Endangered languages: Language death,
documentation and revitalization

Leanne Hinton


1719 Addison Street
Berkeley, CA 94703



Course level

all levels (this is especially relevant to linguists who do or plan to do fieldwork with endangered languages)

Course description

An exploration of the issues of language endangerment and the decline of linguistic diversity in the modern era, the phenomenon of language death and its linguistic and social ramifications; the history of linguistic documentation, its importance to linguistic science and to communities whose languages are endangered or dormant; and an exploration of language revitalization processes undertaken by communities, and the role of linguists and linguistics in language revitalization. Hinton specializes primarily in indigenous languages of the Americas, but endangered languages elsewhere in the world, including Europe, will also be discussed.

Day-to-day program


An introduction to the issues of language endangerment.
Social, political, economic and environmental conditions that are producing the decline of linguistic diversity; case studies of language shift; consequences of language death, to the individual, the community and the world at large. Linguistic human rights.


Linguistic symptoms and cosequences of language decline.
Patterns of language death; incomplete language learning, code switching, mixed languages, functional restriction, simplification, semi-speakers, passive speakers; language attrition; family and community dynamics of language death.


Documenting endangered languages.
Tthe history of documentation of endangered languages; current trends in linguistic documentation; community-based language documentation; archives and archving; intellectual property rights issues. The role of documentation in language revitalization.


Language revitalization.
The worldwide movement of language revitalization. Social, political and economic conditions that bring about a movement toward language revitalization, and some of the ways that language revitalization plays a role in political issues such as tribal recognition, officialization of language in developing countries, etc. Fishman's GIDS scale. Case studies of language revitalization in progress.


Linguistics and language revitalization.
The role of the linguist and other outside experts. Literacy and language revitalization; orthographic design. Methods and issues of second-language learning for language revitalization. Linguistic consequences of learning endangered languages. New words. The future of endangered languages.

Reading materials

Background and preparatory readings

Lecture 1:

  • May, Stephen. Language Rights: Moving the debate forward. Journal of Sociolinguistics 9/3, 2005: 319-347.
  • Endangered languages in Europe! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvI5DWJQTnE&feature=related
  • Seven Questions for David K. Harrison. (Interview for Economist Magazine, Nov. 23, 2010. http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/11/interview
  • Linguistic Society of America resolution on language rights http://www.lsadc.org/info/lsa-res-rights.cfm

    Lecture 2:
  • Dorian, Nancy C.  1981.  Language change in dying ESG:  Fluent speakers’ Gaelic and semi-speakers’ Gaelic. in Dorian Nancy C. 1981.  Language Death:  the life cylce of a Scottish Gaelic dialect.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press.  Chapter 4.  pp. 114-156.  (note:  ESG refers to East Sutherland Gaelic.)

  • Lecture 3:
  • Grounds, Richard. Small Talk. Cultural Survival Quarterly 31:2, pp. 24-29. (take special note of the box on p. 26)
  • First Voices community-based documentation program (Canada) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8hAAkJ1B-M&feature=related
  • A Karuk Creation Story by Vera Davis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=917-51lbhrI

    Lecture 4:
  • Raising Bilingual Tamariki, Part 1 http://www.generationreo.com/raising-bilingual-children.html
  • Raising Bilingual Tamariki, Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89yM14mFf8I
  • Raising Bilingual Tamariki, Part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtrWiaQfswM

  • Lecture 5:
  • Master-Apprentice Program, Part I http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kUhfYAwZes&feature=related
  • Master-Apprentice Program, Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_Rnwqdpi6g&feature=related
  • Where are your Keys? (Techniques for language learning, community building and language revitalization.) http://www.whereareyourkeys.org/
  • Course readings

    Lecture 1:

    Ken Hale, Michael Krauss, Lucille J. Watahomigie, Akira Y. Yamamoto, Colette
    Craig, LaVerne Masayesva Jeanne, Nora C. England.  Endangered languages. Language, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 1-42

    Lecture 2:

    Campell, Lyle and Martha C. Muntzel. The structural consequences of Language death. in Dorian, Nancy C. editor. Investigating obsolesence: studies in language contraction and death. Cambridge University Press (Studies in the social and cultural foundations of language 7.) Chapter 12, pp. 181-196.

    Lecture 3:

    Woodbury, Tony. 2003. Defining documentary linguistics. in Peter K. Austin. ed. Language Documentation and Description, Volume 1. The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project.

    Lecture 4:

    Hinton, Leanne. 2001. Language Revitalization: an overview. in Hinton, Leanne and Ken Hale. 2001. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. Academic Press. Chapter 1, pp. 3-18.

    Lecture 5:

    Holton, Gary. 2009. Relearning Athabascan languages in Alaska: creating sustainable language communities through creolization. in Anne Marie Goodfellow, ed. Speaking of Endangered Languages: Issues in Revitalization. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Chapter 13 (pp. 238-265).