Towards a theory of language activism

Florey, Margaret
Penfield, Susan
Tucker, Benjamin
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This paper considers the notion of language activism within the context of the fields of language documentation and revitalization. Language activism is intrinsically linked to the rise of what has been termed the "new linguistics" (Author1 2008), a more participatory and politicized linguistics which is characterized by profound changes to ethics, methods and practice, and within which the language rights movement and international conventions and declarations have played a key role in highlighting and setting out the rights of Indigenous peoples to control intellectual property and strategies and actions vis-à-vis minority languages. Although the terms "language activist" and "language activism" recur quite widely within the literature on language shift and endangerment, language revitalization, language rights and so forth, there is little agreement about definition and large variation in use of these terms. Hence, little progress has been made to date towards developing a theory of language activism and understanding its place in relation to the field of endangered language study. Here, we explore definitions of activism, consider who is a language activist, examine what activists do in diverse settings, and focus on the skills different types of language activists may need and how those skills can be acquired. We assert that the best efforts in documentation and revitalization are not going to be effective without increased attention towards activism at the local, national and international levels. We build on the earlier formulations of Author2, Author3 et al (2007), Author2, Author3 et al (2008), and Author1(2008) to argue the need to move towards a more holistic conception of documentation and revitalization work, one which is fundamentally based on activism and which fosters participatory practice.
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