Small-Language Fates and Prospects

Lessons of Persistence and Change from Endangered Languages: Collected Essays


In Small-language Fates and Prospects Nancy C. Dorian gathers findings from decades of documenting an endangered Scottish Gaelic dialect, presenting detailed evidence of contraction and loss but also recording a positive role for imperfect speakers. Retention of language skills undervalued by linguists but positively viewed by the community has supported the survival of local Gaelic-English bilingualism well beyond early predictions. Nonetheless, potent factors that threaten small-language survival everywhere have also operated here. Negative social attitudes towards the minority population, loss of a traditional occupation, the increasing impact of majority-culture ideologies, are recurrent phenomena in small-language settings. Maintenance or revitalization efforts pose special challenges under these circumstances, as does fieldwork itself when adverse sociohistorical forces have left very few fluent speakers.

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Nancy C. Dorian, Ph.D. (1965) University of Michigan, was Professor of Linguistics at Bryn Mawr College. Her books include Language Death (1981), Investigating Obsolence (1989) and Investigating Variation (2010). She edited the Small Languages and Small Language Communities section of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language for more than two decades.
"This book is essential reading for all students or researchers who deal with dying languages at any linguistic level, bilingualism, code-switching, field work, language policy, and variation and change. Many of the 23 articles in this volume have shaped these various fields and it is very sensible to have them in one location. All of Dorian’s most important articles, save perhaps her 1994 article in Language, appear in this volume, and I assume it was left out due to its size. Marred by only a handful of typos, the book has much to recommend it. The layout of the book is straight-forward and clear and its copious index is appreciated. One editorial decision which is especially welcome is a bibliography after each article rather than a single larger one at the end of the book. This allows for an easier perusal of what were the foundational and contemporary sources for each particular article in the volume." – Jean-François R. Mondon, Minot State University, on Linguistlist

"The editors are to be congratulated for the production of this comprehensive, accessible and valuable volume. Nancy Dorian herself is a scholar of immense importance and this comprehensive collection is a fine summary of her work.” – Wilson McLeod, University of Edinburgh, in: Journal of Celtic Linguistics

Given that this is a collection of previously published articles, it is natural to askwhether there is added value in republishing them together in a volume like this. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Some of the original articles are difficult to find, and even tracking down some of the more accessible ones is time-consuming. More importantly,taken together the chapters form a cohesive whole, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. [...] Dorian’s work is central to all current work in the area of language endangerment.Perhaps what is most striking is how relevant all of the chapters in this volume are tocurrent discussions in the fields of language endangerment, language documentation,fieldwork, and sociolinguistics. What emerges is the voice of a teacher: I read Nancy Dorian and learn from her, again and again. - Lenore A. Grenoble, University of Chicago.

This collection of Dorian’s publications is [...] exemplary in both content and approach, and is an excellent resource for any student or scholar
researching endangered languages.
EMILY McEwan-Fujita, in:;jsessionid=22121E751B1C537B73EEA2E9FA39A482.f04t04> Journal of Sociolinguistics 19:3 (2015) 427-433. DOI: 10.1111/josl.12132.

[...] there are many gems in this compendium, and throughout Dorian provides good comparisons with differing linguistic ideologies around the world, establishing herself as a major contributor to the global study of endangered languages. This book will be an excellent resource for those interested in several topics of her work: East Sutherland Gaelic, Gaelic-language revitalizations, the fieldwork process, andmore generally the sociolinguistics of marginalized language communities. - Tok Thompson, University of Southern California. In: American Anthropologist Vol 118 (2016), issue 2.

part 1
Language Change in an Obsolescent Language

1 Grammatical Change in a Dying Dialect (1973)
2 The Fate of Morphological Complexity in Scottish Gaelic Language Death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic (1978)
3 Making do with Less: Some Surprises along the Language Death Proficiency Continuum (1986)
4 Negative Borrowing in an Indigenous Language Shift to the Dominant National Language (2006)

part 2
Speaker Skills and the Speech Community in a Receding Language Context

5 The Problem of the Semi-Speaker in Language Death (1977)
6 Language Shift in Community and Individual: The Phenomenon of the Laggard Semi-Speaker (1980)
7 Defining the Speech Community to Include its Working Margins (1982)
8 Abrupt Transmission Failure in Obsolescing Languages: How Sudden the ‘Tip’ to the Dominant Language in Communities and Families? (1986)
9 Age and Speaker Skills in Receding Language Communities: How Far do Community Evaluations and Linguists’ Evaluations Agree? (2009)
10 Linguistic Lag as an Ethnic Marker (1980)

part 3
Language Shift and Language Maintenance

11 Language Loss and Maintenance in Language Contact Situations (1982)
12 The Value of Language-Maintenance Efforts which are Unlikely to Succeed (1987)
13 The Ambiguous Arithmetic of Language Maintenance and Revitalization (2011)
14 Purism vs. Compromise in Language Revitalization and Language Revival (1994)
15 Western Language Ideologies and Small-Language Prospects (1998)
16 Bi- and Multilingualism in Minority and Endangered Languages (2004)

part 4
Language Use

17 Stylistic Variation in a Language Restricted to Private-Sphere Use (1994)
18 Telling the Monolinguals from the Bilinguals: Unrealistic Code Choices in Direct Quotations within Scottish Gaelic Narratives (1997)
19 Celebrations: In Praise of the Particular Voices of Languages at Risk (1999)

part 5
Fieldwork: Methods, Problems, Insights

20 Gathering Language Data in Terminal Speech Communities (1986)
21 Surprises in Sutherland: Linguistic Variability amidst Social Uniformity (2001)
22 Documentation and Responsibility (2010)
23 The Private and the Public in Language Documentation and Revitalization (2010)

Author Index
General Index
Those interested in the maintenance and survival of endangered languages, in language contraction and obsolence, in the social settings of minority languages, and in linguistic fieldwork with small languages.
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