would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

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socio4016
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would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by socio4016 »

I should probably elaborate on what sense I mean. Sorry if the explanation is complicated but the question is complex. And I acknowledge it is somewhat speculative. Let me explain; as you probably know; Hebrew is the one case of a dead language being revived and now it lives again; but I have read that to many Israelis older forms of Hebrew (as they existed before the language died) quickly came to sound like an archaic literary register.

Let me clarify what I mean by that. an archaic literary register is a form of a language encountered in older writing; in general an archaic literary register; at least to a native speaker of the relevant language; is still passively understandable (especially to educated people); but it does not resemble the way anyone speaks the language now; nor does it resemble the way anyone naturally writes the language (though sometimes one who is specially educated may write in a good imitation of it; if they are trying to; it is not the natural style though); occasionally a modern speaker may have to check a dictionary for the nuance of a word in an archaic literary register; but can often get its gist from context; and a modern speaker does not have to learn an archaic literary register like a foreign language.

Well known fixed phrases may in fact have been productive in an archaic literary register. sometimes archaic literary registers come to sound formal and poetic to speakers of the language in ways those same parts of the language did not when they were current. In English Shakespear provides a good example of an archaic literary register. Dante's Italian is another example of what an archaic literary register of a language is like.

I don't think anyone expected that the revival of Hebrew would render Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew an archaic literary register (but still recognizably the same language to one who speaks the modern form natively); but that has happened. There is nothing in the Israeli experience that suggests that this result of resurrection of a language is unusual (barring reviving a dead language itself being unusual). I think if any dead languages are revived again, it will show the result within a generation of creating an archaic literary register of the language. Just to be clear archaic literary registers are not bad; many living languages have them and some may even view them as adding to the richness of expression contained in a language.

What I am wondering is if saving an endangered language may produce the same effect?

For example let's say a movement among the ethnic group that mostly spoke some language that only a minority of them now do due to persecution succeeds; and many people (perhaps the majority who are not current speakers) make a commitment to learn the language, speak it to the exclusion of all others and pass it alone along to the next generation and this continues for enough generations to revitalize the language; the movement wins; do you think it is likely that the resulting form too will result in the traditional form of the language coming to sound like an archaic literary register?

I am genuinely curious on if the existence of some traditional native speakers would stop the development of the traditional form into archaic literary register or not; or would that slow it down some?

Some say urban Irish is in the initial stages of such a process. I do not think this is a case against saving endangered languages; my opinion is that even if that is so; such of the languages we speak now as survive will be archaic literary standards in 1000 years; so if that is the closest we can get to saving endangered languages; then we should do that.

Mind you what do you think? would saving an endangered language to have many more speakers produce an archaic literary register?
Last edited by socio4016 on 27 Jan 2024 20:58, edited 1 time in total.
Salmoneus
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Salmoneus »

I think that using paragraphs and relatively standard punctuation is a basic level of decency that should be expected from people asking a question, and will often result in more answers.


As for the question: yes, any living language will change over time, and hence older texts in that language will inevitably come to be seen as in some way dated. If there is an extensive and respected written literature in that dated form of the language then it it likely to be seen as a "literary" dialect despite being archaic.
socio4016
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by socio4016 »

I edited it to add capitalization and paragraphs; this is a fascinating question to me.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Porphyrogenitos »

I think your question is based on something of a misapprehension: That the revivers of Hebrew intended to revive Hebrew in its Biblical or Rabbinic form, or that they did not intend for Biblical or Rabbinic Hebrew to be "archaic" relative to the form taken on by revived Hebrew, or at least that they did not foresee this happening. Also, the term "Rabbinic Hebrew" is not very helpful here - the term could potentially refer to pretty much all of post-Biblical Hebrew up until the Haskalah, although I am going to assume you mean Mishnaic Hebrew.

In any case, even after the Mishnaic period (up till about 400 CE), Hebrew continued to be used as a written language, with writers continuing to create original compositions. Consequently, the written form of Hebrew continued to evolve, much as written Latin changed throughout the Middle Ages (although I couldn't tell you how the evolution of written Latin compared to that of Hebrew in terms of grammatical and lexical change and so on). And of course, different regional pronunciations of Hebrew developed during this time period.

Written Hebrew continued to develop during the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) in the 1700s and 1800s, which saw a movement to revive Hebrew as a literary language (followed later by the movement to revive it as a spoken language). Many of its writers idealized Biblical Hebrew and sought to engage in Biblical Hebrew linguistic purism, but this didn't always work out in practice, since they often still had to give new meanings to Biblical Hebrew words or create or import new vocabulary to express the range of meanings they wanted to write about. And many writers consciously borrowed and combined features of Hebrew from different stages of the language.

So by the time the project to revive Hebrew as a spoken language commenced, the form of Hebrew current among Jewish intellectual and nationalist circles was already a distinct form that combined features of Biblical Hebrew, later stages of Hebrew, and modern coinages and usages meant to adapt the language for the modern world. To the revivers of Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew was already an archaic form of Hebrew, as it had been all along, and they would have been under no impression that the language they were starting to speak was a copy of Biblical or Rabbinic Hebrew, even if they took Biblical Hebrew as an idealized model.

But as for the broader implications of your question - Does language revival inevitably result in a new form of the language, thus rendering the traditional form "archaic"? I think this heavily depends on the specific situation of the language being revived, but if we mean revival from a situation where there are very few or zero native speakers left, then yes, I think something like this is likely. Language revival in such a situation is inevitably going to result in profound influence from the surrounding majority language (since virtually all other attempted language revival scenarios other than Hebrew have been in settings where there is one single surrounding dominant language) as well as significant change resulting from speakers adapting the language to the needs of use in everyday, modern life.

Although, another question is, does that make the traditional form of the language "archaic"? That may not be the best way to put it. The traditional form will probably usually be seen as the standard by which the revived form is judged - speakers may not find it old-fashioned, but a model that they aspire to.

There are other factors as well, such as when the language has a fairly extensive written history, like Cornish, meaning that there are multiple stages in the language's history for the revivers to draw on - though in that case, it might be the older stages that are taken as a model for the revivers, rather than the last recorded stages of the language.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

There is the case of Hawaiian - Ni'ihau doesn't talk the like universities do.
Also, I always thought that Hebrew gained more lexemes for expressing abstract terms than concrete ones at time went one.

Maybe I should email someone working on Amerind languages and ask them how the kids are learning it? I spoke to a linguist once whose field of study was that (to my regret, I didn't ask her more about it).
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Conveniently I work in language revitalization for Indigenous languages in North America, that's my full-time job.

On first read the answer to this question seems pretty clear—all languages evolve, and as they do, their older forms seem "archaic" to speakers of the newer ones. So if an endangered language successfully recovers, and continues to be spoken...then yes, of course its older forms will become archaic registers. There's nothing about being once-endangered that would render a language immune to this process.

Perhaps what you're really asking is whether the process of recovery would cause this development to happen faster than it does for languages with many speakers? I suppose that's hard to say, but based only on my own experience, I wouldn't expect so, and in fact might expect the reverse. One trend I've seen is that the young people who are enthusiastic about recovering the language often dig into older documentation about the language and discover features that the language has since lost...and then they actively try to reintroduce them.

For example, one community I'm working with found in old documentation that the language once marked person on conjunctive forms of verbs. But the remaining elder speakers don't do that anymore—the third-person conjunctive form took over and is now used everywhere. But the young people are reintroducing the old conjunctive forms in the way they speak. A great part of why they are working to recover the language is the connection it gives them to their cultural past, so you can see why reviving older forms would appeal to them.
任何事物的发展都是物极必反,否极泰来。
Visions1
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

That's really cool.
Which language(s) did you see this conjunctions thing with?
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Alutiiq, spoken on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Historically:

Naaqillrianga aqumalua.
naaqi-llria-nga aquma-lua
read-PAST-1 sit-CONJ.1
I was sitting and reading

Naaqillria aqumaluni.
naaqi-llria-Ø aquma-luni
read-PAST-3 sit-CONJ.3
He/she was sitting and reading

But, for current speakers:

Naaqillrianga aqumaluni.
naaqi-llria-nga aquma-luni
read-PAST-1 sit-CONJ
I was sitting and reading

Naaqillria aqumaluni.
naaqi-llria-Ø aquma-luni
read-PAST-3 sit-CONJ
He/she was sitting and reading
任何事物的发展都是物极必反,否极泰来。
Visions1
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

I have to remember this next time I try an agglutinative lang.

When there's a lack of historical sources, do learners tend to be more innovative? Conservative? Cut-corners-ative? Exactly-the-way-I-heard-it-ative?
Do you see influence from English/Spanish/French in areas such as grammar? (I'm assuming that words like "coffee" probably just get borrowed straight, although I wouldn't be surprised if Alutiiq didn't do that).

(Also, as some side points, are any of the programs doing well? Do they ever study oral literature the same way classical works in Eurasia are studied? I'm sorry it's off topic, but I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to asking otherwise.)
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Visions1 wrote: 26 Feb 2024 06:48 When there's a lack of historical sources, do learners tend to be more innovative? Conservative? Cut-corners-ative? Exactly-the-way-I-heard-it-ative?
Do you see influence from English/Spanish/French in areas such as grammar? (I'm assuming that words like "coffee" probably just get borrowed straight, although I wouldn't be surprised if Alutiiq didn't do that).
Errrr not sure how to answer this. All of these? Yes? There's lots of people making many decisions in various ways all of the time. Maybe if you did a large survey you could find a statistically significant trend. There's certainly grammatical influence from English; when new learners need to say something, and can't find out from speakers or documentation how to say it, they'll often (unknowingly) calque an English structure to do it.
Visions1 wrote: 26 Feb 2024 06:48 (Also, as some side points, are any of the programs doing well?
Yes! The communities I work with tend to have very very few speakers remaining, so it's very much an uphill battle, but folks are doing it.
Visions1 wrote: 26 Feb 2024 06:48 Do they ever study oral literature the same way classical works in Eurasia are studied?
Well, you necessarily can't study oral literature the same way you study written literature. A lot of folks are learning the language in part to gain greater access to their literature, yes. But it's also the case that a huge proportion of the oral literature has been lost. We burned the libraries.
任何事物的发展都是物极必反,否极泰来。
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

May I ask which languages in general you're working with? Like regions, major subbranches, etc.
It's great news to hear they're coming back.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

A few in Alaska, several in British Columbia, and one in New Mexico :)
任何事物的发展都是物极必反,否极泰来。
Visions1
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

Do they go sailing? Enjoy a bask in the sun? Seems like the latter to me, but, that linguist inside me must hope the former too.
I'm sure a couple you work with want to ski more often, but do they ever hide away from it?
Or maybe it's a mish-mashing of 'em all, and I'm just whacking some words around.

(I'm sorry.)
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Lol. We have more Salishan and Wakashan clients than Athabascan at the minute, and we have worked with Haida.
任何事物的发展都是物极必反,否极泰来。
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Salmoneus »

Trailsend wrote: 25 Feb 2024 07:11 Conveniently I work in language revitalization for Indigenous languages in North America, that's my full-time job.
Thank you for your service!
Perhaps what you're really asking is whether the process of recovery would cause this development to happen faster than it does for languages with many speakers? I suppose that's hard to say, but based only on my own experience, I wouldn't expect so, and in fact might expect the reverse. One trend I've seen is that the young people who are enthusiastic about recovering the language often dig into older documentation about the language and discover features that the language has since lost...and then they actively try to reintroduce them.
I can easily imagine that being true for the cutting edge of bringing languages back from extinction. But I think we have to draw a pretty big distinction between that scenario and the scenario of actual revitalisation.

I'm obviously no expert and you obviously know the literature far better than I do (i.e. you know the literature at all, which I don't), but off the top of my head I'd imagine we could broadly talk about six stages of revitalisation:

1. a tiny number of speakers revive a dead or nearly-dead language, ensuring that resources exist (both in text and in the person of the pioneers) for future learners

2. small communities of speakers of the language form around these nuclei

3. a small minority of people in the broader community begin to speak the language

4. a larger minority in the community develops at least some understanding of the language

5. this larger minority become active users of the language, while the majority gains some understanding of it

6. the majority become active but non-primary users of the language

7. the majority become primary users of the language

...but at different stages, different people are involved, with different motivations.

I'm thinking for instance of Irish, which "started" from stage 2 (the Gaelteachts) and is now at 4, pushing into 5, but a long way from 6.

At stage 2, the dynamic you talk about certainly existed: the old gaeilgeoirí wanted to maintain not only traditional Irish, and Irish literature, but even the details of their own microdialects.

At stage 3, the dynamic was more mixed. Some language enthusiasts I think wanted to bring back even feature that had been lost in the gaelteacht - eg removing English loans - but many others wanted something easier to speak. By and large, the gaelteacht retained moral authority as the source of 'correct' Irish.

At 4, however, the dynamic changed a lot. These new speakers/understanders weren't necessarily learning Irish out of a love of heritage. They were learning as a symbolic gesture, a nationalist token, combined with perceived benefits (Irish-language schools have better results (because it's a de facto way of selecting for higher income parents), with pushes people into Irish-language schools; there are also minor benefits from speaking Irish due to access to books, radio and TV in Irish). These speakers were/are often quite grudging in how they learn Irish (which most pupils apparently despise as a subject) - they'd go along with what they were taught to do, but had no deep commitment to it, and made many mistakes.

Now at stage 5, when some of these kids who grew up speaking Irish in school are going on to want to be active users of Irish in adulthood, there is controversy, because they're continuing to make lots of mistakes and they don't particularly care. Is their language a new, "Urban Irish" that will replace old rural Irish... or is it merely a degraded, mangled Irish, brutalised by English calquing and stripped of any connection to traditional local dialects?

Not only is it Urban Irish that seems more likely to take the revitalisation effort into stage 6, but it seems likely that if stage 6 is ever reached the process of change will only accelerate, because the new speakers who will have to learn to use the language are even less ideologically committed to linguistic purity than the current generation.

And I think this just reflects the fact that there are several different groups of people that have to be involved in full revitalisation:

1. a tiny core of dedicated pioneers, who often have (or pick up) linguistic training, and who are strongly committed, ideologically, to the language. These people may have to scour old records (texts and recordings) for information, go out and conduct extensive interviews with surviving speakers, even conduct some linguistic analysis to actually understand the texts they find. For these people, linguistic purity and historical integrity is going to be extremely important, because they need some strong, non-pragmatic motivation to do all this.

2. a slightly larger community of, as it were, initiates - people who may not be at the cutting edge, but who want to directly receive what the pioneers produce and make use of it. They may not have as much knowled'e - of linguistics, or of the original sources - so they'll make more mistakes. But they're still making a pretty extreme decision in trying to speak the near-dead language at all, so they still need to have a strong ideological commitment. And it's these people where I'd expect to see the dynamic you describe, because these people may be less ideologically committed to "the facts" and "research" (preserving how the last speakers spoke) and more committed to what they would see as the purpose of the endeavour (probably something involving honouring ancestors, maintaining identity and revitalising in-group culture), which may mean further "purifying" what they are given.

3. a much larger but still small, broader community (often not all actually living with one another) of, let's say, 'enthusiasts'. People who take up the language as something of a hobby, but who wouldn't have made the sacrifices to get in at an earlier stage. They're less likely to see the language as a sacred task, and more as something fun and enjoyable and emotionally rewarding - motivations that aren't really aligned with linguistic conservativism per se. They are, however, likely to feel that some of the rewards of the language are tied to the approval of (or at least toleration by) people in group 2, keeping them somewhat in check.

4. a far larger community of, as it were, those inclined toward the language and its speakers. This group has to first be persuaded to support the enthusiasts, and then to be persuaded to join them. This is a big ask, because this group aren't really highly motivated by linguistic issues per se. They are open to making some token effort for a good cause, but don't really care about purity and history and whatnot. And also, just logistically, most of the people in this group are now very remote from groups 1 and 2, so find it hard to learn directly from them even if they wanted to - they are mostly copying group 3, the enthusiasts, but the enthusiasts make mistakes and usually lack a deeper understanding, and are less able to spot the mistakes that group 4 are making.

5. the majority of the culture

It's that 4th group that I think is where you're going to see potentially big "simplifications" and calquing from L1, both because they don't care enough not to and because they don't know enough not to.

----------------

Irish education actually gives a useful example of how different groups have different motivations. Traditionally, teaching Irish was driven by pioneer/initiate concerns for heritage, culture and identity, and therefore it was focused on using Irish-teaching to teach Irishness. In other words, Irish classes were obsessed with forcing children to read and understand literature about the Famine and Catholicism and the historical suffering of the nation. In particular, for most of the 20th century the central text in Irish education was the "autobiography" of Peig Sayers, detailing her childhood in horrendous poverty, the loss of her friends to emigration, her being sold into marriage with a fisherman on a tiny island in the Atlantic, and the horrific tragic deaths of most of her 11 children. [apparently Sayers' original narration probably also had some amusing moments, and she also dictated hundreds of folktales, but her autobiography was written by the collectors (Sayers was illiterate) to be more grim and miserable, to support the preferred history of Ireland at the time]

This is material that would have been fascinating and incredibly valuable to people in group 1 and group 2. But teaching it to children potentially in group 4 made them detest the language and want to never have anything more to do with it ever again, and for decades the revitalisation effort actually went backwards!


----------


Just a personal anecdote here as well: I remember talking to a distant "cousin" of mine once (cousin in the Irish sense, I never was sure exactly who she was - possibly my second cousin? But knowing my family's confident talk of "cousins" she may well have been my step-sixth cousin eleven times removed by marriage or something). She was in what I've called above either the periphery of group 3 or the inner rim of group 4: she learned Irish at school (of course), but not only liked it but actually used it regularly with her friends (she was late teens or early 20s at the time). But wasn't an ideologue, didn't spend all her summers in the gaelteacht, didn't even go to an Irish-language school, etc. She said that she and her friends really liked using Irish, partly because they liked feeling like Irish-speakers, partly she liked being able to read Irish books, but mostly because it was a cool thing that they understood and most people didn't. [her brother, by contrast, hated Irish and never used it unless compelled in school].

That's the sort of motivation that is a common way to get children to stick with a non-practical language skill. But it doesn't actually involve any commitment to historical accuracy! You and your friends speaking a slightly "wrong" version of a language is actually even more exclusive than speaking the "right" version that everyone else speaks!

------------

Anyway, I'm just talking off the top of my head, so please do correct me with your actual, you know, knowledge and experience of the subject!

But my point is just that I'm not sure we can take the behaviour of high-motivation early adopters of revitalisation as reflecting the likely behaviour of later, low-motivation adopters.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Visions1 »

Personally, I have doubts about Irish as an example. From how I've heard it, the language isn't really taught for practical use - just cultural use. It's a small wonder it's struggling. (I hope it's not any more.)
I imagine Modern Hebrew illustrates your point though, so whatever it is, you make sense.

Also, with regards to Amerind languages, the speaker base is much smaller. Getting 6,000 Nisga'a to be in love with their language is probably easier than 1,000,000 Irishmen. Plus, differing historical circumstances can determine the... love, we'll say, put into the efforts. Plus, who knows, maybe if folks try hard enough, they can keep the passion going through generations. Social engineering isn't an impossibility.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Salmoneus wrote: 26 Feb 2024 17:01 Anyway, I'm just talking off the top of my head, so please do correct me with your actual, you know, knowledge and experience of the subject!

But my point is just that I'm not sure we can take the behaviour of high-motivation early adopters of revitalisation as reflecting the likely behaviour of later, low-motivation adopters.
This definitely sounds plausible! It just feels very far away from my perspective. None of the communities I've worked with have made it to your stage 5 yet.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Glenn »

I had a reply to this thread composed earlier, including my own largely scanty and/or anecdotal impressions on the topic, but the informative responses by Trailsend and Salmoneus have rendered it largely irrelevant (which I don't mind at all).

Trailsend: Your work in language revitalization sounds fascinating! I wouldn't mind hearing more about it, or learning where there might be resources telling more about that work and how it is carried out.
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Trailsend »

Glenn wrote: 04 Mar 2024 12:53 Trailsend: Your work in language revitalization sounds fascinating! I wouldn't mind hearing more about it, or learning where there might be resources telling more about that work and how it is carried out.
It's carried out in many different ways, as you probably expect. This book talks about a lot of things:

https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge ... 1032401973

My org contributed Chapter 13 ^_^
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Re: would rescuing an endangered language have a similar effect to israeli hebrew?

Post by Glenn »

Trailsend wrote: 11 Mar 2024 16:47It's carried out in many different ways, as you probably expect. This book talks about a lot of things:

https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge ... 1032401973
Thank you for the resource! It’s a bit pricey for me to purchase a copy at the moment, but I will keep it in mind.
My org contributed Chapter 13 ^_^
Neat! [B)]
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