Current research indicates that 46% of the world’s 7,000 language communities are in danger of experiencing a complete break in language transmission by the end of this century (Wiecha, 2013). Communities are responding to this situation by accelerating their efforts to reclaim, revitalize, and re-learn their languages. Language reclamation, defined as a “larger effort by a community to claim its right to speak a language and to set associated goals in response to community needs and perspectives” (Leonard, 2012) and language revitalization, which has a primary focus on developing new speakers (Hinton, 2001), henceforth collectively referred to as (LR), are fast growing fields, with the involvement of members of Indigenous and minority language communities, theoretical and applied linguists, educators, government agencies, and many others. Although it has long been at the margins of academia, especially within mainstream linguistics, LR is incrementally assuming a more solid position within that discipline, especially among those linguists who are engaged in field linguistics and language documentation and description. Documentation of endangered languages can provide critical linguistic resources to efforts to support endangered language (re)learning in community and institutional contexts. Further, the act of documentation can impact language attitudes and heighten awareness of language endangerment within communities and in the broader society. While some reclamation efforts have benefited from the resources produced by documentary linguistics and other branches of linguistics, for many reclamation efforts existing linguistic resources are not relevant to their needs. Additionally, inappropriate academic interventions and discourses may have negative impacts on attitudes and awareness (Dobrin, Austin, & Nathan, 2009; Hill, 2002). To date there has been very little research focused on exactly how, why, and to what extent documentation can benefit LR efforts. The purposes of this white paper are to explore the impact of language documentation on LR, and to consider the linguistic and extralinguistic benefits of LR, especially as they impact young children. Through this overview of existing knowledge, we aim to lay a foundation for future research, which may illuminate and enhance the outcomes and benefits of language documentation and LR practice.
Suggested citation: Child Language Research and Revitalization Working Group. (2017). Language documentation, revitalization, and reclamation: Supporting young learners and their communities. Waltham, MA: EDC.