Since I wrote a post about language death, I thought do a paired post about language revitalization. Language revitalization is more or less the opposite of language death, and it includes trying to reverse the decline of a dying language or reviving an extinct one.
Usually, the first steps taken are teaching adults the language and encouraging its use in informal situations and around the home, so that children will pick it up and begin speaking it. If the government is encouraging the language revitalization, having the language used in media and in schools goes a long way for revitalizing it.
Revitalization requires a movement though, requires people to stand behind it and urge it forward. In societies with dying languages that are dying because of lack of wealth and economic status, it is difficult to revive the language. When survival depends on how well you can communicate, people are better served by a common language than they are by all speaking a different one.
However, the horizon is not completely bleak. There are instances of successful language revitalization, chief among them the revitalization of Hebrew. So far, Hebrew is the first language to have gained first language speakers after being extinct as a common language for an extended period of time.
Lesser known languages, such as Ainu in Japan, Cornish in the British Isles, and Kichwa in Ecuador are all currently undergoing language revitalization, though how much success they might have isn’t being measured yet. Other languages and countries have created revitalization programs that have been proven to be very effective. Maori has been incredibly successful in revitalization, so much that the program is being studied and copied by other language revitalization programs. Irish has also been incredibly successful in revitalization attempts, partly because of the growing idea that Irish speakers tend to be better educated than monolingual English speakers, and the use of Irish among an urban population that is raising the prestige of Irish.
There is some debate about whether or not languages should be revitalized. Some experts say that the death of a language doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the culture as well, but others still argue that language is vital to a society’s identity. Others claim that revitalizing a language and creating monolingual native speakers might block them from the rest of the world, might segregate them because they do not speaker a more common language.
As a linguistics major, I lean towards the side of revitalization, for the technicalities and structures languages have, but also for the sake of the history and culture that are preserved when a native language lives on to see a new generation.