Language Revival


We integrate our personal experience with findings from psychology, linguistics, and education as well as traditional knowledge and wisdom. As our experience in different communities evolves, we are identifying both shared and unique symptoms and causes of language loss. Working with film and video has allowed us to generate participation and feedback and to analyze and integrate insights from many sources.

Two key ideas guide our work.

1. Making Language and Culture Visible
When people no longer feel comfortable speaking in public, they only speak the language in the home or among elders. This leads to family usages that make it increasingly hard for family members and outsiders to understand each other, which exacerbates language decline and further reduces public speaking.

Curtailing this cycle calls for innovative approaches to making language and culture become public and visible again. This often involves revisiting community history and revaluing the circumstances of previous generations. This can create a new atmosphere for the heritage language which motivates reluctant speakers to rejoin the linguistic community, helps others overcome negative attitudes or shame about language use in public, and strengthens community identity.

Documentary film/video made and shown within the cultural community has proven effective in helping people reconnect to their feelings about cultural identity, motivating them to use their language in public again.

2. Waking Up the Missing Generation
Often language decline accelerates when the “next” generation (now between the ages of 30 and 50) is unable to speak their parents’ language. This often occurs because of discrimination against language use or the belief that English speaking alone would lead to better chances for economic success.

Often this missing generation spoke the heritage language as children or learned enough to understand but not speak. These people often say they have “lost their language.” But language learned in childhood cannot be lost and in fact is “hard-wired" in the brain. This language base can be awakened in the individual, and many people can become language speakers again in a relatively short time.

Usually this is a group process, although in some cases it can happen to individuals alone. “Waking Up” helps the individual reconnect with older generations through language and memory, and it strengthens family and community identity.
This process of “Language Reacquisition” can be a powerful, joyful and meaningful experience that releases energy that was bottled up in suppressing heritage identity. This rediscovered energy is then available for new initiatives that strengthen language use and lead to other community activity.