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29 October 2014
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Language ecology
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Page 3 of 4
Why should we care?
How do languages die?
Can we change the fate of languages?
What else can we change?

Language Ecology by Philippa Law

Saving languages
What can we do to help?

Many languages die as a result of neglect or persecution, but fortunately, endangered or declining languages are sometimes successfully nursed back to health by determined communities. With hard work, and usually governmental support, it is possible to turn things around.People's language use is closely bound with identity and prestige within a particular social group - which means that language ecology is as much about changing attitudes and perceptions as it is about the language itself. Putting up road signs or launching a TV station in the language can help make people feel it's part of the social furniture. Declaring a language 'official', or giving people the option to use it in 'serious' contexts like the law or politics, can help increase its prestige.In order to keep languages alive, they need native speakers, young native speakers, who will pass the language on to their children. Getting more children to become fluent is a good way to save a language, and this is a major aim of various schemes and strategies to protect endangered languages.Welsh
Welsh has been a real success story. Within living memory, Welsh schoolchildren were forced to wear the Welsh Not as a punishment for speaking the language, and unsurprisingly, use of the language declined.
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play video Welsh fights back
In contrast, the Welsh Language Act (1993) now guarantees that Welsh and English be considered equal in the provision of public services in Wales. Language Schemes ensure that people can do certain things such as applying for a passport or receiving healthcare in the medium of Welsh. Reintroducing Welsh to schools has boosted the number of young speakers, and the language is now thriving.Manx
The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974. But with 1000 children a year currently learning Manx as a second language on the Isle of Man, hopes that the language can be revived are not without foundation.Will Kernow wrote to us to say: "Well done to the Manx for so much positive news on their language. If only Cornish received so much support from the UK government!"Cornish
Will is right that Cornish has less to cheer about. Although the language is taught at adult evening classes and some schools, GCSE Cornish was scrapped in 1996 when only 42 candidates took the exams - in a decade. In June 2005, however, there was good news for revivalists, when the government provided £80,000 of funding to help promote and protect the language.Harry from Glasgow wishes Cornish speakers luck, but thinks it's unlikely to be revived as a native language: "Cornish is spoken as a hobby or a patriotic statement by a handful of people."Those who would like to see Cornish make a dramatic return might find inspiration in the impressive story of Hebrew, which had no native speakers when Eliezer Ben Yehuda decided to bring it back from extinction in the late 19th century but is now spoken by over 5 million people, and is the official language of Israel.Scottish Gaelic
Authorities sought to wipe out Scottish Gaelic for hundreds of years, but although the language declined, it did not die. It's now used in schools and a language board, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, has been set up with the aim of ensuring a 'sustainable future' for Gaelic. The recently enacted Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005) could mark the start of a new era in revitalising the use of Gaelic.Alasdair Bauld from Invergordon wrote to Voices to say: "There is (understandably) much resentment against the level of financial support currently being given to Gaelic, but I feel it is payback time, at long last. I just hope it's not too late."Further reading:
Spoken Here by Mark Abley

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