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Endangered Languages, Knowledge Systems and Belief Systems


David Hirsh

Many of the world’s 7000 documented language groups are endangered due to falling rates of language and culture transmission from one generation to the next. Some endangered language groups have been the focus of efforts to reverse patterns of linguistic and cultural loss, with variable success. This book presents case studies of endangered language groups from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific (including Bisu, Iban, Iquito, Quechua, Wawa, Yi and sign languages) and of their associated knowledge and belief systems, to highlight the importance of preserving linguistic and cultural diversity. Issues of identity and pride emerge within the book, alongside discussion of language and culture policy.
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4. Language policy


The colonial era represented a devastating period for many of the world’s indigenous languages, due to the dominance of the colonial powers militarily, technologically, economically, and culturally. Well into the 20th century, suppression of minority languages was common practice at the government level, and the aftermath of policies and practices discriminating against minority groups is still evident in some parts of the world.

Language policy is the synthesis of beliefs and ideologies, intervention and modifications, and practice (see Spolsky 2004). The beliefs and ideologies regarding a language relate to the community of speakers, to society, and to the country’s governing bodies. Intervention and modification relate to processes which impact on the language, its status, and the domains where it is used. Practice reflects what occurs, given the opportunities and constraints, in terms of language use. Language policy can promote or can restrict heritage language use. How people feel about the language, interventions enacted, and actual practices all impact on language survival.

The determination of a group of linguists to draft frameworks or declarations on language diversity and recognition of heritage and indigenous languages is important, but does not automatically lead to changes at the state or local level in terms of language policy. Declarations at the international level are non-binding in the sense that their intent cannot be imposed on member states. Thus, considerable responsibility sits with state government bodies to respond fairly and without discrimination to the linguistic diversity within their state borders....

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