Sustaining Language Use: Perspectives on Community-Based Language Development

Using the Sustainable Use Model, readers of this new publication will learn how to work towards the ongoing maintenance of their language at a sustainable level.

(December 2016) How does a language community sustain its language in the face of ever-increasing forces of language shift? In today's world, thousands of small language groups are facing pressure to abandon their traditional language in favor of a more dominant language from elsewhere. The basic decision that members of these communities must make is how they will sustain their identity.

This newly-published volume, Sustaining Language Use: Perspectives on Community-Based Language Development, results from ten years of reflection and discussion by Dr. M. Paul Lewis and Dr. Gary Simons* along with many experienced colleagues regarding SIL's learning after 80 years of fieldwork in local communities to develop less-commonly known languages. The aim of this book is not so much to introduce a new theory or set of theories, but rather to provide a model that gives practical explanatory framework for understanding the dynamics of language and culture maintenance.

This publication is written for those who are “on the ground” working with a community to address the issues that arise from language and culture contact. Many in that audience will themselves be members of those communities. This book is designed to be both a textbook and a handbook.

Using the Sustainable Use Model (SUM) detailed in this publication, readers will learn how to work towards the ongoing maintenance of their language at a sustainable level. This could include not only the level of active literacy, but also levels of orality and identity. This volume will introduce a pair of tools that are designed to help language activists and language communities come to an understanding of the vitality of their local language and to make realistic plans about sustaining language use. The link between language vitality and well-being is foundational for the SUM.

The SUM begins, not with language, but with the notion that local communities must concern themselves with the preservation and transmission of knowledge that is, for them, crucial to their way of life (like their history, traditions, folklore, and other arts) or crucial in other ways to their well-being (be it physical, spiritual, social, or economic).

Recognizing that for most speech communities their well-being involves using a repertoire of languages, the SUM addresses language vitality from an ecological perspective.

It is the hope of the authors that in presenting this material, other practitioners will reflect on their own experiences and be able to add to the model in ways that will make it even more useful and productive as a tool for community-based language development.


Overall organization of the book

Evaluation of ethnolinguistic vitality

*About the authors:

M. Paul Lewis (Ph.D., sociolinguistics, Georgetown University) did fieldwork in Guatemala, was general editor of the Ethnologue, and is a Sociolinguistics Consultant with SIL. His research interests are language endangerment, language policy and planning, and language documentation. He has consulted and trained on six continents.

Gary F. Simons (Ph.D., linguistics, Cornell University) is Chief Research Officer for SIL and Executive Editor of the Ethnologue. He was involved in language development in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, co-founder of the Open Language Archives Community (OLAC), and co-developer of the ISO 639-3 identifiers for the world’s languages.



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