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Purism vs. compromise in language revitalization and language revival

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2009

Nancy C. Dorian
Departments of German and Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010


Conservative attitudes toward loanwords and toward change in grammar often hamper efforts to revitalize endangered languages (Tiwi, Australia); and incompatible conservatisms can separate educated revitalizers, interested in historicity, from remaining speakers interested in locally authentic idiomaticity (Irish). Native-speaker conservatism is likely to constitute a barrier to coinage (Gaelic, Scotland), and unrealistically severe older-speaker purism can discourage younger speakers where education in a minority language is unavailable (Nahuatl, Mexico). Even in the case of a once entirely extinct language, rival authenticities can prove a severe problem (the Cornish revival movement in Britain). Evidence from obsolescent Arvanitika (Greece), from Pennsylvania German (US), and from Irish in Northern Ireland (the successful Shaw's Road community in Belfast) suggests that structural compromise may enhance survival chances; and the case of English in the post-Norman period indicates that restructuring by intense language contact can leave a language both viable and versatile, with full potential for future expansion. (Revival, purism, attitudes, norms, endangered languages, minority languages, contact)

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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