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Detail of contribution

Auteur: David BRADLEY

Resilience linguistics, language maintenance and language revitalisation

Abstract/Résumé: Resilience thinking is a new paradigm in ecology which recognises that change in a range of external circumstances may lead to catastrophic change in ecological systems, that changing input parameters can be measured and related to outcomes, and that change may be rapid and discrete, leading to new but very different equilibrium situations. This approach has also been applied to human ecology, but so far mainly concerning social and economic change. Resilience linguistics applies these principles to language endangerment, with a view to understanding the dynamics of community language choices and in particular how to stabilise, maintain and revitalise its own language. There have been various attempts to make scales of language endangerment based on lists of factors, starting with Fishman’s GIDS (recently revised into EGIDS by Lewis) and continuing with the scales of endangerment of Wurm as applied by UNESCO, of Krauss as applied in Brenzinger, and so on. The problem with all such scales is that they try to assign universal linear scalar values to parameters which are continuous, incommensurable and which have different relative levels of effect in different communities. In resilience linguistics, we work with communities, train in-group experts and empirically observe the current ecolinguistic situation, including a wide range of general and local factors, at the individual, family, village and community level. When a core group to lead the process within the community is ready, this can be followed by appropriate bottom-up maintenance and revitalisation efforts such as orthography and materials development, documentation of traditional and new types of language and cultural activities, and advocacy for language and other group rights within a larger dominant community. This paper discusses the results of applying these principles in several communities in Thailand and in China, and problems which have arisen in the implementation of this approach. It attempts to generalise about feasible strategies to promote language maintenance in the developing world. Many of these strategies may also be relevant in the developed world.