Nancy H Hornberger

NANCY H HORNBERGER

Nancy H. Hornberger, University of Pennsylvania.

Language revitalization refers to situations where languages might still be in use in a community but there are indicators that the language is dying out. What do we mean when we say a language is dying out? We mean that the younger generation isn’t learning, the older speakers are dying, um there isn’t a process of uh passing the language on to the—the new generations coming up so very often a community will become aware that that’s happening and uh want to undertake efforts to—to make sure that that doesn’t happen. And the name for it that has been given to that activity, that process of trying to bring a language back that looks like it’s going to disappear—only one of the names that’s been given to that is language revitalization, sometimes also called uh language revival. Reversing language shift is the term that Joshua Fishman uses. And um we find it happening all over the world.

In the United States the groups that are most um urgently involved in language revitalization efforts are the native American language groups and uh even the largest group, the Navajo speakers um who have several thousand speakers uh are involved in language revitalization efforts because they see—again, they see the younger generation not necessarily learning the language through school, through community setting. But there are many other languages in the US, uh smaller native American languages that—I—I can’t remember the exact statistics, but in California certainly out of hundreds of languages that use to be there, there’s a handful that are spoken today by living communities. And so there’s a lot of language revitalization efforts in California. Leanne Heaton writes about those and is involved in them. But there also um can be language revitalization efforts in US surrounding immigration—immigrant languages. Um, probably—well, the historic case in the US is the case of Yiddish um which was the language that was spoken by Jewish populations in various parts of the world when—during that Diaspora—or is the language that—that was spoken and um came with immigrants to New York City and uh in this century there have been efforts to revitalize that language as well.

Yes. Some—some people believe that, well it’s just a natural evolution process, why should we worry when languages die out. Um, you know other languages are perhaps coming to replace them or um, new languages are perhaps being uh formed out of old languages. And all of that is true. Languages are constantly changing and it’s certainly not the case that we want to try to freeze the language where it is. It wouldn’t be possible even if we wanted to um or even if we could I should say. Um, but the thrust for language revitalization comes out of um issues of identity and community very often. Um, the speakers of the language feel that they are losing when they lose the capacity to (clears throat) express themselves in their language. Very often poetry or songs or um those expressions of people’s culture and their way of seeing the world, ways of knowing, ways of speaking, ways of being are embedded in their language and so when they see that disappearing it’s—it’s a kind of uh community based or um identity based desire to not lose that. Now for the rest of us who maybe aren’t speakers of those languages, I think the value for us lies in, again, not losing those ways of seeing and ways of knowing that those languages represent. Um, there was something more I was going to say but I forgot what it was.

In South America there are very diverse situations for indigenous languages and I’ve seen a little bit at both ends of that. What I mean is there is both the case of Ketchua, which is a major indigenous language spoken all along the west—uh, western side of South America all along the Andes uh, so primarily in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, but also Columbia to the North, Chile and Argentina to the south. Anywhere where you have the Andean Mountains you have Ketchua speakers and—and according to different counts its somewhere around 10 million speakers of that language. And then at the other extreme, you have many, many Amazonian languages, some of which have, you know, 100 speakers, 50 speakers, 300 speakers. Um, but there are many, many of those languages and so we have both extremes there. And I’ve learned from both cases. Um, my own work has focused primarily on the case of Ketchua and what—one of the um many insights that I’ve gained from that work is that even a language with—with so many millions of speakers can be in danger of disappearing um because of the social context that it’s—that it’s set in. This is a language that pre-dates uh the Spanish—the arrival of the Spanish. It was the so-called language of the Incas. It was the language that the Inca Empire used to um unify their empires much as Latin was used by the Romans. Um, even to the extent that Ketchua speakers were moved, physically moved um to outlining areas of the empire to try and spread the language and um make it the lingual Franca of the empire. And that’s why it’s spoken so wildly today because of that effective language spread policy by the Incas. But um beginning in the 1500’s with the arrival of the Spanish, it became the language of—of lower prestige, lower status and it has survived through, you know, four or five hundred years of that. But nevertheless it—because of its um position as—in lower status, it uh—it’s under threat, I mean to put it simply. Um, you know, Ketchua speakers who want to move up socially need to or feel they need to learn Spanish in the school system. The school system was traditionally um all in Spanish although recently there have been bilingual education efforts and that’s what I’ve um studied in my work. So—so even a language as large as that can be under threat. Then on the—on the other hand um and—and the Amazonian experiences, I had the opportunity to be in the Amazon a couple of years ago in Brazil where there’s a bilingual education teacher um—teacher professional development course that meets every summer for several weeks and the teachers come there from their different uh communities in the Amazon. Some of them ride, you know, it takes three or four days of walking or um traveling by river uh to get there and then they’ll stay for several—a couple of months. And these are teachers in training. They’ll go back to their communities and teach in their schools and they’re learning both the Portuguese curriculum for Brazil but they’re also developing materials in their own languages and becoming involved in language revitalization efforts in their own languages. And what I learned from them is the tremendous um energy and motivation and tenacity with which a group with maybe, you know, 200 speakers um the speakers—some of the speakers anyway feel that they—they must uh do what they can to get the language down in writing, to pass it on to the younger generations. So that’s been a lesson in uh, for me in uh dedication and uh the spirit of—what would you call it—the spirit of um—of uh commitment to one’s linguistic and cultural backgrounds. There are many more things I could tell you that I’ve learned from the South American context, but maybe you can ask me in the…

Well, of course, one of the most interesting contrasts um which I think is worth mentioning for US audiences is that in—in most of Latin America, Spanish is the language with prestige which is such a contrast for US uh audiences who are so use to um seeing Spanish, you know, um under valued and looked down on and Spanish speakers are certainly um—um discriminated against and—so in—that’s one—one of the more interesting contrasts. But um in terms of similarities the—the—perhaps the political um controversies that come up around bilingual education would be something that is similar in both places. Um, also on the positive side, the fact that bilingual education in South America is so strongly committed to intercultural communication, which I think many of the bilingual educators in the US are also committed to. In South America—in many parts of South America, they actually call—rather than call it bilingual education, they call it bilingual intercultural education (speaks Spanish) um to bring out that emphasis on the fact that it’s about um—that any kind of bilingual education should be about communication across cultures and not just a one-way kind of thing where one group is learning the others language, but both—both or many groups are learning each other’s language and um, uh with the goal being to—to benefit from each other’s understandings and ways of knowing, as I mentioned before.

I—my observation is that language policy plays a very important role in opening up a space where the kinds of things that I’ve been describing can happen. It’s—it’s certainly not the case that a policy can accomplish, you know, everything. We—we know too much about policies that never get implemented or policies that get subverted. Um, but both in the Andean case in Bolivia with its recent national education reform that um seeks to implement bilingual culture education throughout Bolivia and another case that I’m familiar with in South Africa with the multilingual language policy, both of those are cases that show us that having a policy on the books that um—that, you know, creates a discourse, a way of talking about um multilingualism as a resource and um language teaching as something that educational systems should be about, uh those create, as I said, a space where those kinds of things can start to happen. Then what remains after that, of course, is the implementation of the um—the resources that have to be given to making sure that the policy becomes more than just a policy.

Yes, language policy in and of itself um doesn’t have an orientation or what I mean by that is language policy can have various orientations toward multilingualism and certainly the English-only policy is the—the other extreme from what I’ve described with Bolivians out in Africa. So English-only is a policy that represents a view that multilingualism isn’t necessary a resource and—and it represents a concern that a nation should have um, you know, one language, one common language for communication. Now, I want to emphasize that I—I do think that there’s a place for a common language in a nation. Um, but I think that the kinds of policies that recognize multilingualism as a resource are saying, “Yes, we can have one common language but also we can have other languages that are contributing to our national resources.” So English-only for me would be an example of a policy that, you know, I would rather not see um and furthermore I think it does damage um because it—as many have said, you know, getting back to the point about it’s one thing to have policy on the books and another thing to have the means to implement it. Um, one of the damaging things about the English-only policy is it seems to set a goal without providing the means to implement it. So that’s just at one—at one level. But even more, you know, fundamentally then that, the goal that it sets up is not one that I—that I think is one that um is in the best interests of the nation.

Linguistic human rights takes its cue from the concept of human rights, which um at least—well, in a formal way in the world dates back to immediately after but to the formation of the United Nations and the declaration of human rights to which the united Nations subscribes. And (clears throat) the thrust for linguistic human rights comes out of that same uh frame of reference and was actually originally proposed by a Brazilian educator uh with whom I’m still in contact, uh Francisco Gomez Domatos, and um the idea behind linguistic human rights is that an individual and a community have rights to use the language that they—of their choice. Uh, one of the early scholars in the US to write about language rights was Renaldo Macias, a professor in California and he—he made a useful um characterization that I continue to use in my teaching. Um, he said that two basic kinds of language rights could be talked about. One would be the freedom—the right to freedom from discrimination for using one’s language and the other would be the right to use one’s language in the activities of daily communal life. And as I recall, he was talking about those in the context of the US and—and saying that these were rights that are recognized in the US. And I believe that that’s the case, that we continue to struggle to make sure that those continue to be recognize. Heitz Closs was another one um who talked about language rights in the US and distinguished between promotion oriented and toleration oriented rights and—and made the point that the US has tended to be pretty good on toleration or tolerance oriented rights. That is, that we tolerate that people use their languages in their communities. But as far as promotion oriented rights where we would really have governments or um state or national governments, you know, helping to promote the rights for people to use their languages, maybe the US has been more equivocal on those. But um the whole concept of, you know, freedom to use your language, freedom to not be discriminated for use of your language I think are the fundamental ideas of linguistic human rights. So when we talk about um on the world scene, you know, indigenous language groups um seeking to—to uh preserve their languages or to revitalize their languages, it’s about their rights to, you know, use the language that they—that they choose to use if it’s. If it’s the language that has been the language for generations uh, then it seems from a human rights perspective that they ought to be able to go on using that language.

There are—in terms of um environments that we create for learners in our classrooms, and especially for learners who come to our classrooms with languages other than English, there are—there is no one, you know, best possible classroom. So much depends on who the learners are, what kind of mix you have in your classroom, uh what kind of support there is for the languages outside of the classrooms. And it may well be that in some cases um it—how can I say this—in some class—there are some programs, let’s put it this way, where um it might be that one teacher would try to create and English only environment in the classroom because the children would be getting support for their other languages in other classrooms or in other context of the school or the community. So it’s not necessarily a uh, an absolute negative to do that. The problem comes when a child is in a—in an environment, a school environment—a classroom and school environment where English is always and only the language that they’re expected to use and if they’re coming into that environment without much English for—for many children that can be a um, you know create a stunting to their uh growth in language and literacy because we all learn based on what we already know. Right? So if we—if we’re asking a child to kind of cut off some of the knowledge that they have when they get into the classroom in order to learn, then we’re doing the child a disservice and that’s um what I—what has happened all too often in our country. Um, you know, going back to the Native Americans, we can talk about the boarding schools where they were forbidding from using their languages and unbelievably this is still happening in Native American and um immigrant context where children are being actually forbidden to use their language and um punished for—for using it. Um, that can’t create a good emotional climate uh for a child nor—I—I have this framework that I use for talking about um bilingual learning, the continua of biliteracy and the whole concept of the continuum, which is the basic concept for this theoretical framework is that um, as I said, you build on what you know. So if we’re—we build on our first language to learn our second language. We build on our um—if we think of listening and speaking and reading and writing skills, we build on each of those skills in acquiring the others. Uh, we build on um our understandings uh about um the world that we have in one language when we’re learning another. So anytime that we can increase the possibilities for the learners to build on what they already know in our classrooms, I think we’re increasing their chances of—of learning and succeeding in school.

There—there’s a view of literacy that’s still very much, I would say even the dominant one um that sees literacy basically as the skills of reading and writing and uh it’s—it’s a view of literacy that Brian Street has called the autonomous view, which by that he means that the ideas that these skills are autonomous. They exist kind of as free floating skills that aren’t embedded in particular social or cultural context and can be transported anywhere from one language to the other or from part of the world to the other. Um, and it’s—that’s the cognitive uh skills approach where the ideas that, you know, we can teach learners to um—we can teach many skills that are cognitive and that—that they can, as I say, be transported anywhere. Um, that view we see present in um a lot of the standardized assessments that we have that are uh increasingly—you know, that are continuing to be um major determinants in our school policies and so on. Um, there is another view that has grown up in the last 20, 30 years that comes out of—a lot of it comes out of anthropology, out of sociolinguistics, the ethnography of communication that sees language and literacy use as very much embedded in the context where it’s used. So um the way I read and write when I’m, I don’t know, making notes to myself, making my shopping list, for example, might be very different from the ways I read and write when I’m writing an academic paper or doing a school assignment or whatever and—and that each of those kinds of literacies—and we’re going to talk about literacies in the plural when we’re talking this way—um, are different. They’re not necessarily the same thing that just gets transferred across context or across languages. Um, and that’s the um cultural practices perspective or what’s Brian Street has called, “The Ideological View of Literacy.” And so if—if we’re aware of that, it has implications for the ways that we teach literacy. Um, we—when we look at the ways that—well, I need a break. (interruption) I can’t make a uh smooth transition there. (interruption) I was wanting to talk about um the—creating context for (interruption) bilingual literacy and I don’t know if I—did I completely answer your (interruption) question. OK.

Um, when we talk about teachers creating successful learning context for bilingual literacy development, we can pay attention to both the cognitive side and the cultural practices side and I wrote about that in—in the—in—based on a study I did comparing to classrooms, one which was explicitly bilingual where the kids were learning through both Spanish and English and the other one where the teacher was um, you know, using English-only but her students were from a variety of language backgrounds, which is certainly a case that we find often in the US. Um, and what struck me when I compared those two classrooms was that it seemed to be possible for children in both classrooms to be developing their literacy in English and I wanted to know how was it possible that the—the English-only teacher was able to do that even though she couldn’t call on the children’s first language, which was Cambodian in that case—or at least the children that I was focusing on were Cambodian speakers. And I—so I talked about it in terms of um four um aspects of good teaching which actually came from the literature. I—I was looking at the research literacer—literature when I pulled those four um aspects out. But then I—I looked at them in the context of these two classrooms and found that both teachers were able to create motivation for the kids, um they were able to construct lessons that had clear purpose and that was a good teaching technique that worked for both cases, that they structured the interaction that the kids had around the text that they were using um with a—you know, they structured them in ways that paid attention to both the cognitive and the cultural side and then um the text themselves that they used were—they—they used text that reflected cultural knowledge that the children had um, and in the bilingual case, of course, that also reflected the language knowledge that the children had. So these four things: Motivation, Purpose, Text, and Interaction could be structured in ways that promoted the children’s bilingual literacy learning in both the bilingual classroom and the monolingual classroom.

I’ve been interested um for a long time in bilingual education and I had done work in South American, in Peru, on uh uses and attitudes toward two languages in both the school and community context. So when I moved to Philadelphia I became interested in continuing that same kind of research and I—and I—speaking Spanish, I—I looked in the Puerto Rican community where there was a long standing two-way bilingual education program that had come in in 1969, one of the first bilingual education programs under the Bilingual Education Act. And so I began research in that school and then I looked for a comparative case and found one in a school near where I lived um in west Philadelphia where the—they had no bilingual program. They had a TSOL pullout program and the school served a multilingual population, um Cambodian, Mong, Louw, and also miscellaneous other languages, um large African-American uh population in both schools actually. And so I began to look comparatively in those two schools at literacy learning and attitudes toward the bilingualism and literacy in those places. And I found a 4th grade in each school where um there was successful teaching going on and I began to try to look more closely at what was happening in those two classrooms that made the successful. And it became a very interesting comparison between the bilingual classroom and the monolingual English medium mainstream classroom.

Vernacular literacy is an interesting term because it has at least two kinds of meanings. The—the traditional meaning for vernacular literacies is um literacy in the vernacular language. And vernacular language has referred to fer—uh, the every day language that people speak in their communities that might be somewhat different from the standard language. Um, and that could be a variety of a language. In other words, it could be a non-standard version of the standard language. Uh, we might say—we refer in the US to African-American vernacular English and um compare it to Standard English that’s taught in the schools. So that would be an example of a vernacular language. But a vernacular language can also be an entirely different language then that—then the standard language. So in Africa or South America you might have cases where the standard language is—let’s say in uh oh, in South Africa, for example, under apartheid, the standard languages were English and Africans and the vernacular languages were the African languages, Zulu and Osa and so on. Now I can happily say that they’re all recognized as official languages so perhaps we could consider them all uh standard and not vernacular. It becomes politically um interesting to—to tease these out sometimes. But in any case, that was the first meaning of vernacular. Uh, that is was the vernac—literacy in the vernacular language. For the more recent meaning of the term vernacular literacy refers to the ways that literacy is used in the community um so that you can talk about um vernacular literacies as being things like um the—the notes that school children write to each other um either during school or at home afterwards. Um, there was a study done by uh Miriam Commita in Philadelphia. She—she looked at—she I think be—coined the term vernacular literacies out of this study um, where she was looking at these high school students note taking practices. Um, so this is the kinds of reading and writing that, in this case, the adolescents were doing outside of school, the—the non-standard uses of literacy. So um both—they are overlaps in those two meanings but there’s also some differences.

A whole other dimension on which literacy’s uh—I mean, if we have this large-spanded view of what literacy is, that it’s embedded in social and cultural context and that um it varies from culture to culture and context to context, we can also include in that expanded notion the idea of writing without words which um refers to practices uh like Myran hieroglyphics or um the many modes in which we can communicate that go beyond the use of words um like art or um, uh the various kinds of electronic communication that are very imaged based rather than text based in a sense of words either spoken or written. So um—and some people refer to these as literacies also um even though it’s—some of us are wondering how far we can stretch the words literacy and still have it mean anything at all um, so that’s—that’s another expanded view of the term literacy.

Well, I find myself often in my classes in the university um making a passionate plea for the value of bicultural individuals and—and people who are committed to intercultural communication. I’d often have a student who comes from one kind of language community worrying about whether she should be doing research in the other—in another language community. You know if it’s not her own, can she be authentic? That kind of question, and I find that I give a passionate response to that question because it matters a lot to me that there are individuals who do take the time to study and live and experience and learn another culture and another language. I think our world will be greatly impoverished if we—if we give up that dimension. And I—in some ways I don’t think it’s really a risk uh because there’s so much, you know, global communication now. But at the same time, we do see that trend toward everything becoming the same. You know, the McDonald’s on every part of the world and the um English, the globalization of English. And so there is, you know, there is I think a threat to the diversity and um, um the understandings that we can have from the perspectives hidden all over the world. And so I do—I do um—I think one of my soapboxes is the need for people who are so inclined, and the more the better, to um take—to take an interest in learning another language and culture. And if you’re a majority member, learning a minority, you know, language and culture I don’t think you should feel guilty about it or um, you know, have a complex that you are somehow invading someone else’s lives. If you’re doing it respectively and with an interest and with sensitivity and with an interest in, you know, understanding, then more power to you. I think we need that. So that’s one of my soapboxes.