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Confronting the Extinction Narrative: Diversity research, media, and folk views on language endangerment

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Title:Confronting the Extinction Narrative: Diversity research, media, and folk views on language endangerment
Authors:Laakso, Johanna
Contributors:Laakso, Johanna (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:The presentation is based on experiences from the EU-FP7 research project ELDIA, in which comparative research on the maintenance of linguistic diversity was conducted with a wide range of multilingual minority communities across Europe. The project included a media-sociological analysis of the representation of minorities and minority-majority relationships, and reactions to the project and its events in local media were also systematically collected.

Across the European meta-diversity (highly diverse types of multilingualism and roles of different languages in the life of the communities at issue), the ELDIA media analyses showed that media when reporting on minorities often neglect questions of endangerment and revitalisation and focus on politically harmless human-interest issues, especially the representations and conservation of traditional (visible) culture in its traditional habitat. This, in turn, may reinforce the image of endangered languages as reified entities, not human actions and choices.

Endangerment and extinction of animal and plant species are issues well known to Western media consumers. Tapping into this interest, media representations of research into minority languages and cultures often portray endangered languages as reified “organisms” inhabiting an endangered ecological niche, focusing not on the actions and choices of the speakers of the language but on the expert role of academic researchers, whose activities are portrayed as a “rescue mission”. This folk view on language endangerment, downplaying the agency of speakers, may also endorse the vulgar-socio-Darwinist idea that some languages are less fit for survival and that language extinction is a natural process and therefore inevitable.

In this presentation, I will analyse the material of media reactions to the ELDIA project from the point of view of the “extinction narrative”. Moreover, I will propose a preliminary list of measures which should be explicitly included into the media and communication strategies of research projects dealing with endangered languages.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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