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Evaluating community-based language development activities with the Sustainable Use Model: A Tsakhur case study

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Title: Evaluating community-based language development activities with the Sustainable Use Model: A Tsakhur case study
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: A crucial goal in language development, particularly for community-based planning, is determining which type of development activities and products could contribute most effectively to language revitalization. Lewis and Simons (2011) propose a tool for projecting effective language development known as the Sustainable Use Model (henceforth SUM). In this paper, we use SUM to evaluate language development activities among the Tsakhur of Azerbaijan, who are split between communities with stable orality and those experiencing some disruption in intergenerational language transmission. This paper focuses on the work of a group of concerned individuals in Tsakhur communities where the language is most viable.

SUM evaluates language vitality based on the Extended Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (Lewis and Simons 2010), an adaptation of Fishman’s GIDS (1991), and identifies five types of societal conditions—functions, acquisition, motivation, environment, and differentiation—inherent to each level. According to this model, language development activities should be designed to address specific conditions of a given vitality level in order for the language to progress to the next level.
The communities we examine exhibit conditions typical of sustainable orality. Tsakhur functions as the primary means of oral communication and is acquired by children at home, while written communication is in Azeri and Russian. The community understands the benefits of oral language for cultural identity, but lacks motivation for using written language, even though government policy supports language development.

Current language development efforts focus on literacy and addressing the fear of diminishing oral transmission. In addition to formal literacy development, community members, with the help of an international development organization, are addressing motivations for written and oral use of Tsakhur by focusing on products promoting cultural identity, such as a book of proverbs, a recipe book, and a film about coming of age. They are also beginning to explore digital media literacy products, such as websites and texting. Our evaluation using the Sustainable Use Model affirms that products enhancing cultural identity are appropriate for the community’s level of language vitality, but that, in order to motivate the next childbearing generation to transmit oral language and to use literacy, more language products should be targeting adolescents and young adults. We further propose that SUM will be a useful tool for the Tsakhur and other communities to understand how societal conditions relate to language vitality, predict the effectiveness of specific development activities, and make effective decisions about future activities and products.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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