SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Sarah Croome

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Sarah Croome
Thesis title:
Dressed to Kill? The Impact of Superficial Revitalization Measures on Language Vitality.
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PhD Research

This research will examine the apparent disjunct between superficial manifestations of language revitalization and low levels of actual language use.  In addition, it will evaluate whether superficial revitalization measures exert a negative effect on language vitality.  Initiatives constructed around symbolism may have a value in the promotion of a distinct regional self-image, however, they are often adduced as language revitalization measures even though they do not increase speaker numbers.  Failure of effective implementation can persist because such failure is obscured by superficial measures or ‘window-dressing’ which create the illusion of compliance.

In turn, a collusive style of ‘compliance management’ inherent in a weak monitoring system masks the absence of any culture of evaluation in terms of whether an initiative is likely to be effective in increasing actual speaker numbers.  Superficial measures are readily accepted as indicators of compliance, particularly as wider objectives are routinely framed in terms of those superficial measures at earlier stages of the process. The manifestation of the above in the classroom is frequently the substitution of cultural symbolism or tokenism for language learning, linked to a ‘regional distinctiveness’ narrative which does not increase speaker numbers and may intensify folklorization of the language instead of helping to develop ‘currency’.

Over time superficial measures frequently become elevated and aggrandized in official policy, despite their inability to increase speaker numbers, and are routinely accepted at the highest level as valid realizations of compliance with international obligations.  This powerful combination of elevation and validation creates a deceptively favourable impression of the aims and achievements of a programme which I would characterize as a ‘laundering’ effect.  Superficial measures are not only ineffective in themselves, but their legitimation and reproduction operate to divert attention from low speaker numbers and any failings in the wider strategy.  Meanwhile time and limited resources are wasted on strategies which are ineffective in increasing the vitality of the language.

The research will identify and evaluate the mechanisms which arguably permit and sustain such a scenario, using discourse analysis and empirical qualitative data relating to contrastive European minority language revitalization intiatives.


Sarah has a background in Classics and Archaeology but came to SOAS in 2010 to change disciplines, completing the MA in Linguistics and continuing with further research. Her MPhil in sociolinguistics will investigate the mismatch between the perception of official measures taken to increase the vitality of endangered languages and low levels of actual language use. Areas covered will include the substitution of cultural symbolism or tokenism for language learning in education, the illusion of compliance with international obligations created by superficial revitalization measures, and apparent weaknesses in monitoring systems.