The Cambridge handbook of endangered languages

The Cambridge handbook of endangered languages. Ed. by Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank. (Cambridge handbooks in language and linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 567. ISBN 9780521882156. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Natalie Operstein, California State University Fullerton

The issue of language endangerment has received increasing attention in recent years. The book under review reflects this trend by offering a thorough overview of the topic. It consists of twenty-two chapters and an introduction by the editors.

Part 1, ‘Endangered languages’, opens with a chapter by Lenore A. Grenoble, which surveys the causes of language shift and mechanisms for assessing the level of endangerment. Colette Grinevald and Michel Bert discuss differences among endangered-language communities and propose a dynamic model for classifying types of endangered-language speakers. In his chapter, David Bradley outlines the current state of endangerment among the world’s languages. Carmel O’Shannessy discusses how contact-induced change is evaluated by minority-language communities, and Naomi Palosaari and Lyle Campbell discuss endangered-language contributions to linguistic theory and typology, and the structural consequences of obsolescence for these languages’ grammars. Closing this section, Lev Michael explores some of the cultural consequences of language shift, and Bernard Spolsky surveys the social dimensions of language management.

Part 2, ‘Language documentation’, opens with a chapter by Anthony C. Woodbury, which evaluates the scholarly and community contexts of endangered-language documentation and calls for a broadly inclusive coordination of academic and popular agendas in the design of documentation projects. In their chapter, Lise M. Dobrin and Josh Berson highlight the ethical dimensions of work with endangered languages. Jeff Good surveys the collection, storage, and manipulation of primary data in language documentation. Chapters by Lisa Conathan andby David Nathan outline the principles and practices for the organization, management, and archiving of durable documentary corpus materials.

Part 3, ‘Responses’, opens with Julia Sallabank’s chapter, which considers language management issues in relation to the maintenance and revitalization of endangered languages. Leanne Hinton discusses the many forms language revitalization can take, and the role of linguistics in these initiatives. Friederike Lüpke looks at the role of orthography in language documentation and the various practical, linguistic, cultural, and identity-related factors that influence the development of orthographies for unwritten languages. Ulrike Mosel discusses problems typical of lexicographic work in language-documentation projects, such as the challenge of producing work which would satisfy the minority-speech community without compromising the scholarly standards of the field. In their chapter, Serafin M. Coronel-Molina and Teresa L. McCarty present case studies of curriculum design and evaluation informed by local language-planning goals, and Gary Holton discusses the potential of information technology to support language maintenance efforts.

Part 4, ‘Challenges’, opens with a chapter by Wayne Harbert that discusses the economic status of endangered-language communities and its implications for the viability of their languages. Anthony Jukes outlines the skills needed for work in language documentation and conservation, and identifies the main types of target audiences in language-documentation training courses. In her chapter, Máiréad Moriarty evaluates the potential benefits of the new role of endangered languages in the media, internet, and pop culture. Finally, Claire Bowern discusses the general principles and key stages of a language-documentation project, from finding sources of funding to the main project phases and possible outcomes.

Theoretically informed and replete with advice from practitioners in the field, this handbook will be of interest to a wide range of scholars, students, and general readers interested in language endangerment and related issues.