Language endangerment and language revitalization.

Language endangerment and language revitalization. By Tasaku Tsunoda. (Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs 148.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2005. Pp. xxvi, 307. ISBN 3110176629. $179.20 (Hb).

Reviewed by Picus S. Ding, Macao Polytechnic Institute

This book is based on Tsunoda’s lecture notes for a university course intended for postgraduate and advanced undergraduate students of linguistics. Having worked on aboriginal languages of Australia since 1971, T has presented a high-quality introductory textbook to language endangerment and revitalization with the voice and perspective of an active participant in this field.

The book is composed of fourteen chapters, appended with three indices. Ch. 1 is a brief review of the history of language loss and terminology (1–8). Ch. 2 deals with how languages may be and have been classified according to their degree of endangerment (9–15). Ch. 3 surveys the current state of language endangerment worldwide (16–28). Ch. 4 discusses approaches to the issue of language endangerment (29–35). Ch. 5 addresses problems in defining language death and identifies various types of language death (36–48). Ch. 6 focuses on the cause of language endangerment with reference to external setting such as ecology of language (49–64). Ch. 7 concerns speech behavior, looking at sociolinguistic aspects of language endangerment such as language shift (65–75). Ch. 8 turns to structural changes in language endangerment: how the critical condition of a language may impinge on its linguistic system (76–116). Ch. 9 centers on speakers and the speaking community of endangered languages (117–33). Ch. 10 highlights the value of linguistic heritage, offering views from the speaking community, language activists, and linguists, and pointing out a lack of concern for language endangerment by the general public and governments (134–67). Ch. 11 is devoted to language revitalization, covering issues from theory to practice (168–215). Ch. 12 revolves around the role and ethics of professional linguists (216–28). Ch. 13 continues with method of language documentation and training of fieldworkers (229–52). Finally, concluding remarks are made in Ch. 14 (253–54).

Since a large part of the book comes from T’s lifelong engagement in working on endangered languages of Australia, observations and insights from his first-hand experience greatly enhance the readability of the book. Given its intention as a textbook, I suggest that some questions for discussion be included in some chapters. A definition of language death, even provisional, would also be beneficial to students. Just as declaring the death of a human being is controversial (with ‘brain death’ vs. ‘clinical death’), perhaps language death could also be approached at different levels.

There is a fault concerning Xixia (Tangut). While its disappearance is triggered by glottocide, it does not represent an instance of sudden language death (as claimed on p. 45). According to archeological findings, Xixia characters were in use until as late as 1502 AD after the Xixia kingdom was destroyed in 1227 (cf. LIU Pujiang, ‘On descendants of the Khitan, Tangut and Jurchen’, Mainland Journal 96.6.19–34, 1998).