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2015 Morphological Complexity la Oneida. In Understanding and Measuring
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Michelson, Karin, and Catherine Price
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Keeping Languages Alive: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization.

Edited by MARI C. JONES and SARAH OGILVIE. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2013. Pp. xiv + 269. $95.00 (hardcover).

Endangered Languages and New Technologies. Edited by MARI C. JONES.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 211. $99.00 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Claire Bowern, Yale University

Two recent volumes from Cambridge University Press discuss aspects of language
endangerment and the documentary record.
The eleven contributions to Endangered Languages and New Technologies describe
ways in which digital technology (particularly the World Wide Web) can help language
documentation and preservation efforts. The sixteen papers in Jones and Ogilvies
collection, on the other hand, present case studies on documentation, pedagogy, and
revitalization of endangered language. Both books have excellent global coverage, with
chapters describing languages in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Both
include chapters on both signed and spoken languages; the Jones and Ogilvie volume,
Keeping Languages Alive, also includes a chapter on a whistled (auxiliary) language.
Both books have chapters oriented to endangered language communities, rather than
researchersor directed to both audiencesand taken together, they offer an inspiring
snapshot of the many, varied ways in which people across the world are addressing
issues of language endangerment.
For the contributors to Endangered Languages and New Technologies, new tech-
nologies mostly involve the Internet and web delivery of content, whether for re-
searchers (as in the chapters by Sjef Barbiers and Dorothee Beermann) or communities
and language learners (as in Russell Hugos chapter). An exception is the chapter by

Hugh Patterson III on designing keyboard layouts. Others focus on database creation,
including linking of underlying data and the creation of data sets that facilitate research
on endangered languages. The case studies presented here form a fine cross section of
both languages and topics, and I came away from the volume with a renewed appreci-
ation of the richness of the options for endangered language tool kits. Thus, this book will
be of interest both for researchers and for community members looking to brainstorm
solutions to particular problems. For example, Hugo Patterson III provides a very nice
overview of the issues that need to be considered in designing keyboards for typing
endangered languages, a crucial extension of the discussion of orthographies that
linguists may already be familiar with (see also the contributions to Cahill and Rice
2014). In my experience, one of the major factors in orthography development has been
ease of typing (for example, the fact that digraphs are preferred over complex glyphs or
accents in many practical Australian orthographies).
The variety of contributions leaves the reader with a good impression of the range of
the problems confronting language engineering, particularly for languages with neither
large resources nor a big digital footprint. However, I also felt that I was somehow
missing the big picture. I wanted someone to draw the individual contributions together,
and to give an overview of the challenges and the ways in which researchers and com-
munities are responding; in short, to synthesize the very local discussions into a more
general framework. Perhaps that is impossible, given the myriad of communities.
The introductory chapter (by Nicholas Ostler) could have provided such an overview,
but in fact has a different focus. To be sure, Ostler does address the big picture, inasmuch
as he examines how languages across the world are responding to English. He argues
that the further development of language technologies will increase accessibility to the
smaller 99 per cent of the worlds languages (p. 3). He also points out that while English
is still an important global lingua franca, the factors that have facilitated Englishs
worldwide spread have now peaked, and English is not making inroads as a mother
tongue in the home, even if it is an important language of wider communication; more-
over, speakers of robust languages have no motive to shift their home use to English just
because they may use it for work or leisure (p. 3). While this may be true as far as the
spread of English goes, it does not mean that we need not be worried about the fate of the
worlds linguistic diversity. All over the world, linguists are documenting vast reductions
in the numbers of languages spoken, even if the shift is not to English, but to a regional
or national lingua franca. One may well wonder whether the digital revolution to save
endangered languages is too late, and that for many languages, trends and attitudes
towards smaller languages are already too entrenched. Much work on language
stabilization and reclamation shows us that language shift can be reversed, but that this
is difficult. I worry that technology is too often seen as a magic bullet, a solution to lan-
guage endangerment that is unlikely to succeed, and that technology is advocated at the
expense of programs that emphasize language transmission from speaker to speaker, for
those methods, too, should surely continue to play an important role in language pre-
Part 1 of the book describes language technologies and their creation, while part 2
takes up the interaction of specific languages (Occitan, Jrriais, Frisian, Tundra Yuka-
ghir, and American Indian Sign Language) with technology and the efforts of individuals
in preserving their languages. The chapter on Gaurus by Anthony Scott Warren and
Geraint Jennings chapter on Gaurus interestingly tracks how usage of Gaurus (spoken
on the Channel island of Jersey) has increased online and in traditional media. Cecilia
Ods chapter describes results of linguistic fieldwork that have particular relevance to
the Tundra Yukaghir communities where she has worked; she also briefly describes an
education module for secondary students of endangered languages, which she developed
for several languages (available at Some chapters present

suggestions based on the authors experiences (those by Od and Barbiers), while others
present best practice (e.g., Patterson).
While Endangered Languages and New Technologies focuses specifically on the role
of computer and internet technology in language documentation and preservation, the
contributions to Keeping Languages Alive include technology as one part of a tool kit for
supporting endangered language speakers and the researchers who work with them.
The first part of the latter book is devoted to papers on language documentation
methodologyamong them Peter Austins discussion of metadata practices and lan-
guage documentation projects. Pages 1214 of Austins chapter include a typology of
endangered language project design (for a slightly different view of language documen-
tation typology, organized in part by community type rather than by fieldwork approach,
see Bowern and Warner 2015). Austin points out that, while best practices for work on
endangered languages often call for community involvement, or research and training
with (or by) community members and endangered language speakers, the majority of the
grant applications to major funding bodies are for predominantly lone wolf (Crippen
and Robinson 2013) type projects. This does not surprise me, since language researchers
at universities have much more access to programs such as those of the National Science
Foundation; other grant programs (in the United States, through the Bureau of Indian
Affairs or the Department of Education) are more likely to receive applications from
tribal language programs.
The papers in the first section of Keeping Languages Alive cover archiving and
metadata (in the chapters by Austin and David Nathan and Meili Fang), protocols for
research with communities (in the chapters by Ulrike Zeshan and Hasan Dikyuva, and
John Henderson, with examples from Turkey and Australia), assessing fluency (in the
chapter by Amanda Hamilton, Jawee Perla, and Laura Robinson), and documentary
issues in linguistic purism and variation (in the chapters by Ioanna Sitaridou, and
Michael Riessler and Elena Karvovskaya). The chapters on sociolinguistic documenta-
tion are valuable; I hope that they stimulate further cross-pollination between language
documentation and sociolinguistics, given that the two fields share many of the same
methods, research questions, and concerns. More generally, this section of the book is
valuable for the ways in which it should arouse researchers to think about their own
research practices, as well as for providing suggestions for best practice and references to
further work.
The next four chapters discuss aspects of pedagogy using many different methods
and languages. Like the chapters in Keeping Languages Alive, most of the those in this
volume focus on technology, though not exclusively so; for example, Kaai et al.s chapter
on M.ori describes how a mixture of print and online content was the best solution for
their project, and Alexandra Lavrillier discusses the creation of a nomadic school, with a
combination of direct instruction and remote contact, for speakers of Evenk. Arieh
Sherris and coauthors discuss a wide variety of teaching and assessment methods for the
Snqiiqo Salish immersion school in Arlee, Montana. Their discussion of assessment
methods is particularly welcome, since it shows both how such items can be created to
meet the needs of particular languages and programs (in their own case, for example,
with a focus on oral rather than written language, unlike many standard language
learning assessment tools), and how such tools can be used to develop better language
teaching programs. After all, it is impossible to know how effective a program is if there
is no way to tell how much the students are learning.
Part 3 of Keeping Languages Alive is titled Revitalizationwhich originally puz-
zled me, since it seemed that the same title applied equally well to the rest of the book.
The best way to characterize the distinction is that while part 1 of the book concerns the
documentation of languages and documentary and teaching practices, part 3 discusses
how language speakers are supported in their efforts to see their languages thrive.

While not foregrounded in the chapters in either book, the topic of ethics is none-
theless present. I found these chapters a welcome antidote to the callous and ill-informed
rant of van Driem (2016), who simply found more offensive ways of saying what these
(and many other) authors have been saying for years: that there is more to being ethical
than filling out human subjects review forms, that (luckily) the world is not culturally
homogeneous, and that different communities interact with both insider and outsider
researchers in different ways.
Grinevalds description of Eleanor Rigby (Miss Nora), who was instrumental in
the documentation and revitalization of Rama (in Nicaragua) reminds us that a great
deal of the success of work on endangered languages has depended on a few individuals,
and that key people who are dedicated to their languages are incredibly important for the
work that linguists do. Others have discussed this issue (e.g., Sutton 2009) and it is good
to see this point being made in a general reference work. It is likewise good to see James
Costa and Mdric Gasquet-Cyruss discussion of dissent in language revitalization.
In summary, the two books reviewed here provide a wealth of information for
researchers and communities about language documentation, pedagogy, and revitali-
zation efforts across the world. They manage to be close to comprehensive; the main
missing topic that I wish had been discussed is the training of native speakers to do
linguistic work. New technology makes this easier, both in providing training and in
providing tools for the linguistic work. Pedagogy does not have to be just about learning
the language itself.
Of course, there are no general solutions to language endangerment; while the
general factors that lead to language loss are similar across the world, they play out in
different ways in different communities, and responses are therefore also most likely to
be successful if they are tailored to local conditions. The contributors to the books re-
viewed here provide examples for what is working for their communities: others can
apply the lessons learned to their own situations. Documentary linguistics and the study
of language revitalization are thriving. Heres hoping that this work translates into
greater stability of, and support for, the languages and communities themselves.


Bowern, Claire, and Natasha Warner

2015 Lone Wolves and Collaboration: A Reply to Crippen and Robinson. Lan-
guage Documentation and Conservation 9:5985.
Cahill, Michael, and Keren Rice, eds.
2014 Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages. Dallas: SIL Inter-
Crippen, James and Laura Robinson
2013 In Defense of the Lone Wolf. Language Documentation and Conservation
Sutton, Peter
2009 The Politics of Suffering. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
van Driem, George
2016 Endangered Language Research and the Moral Depravity of Ethics Proto-
cols. Language Documentation and Conservation 10:24352.