley, Lindsay J. 2006. Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Additional selected readings and examples from a range of sources will be used. A CD-ROM of these will be provided at the start of term. These will include:

Week 1 Why support endangered languages?

  • Thieberger, N. 1990. Language maintenance: why bother? Multilingua 9:333-258.
  • Walsh, Michael. 2005. Will Indigenous Languages Survive? Annual Review of Anthropology 34:293-315; DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.34.081804.120629.

Week 2 Assessing language vitality

  • De Vries, John. 1992. Language Maintenance and Shift: Problems of Measurement. In Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages, eds. Willem Fase, Koen Jaspaert and Sjaak Kroon. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Sallabank, Julia. 2005. Prestige From the Bottom Up: A Review of Language Planning in Guernsey. Current Issues in Language Planning 6:44–63.
  • UNESCO, Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages. 2003. Language Vitality and Endangerment: By way of introduction. UNESCO.

Week 3 Issues in language revitalisation

  • Duchêne, Alexandre, and Heller, Monica. 2007. Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages: Advances in Sociolinguistics. London: Continuum. Chapter 4 by A. Jaffe.
  • Hill, Jane H. 2002. 'Expert rhetorics' in advocacy for endangered languages: Who is listening and what do they hear? Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 12:119-33.

Week 4 Language policy: language rights, education

  • Hornberger, Nancy H., and King, Kendall. 1996. Language revitalization in the Andes: can the schools reverse language shift? Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 17:427-41.
  • May, Stephen. 2003. Rearticulating the case for minority language rights. Current Issues in Language Planning 4:95–125.

Weeks 5 and 6 Models for revitalisation

  • Hinton, Leanne. 1997. Survival of endangered languages: The Californian Master-Apprentice program. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 123:177-91.
  • Hinton, Leanne. 2003a. Language revitalization. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 23:44-57.
  • Hinton, Leanne. 2003b. How to teach when the teacher isn't fluent. In Nurturing Native Languages, eds. John Reyhner, Octaviana Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco and Louise Lockard. 79-92. Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University.
  • Hinton, Leanne, and Hale, Ken eds. 2002. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego/Oxford: Academic Press.

Week 7 Literacy and orthography

  • Grenoble and Whaley chs 5, 6

Week 8 Creating a language programme

  • Ostler, Nicholas. 1998. Endangered Languages: What Role for the Specialist? Paper presented at Second Foundation for Endangered Languages conference, Edinburgh.Bath: Foundation for Endangered Languages
  • Thieberger, N. 2002. Extinction in whose terms? In Language Endangerment and Language Maintenance: An Active Approach, eds. David Bradley and Maya Bradley. 310-28. London: Curzon.

Week 9 Maintenance, revitalisation, revival

  • Amery, Rob. 2001. Language Planning and Language Revival. University of Sydney.
  • Bentahila, A., and Davies, E. E. 1993. Language revival: Restoration or transformation? Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 14:355-74.
  • Fishman, Joshua A. 2001b. If threatened languages can be saved, then can dead languages be revived? Current Issues in Language Planning 2.

Week 10 Language ideologies, religion, identity, social networks

  • Bankston, Carl L. III, and Henry, Jacques. 1998. The silence of the gators: Cajun ethnicity and intergenerational transmission of Louisiana French. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 19:1-23.
  • Milroy, Lesley. 1982. Language and Group Identity. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 3:207-16.
  • Sallabank, Julia. 2006. Guernsey French, identity and language endangerment. In The Sociolinguistics of Identity, eds. Tope Omoniyi and Goodith White. 131-56. London: Continuum.

General background reading:

  • Abley, Mark 2003 Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages. New York: Heinemann
  • Bradley, David, and Bradley, Maya (eds.) 2002. Language Endangerment and Language Maintenance: An Active Approach. London: Routledge.
  • Crystal, David 2000 Language Death. Cambridge: CUP
  • Dalby, Andrew 2002 Language in Danger: How language loss threatens our future. London: Penguin.
  • Fishman, Joshua A. (ed.) 1991. Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Fishman, Joshua A. (ed.) 2001. Can Threatened Languages be Saved? Reversing Language Shift, Revisited: A 21st Century Perspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Grenoble, Lenore A., and Whaley, Lindsay J. (eds.) 1998. Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Harrison, K. David. 2007. When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hinton, Leanne, and Hale, Ken (eds.) 2002. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego/Oxford: Academic Press.
  • Miyaoka, Osahito, Sakiyama, Osamu, and Krauss, Michael E. (eds.) 2007. The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nettle, Daniel and Suzanne Romaine 2000 Vanishing Voices. Oxford: OUP.
  • Reyhner, Jon, Cantoni, Gina, St. Clair, Robert N., and Parsons Yazzie, Evangeline (eds.) 1999. Revitalizing Indigenous Languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University (
  • Reyhner, John, Trujillo, Octaviana, Carrasco, Roberto Luis, and Lockard, Louise eds. 2003. Nurturing Native Languages. Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University. Available online at


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