Language Revitalization

Can a dead or dying language by revived?

There are currently 7, 102 living languages (Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig) in the world. At one time there were upwards of 10,000 living languages (Hieber, D.). According to some estimates (Hieber) between 50 and 60 percent of the current languages will be extinct by 2100. However, languages can be revived.

Fishman’s eight stages (Reyhner):

Current Status Suggested Interventions to Strengthen Language
of Language
Stage 8: Only a Implement Hinton’s (1994) “Language Apprentice” Model
few elders speak where fluent elders are teamed one-on-one with young adults
the language. who want to learn the language. Dispersed, isolated elders
can be connected by phone to teach others the language (Taff, 1997).
Stage 7: Only adults Establish “Language Nests” after the Maori and Hawaiian,
beyond child bearing models where fluent older adults provide pre-school child-
age speak the language. care where children are immersed in their indigenous
language (Anonby, this volume; Fishman, 1991).
Stage 6: Some inter- Develop places in community where language is encouraged,
generational use of protected, and used exclusively. Encourage more young
language. parents to speak the indigenous language in home with and
around their young children.
Stage 5: Language is Offer literacy in minority language. Promote voluntary
still very much alive programs in the schools and other community institutions to
and used in community. improve the prestige and use of the language. Use language in
local government functions, especially social services. Give
recognition to special local efforts through awards, etc.
Stage 4: Language is Improve instructional methods utilizing TPR (Asher, 1996),
required in elementary TPR-Storytelling (Cantoni, this volume) and other
schools. immersion teaching techniques. Teach reading and writing
and higher level language skills (Heredia & Francis, 1997).
Develop two-way bilingual programs where appropriate
where non-speaking elementary students learn the
indigenous language and speakers learn a national or inter-
national language. Need to develop indigenous language text-
books to teach literacy and academic subject matter content.
Stage 3: Language is Promote language by making it the language of work used
used in places of throughout the community (Palmer, 1997). Develop
business and by vocabulary so that workers in an office could do their day-
employees in less to-day work using their indigenous language (Anonby,
specialized work areas. this volume)
Stage 2: Language is Promote use of written form of language for government and
used by local govern- business dealings/records. Promote indigenous language
ment and in the mass newsletters, newspapers, radio stations, and television
media in the stations.
minority community.
Stage 1: Some language Teach tribal college subject matter classes in the language.
use by higher levels of Develop an indigenous language oral and written literature
government and in through dramatic presentations and publications. Give tribal/
higher education. national awards for indigenous language publications and
other notable efforts to promote indigenous languages.

There are ways to revive a dead language but are there success stories? Yes.

Hebrew is the best example, it had no native speakers until it was revived (Kaufman). Cornish, Irish, and Welsh have also been somewhat revived.


Hieber, D. (n.d.) The Political Incorrect Guide to Language Death 

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

. Retrieved

Kaufman, J. (2005). The Revival of the Hebrew Language. Retrieved from

Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2015. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Eighteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

Reyhner, J. (2003). Some Basics of Indigenous Language Revitalization. Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “Language Revitalization

  1. Interesting. I haven’t seen Fishman’s eight stages before.
    I agree with the qualifying ‘somewhat’ revived status of Irish, Welsh and Cornish, but would you really put Cornish in the same category as Irish and Welsh? Cornish seems to be beyond stage 8, even, but Welsh and Irish are used at state level in Ireland and at the devolved Welsh Senate level in Wales – stage 1! I don’t know about Ireland, but although Welsh is taught either through immersion and Welsh-medium schools and as a second language in the majority English-medium schools, you hardly hear it used in everyday contexts outside of a few geographic heartland areas.

Comments are closed.