Research and Resources

Books & Reports> Indigenous Languages

Compiled by Erin Haynes, UC Berkeley

Basham, C., & Fathman, A.K. (In press). The latent speaker: Attaining adult fluency in an endangered language. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.

This article describes the language learning experiences of people who grew up hearing Athabascan languages in Alaska but did not acquire productive skills (i.e., latent speakers). One group described by the authors had achieved full fluency as adults, and another group was just beginning to learn. The authors discuss the barriers to acquisition that these learners experience, including negative attitudes toward the language, a long-standing habit of passive listening, and embarrassment about being wrong. Advantages that latent speakers bring to language learning include a strong receptive understanding of vocabulary and grammar, familiarity with the language’s phonological system and prosody, and understanding of pragmatic aspects of the language. The learners benefited from communicative situations and encouragement, but also from formal grammar instruction. This article provides evidence that it is possible for latent speakers to acquire full fluency as adults.

This article was written for a scholarly audience. It contains information relevant to language revitalization programs that serve latent speakers of an endangered language. It is available in libraries, or for a fee from the publisher:

Brandt, E.A., & Ayoungman, V. (1989). Language renewal and language maintenance: A practical guide. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 16(2), 42-77.

This article describes the planning and execution of a successful language revitalization program, based on a simple premise: Language renewal occurs in situations where speakers of a language speak frequently to others in such a way that they can understand and respond. The authors describe four characteristics of successful language learning.

  1. Meaningful language input is provided over extended periods of time.
  2. Face-to-face interaction occurs between speakers and learners.
  3. Learners respond to speakers in the language being learned.
  4. Learners have a desire to learn and to communicate.  (p. 54)

However, the authors acknowledge that this process requires planning and work in communities where intergenerational transmission is not common, and they provide detailed descriptions of the steps involved in language revitalization planning, including gathering information and support, establishing a language database, writing a concrete plan or policy, developing timelines for implementation, evaluating the program, and re-planning the program based on evaluations. They discuss common myths about bilingualism (e.g. that it causes delayed development), pointing out that these myths may have strength in the local community, and must therefore be addressed before a language program can be established successfully. Finally, they provide 12 exercises in an appendix to guide language planning and revitalization efforts.

This article is written as a practical guide for people involved in language revitalization efforts and is intended for a general audience.

Fishman, J.A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

The author attempts to distinguish successful and unsuccessful efforts at reversing language shift (RLS) by presenting a framework for approaching the problem in a systematic way. He introduces the Gradient Intergenerational Disruption Scale, an eight-level scale that measures the degree of threat to a language.

The author recommends that people involved in RLS efforts first determine at which stage the language is and then focus on achieving the next highest stage. In this way, they will set realistic goals that address family and local community levels of discourse before tackling broader societal levels. The author also argues that these efforts must be self-supporting, at least initially; waiting for outside assistance can be detrimental to RLS. Other discussions in the book include issues of dialects and standardization, corpus planning, and use of schools, which he states may form an important component of a language revitalization program, but cannot replace intergenerational transmission.

The book is written in clear, non-theoretical language and provides a number of case studies of threatened languages and RLS efforts throughout the world. It is a classic work in the field of language revitalization and is a must-read for practitioners and scholars alike.

Grenoble, L.A. & Whaley, L.J. (2006). Saving languages: An introduction to language revitalization. New York: Cambridge University Press.

This book explores effective language revitalization methods, taking the view that language loss is the result of a complex set of factors that are different in every community, and that language revitalization must therefore stem from grassroots efforts among communities facing language loss. Nonetheless, most instances of language loss are precipitated by a common set of factors both at the macro-level (international, national, and regional) and the micro-level (local). The authors discuss these factors in detail, arguing that successful language revitalization depends on continually assessing which factors play the most important role in a given context. They then present several models of language revitalization, noting that no single model is appropriate for every community, because every community has unique goals and resources. The authors present case studies of revitalization programs worldwide to illustrate their claims. They also discuss the often complex issues of literacy and orthography, presenting arguments both for and against the incorporation of these elements into revitalization programs, and then describing how each can be developed. They emphasize that efforts to introduce literacy and orthography must come from the language community itself to be successful. The book concludes with a chapter on “Creating a Language Program,” which demonstrates how the models they described can be tailored to a community’s needs, based on careful assessment.

Though this book is generally written for an academic audience, it is accessible to the general public. Many of its recommendations are especially intended for members of language communities who wish to implement a language revitalization program or improve an existing program, whether or not they are trained as linguists or educators. This book is particularly helpful in giving a broad overview of the issues and complexities involved with language revitalization, with case studies throughout to illustrate its claims.

Hermes, M. (2005). “Ma’iingan is just a misspelling of the word wolf:” A case for teaching culture through language. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 43-56.

In this scholarly article, the author critiques the add-on approach to culture-based curriculum, which treats indigenous culture as a subject to be learned in class, but does not incorporate it into the school structure. She states, “Although the overarching political goal of culture-based education supports self-determination and community empowerment, added on as material culture only, Indigenous cultural knowledge and practices have not deeply influenced the structure of schooling” (p. 48). The author compares this situation to the teaching of indigenous languages as foreign languages translated from English; the words become reflections of English and lose their independent semantic meanings. She encourages the incorporation of cultural practice into language immersion, to both effectively provide cultural context and to support the acquisition of the language as a cultural norm in its own right.

This article is available in libraries, or for a fee from the publisher:

Hinton, L. (2002). How to keep your language alive: A commonsense approach to one-on-one language learning. Berkeley, CA: Heydey books.

The author presents a practical introduction to the Master-Apprentice program, in which a person learns an endangered language from a speaker in a one-on-one immersion situation that they create together. The program is designed to allow small teams to engage in language revitalization without the support of a larger community language program, classes, or materials. The author does not advocate formal grammar lessons, but rather daily sessions in which the team does a variety of activities together and talks about them, completely avoiding the use of English. They are encouraged to do both modern and traditional activities, to capture both traditional communicative practices and communication required for everyday life. The focus of the language learning is oral, though if the language already has a writing system, the apprentice is encouraged to learn it. The author provides ten points for successful language learning, and detailed descriptions about how to carry out each. The book includes a number of activities, suggestions for elicitation, tips for finding language materials, and progress points, though the author notes that every team will differ in how they proceed. Finally, tips are given for establishing a community program and using master-apprentice methods in a classroom.

This book is written for a general audience, but nonetheless captures several elements of theory on heritage language acquisition. The program it describes has been used successfully by hundreds of indigenous language Master-Apprentice teams throughout the United States.

Hinton, L. & Hale, K. (Eds.). (2001). The green book of language revitalization in practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Described by the editors as their answer to UNESCO’s Red Book on Endangered Languages (which lists the world’s languages by level of endangerment), this volume contains 33 essays on language revitalization and overviews of specific threatened languages. It is divided into nine sections, which include an introduction and sections about language policy, language planning, maintenance and revitalization of national indigenous languages (e.g. Welsh and Maori), immersion programs, literacy, media and technology, training language teachers, and sleeping languages. The majority of the essays in each section discuss a single language in the context of the section’s topic, but the editors also provide essays that present each topic more generally. The volume thus presents a broad overview of the current state of language revitalization, highlighting specific examples from around the world.

This volume is of interest to both general and academic audiences. The explanations of revitalization efforts and methods are presented in a manner that is accessible to non-linguists, but the case studies are also of interest to scholars. For people working on endangered language revitalization projects, this volume provides methods to consider, illustrated with examples from real language programs.

Hinton, L. (2003). How to teach when the teacher isn’t fluent. In J. Reyhner, O. Trujillo, R.L. Carrasco, & L. Lockard (Eds.), Nurturing Native Languages (pp.79-92). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

This article is a practical guide for teachers who are not fluent in the language they are teaching. The author advocates using no English in the classroom as an effective method of language teaching, and describes how this goal can be achieved by teachers who are not fluent in the language they are teaching. She presents specific techniques based on considerable attention to the five types of language that teachers use in the classroom: the lesson proper, daily rituals (e.g. greetings), review, classroom management (e.g. “sit down,” “listen up”), and classroom patter (informal conversation). The author provides sample lesson plans and detailed descriptions of each type of classroom language, including techniques for always remaining in the language of instruction. She maintains that the ultimate goal for any language lesson is communication, and thus gives teachers tips for teaching the language’s grammar without ever giving formal grammar lessons. Finally, she gives instructions for incorporating storytelling into the classroom, a difficult task for non-fluent teachers.

This article is intended for a general audience, and avoids extensive theoretical discussion or linguistic jargon. It is written for people who are teaching a Native American language, especially one that does not have many fluent speakers, but the techniques could be extended to other languages as well.

The article is available at: Other articles at this website come from the same volume and are also good resources on indigenous language revitalization and teaching.

Kapono, E. (1994). Hawaiian language revitalization and immersion education. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 112, 121-135.

The author describes the history and present status of the Hawaiian language revitalization program, which has attempted to bring the language back into common use through immersion schools that serve students from preschool through college. He describes the success of the Hawaiian immersion preschools, where students attain speaking ability in four months and are fluent in nine. He also describes several challenges faced by the program including materials development and teacher qualification. Finally, he discusses the activities of the Lexicon Committee, which develops new vocabulary. Rather than borrow words from English, they coin words based on similar words in other Polynesian languages. In cases of wildlife words not encountered in the Pacific, they borrow words from other Native American languages (like Blackfoot or Mohawk).

This article is intended for an academic audience. Practitioners may find its discussions of common program challenges helpful, as well as its discussion of new word development. It is available in libraries, or it may be ordered for a fee from the publisher:

Mitchell, D.R. (2005). Tlingit language immersion retreats: Creating new language habitat for the twenty-first century. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 172, 187-195.

This article describes several multi-generational Tlingit immersion language camps conducted or assisted by the Sealaska Heritage Institute ( The author notes that though participants made pledges to stay immersed in the language, they nonetheless slipped back into English to varying degrees. The article describes the various methods used by the camps to encourage more Tlingit communication among participants. For example, most camps incorporated traditional Tlingit activities such as subsistence food harvesting, which fostered a great deal of culturally relevant language use. In one camp, daily Tlingit lessons were offered using the Total Physical Response method, in which language is learned through actions, and this proved very helpful for beginners who might otherwise resort to English. At another camp, participants were allowed to make written notes in English, but were encouraged to chastise each other in Tlingit if they said something out loud in English. This method increased the use of the Tlingit-only verbal communication.

This article gives general descriptions of practical methods used to increase target language use in multi-generational immersion settings. It is available in libraries, or it may be ordered for a fee from the publisher:

Nevins, M.E. (2004). Learning to listen: Confronting two meanings of language loss in the contemporary White Mountain Apache speech community. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 14(2), 269-288.

This article describes the controversial position of school language programs in the White Mountain Apache (AZ) community, where many people who oppose or are ambivalent towards language preservation programs are themselves deeply concerned about the loss of their heritage language. The author analyzes this discrepancy by pointing out conflicting ideologies of language pedagogy. The first is that of the local community, which “emphasizes awareness and participation in activities sustaining of family life as central to knowing the Apache language” (p. 280); the second is a national/international ideology of minority language endangerment. Larger educational, political, and funding agencies favor the latter ideology, which gives outside “experts” more political power than local authorities in endangered language communities. In the case of White Mountain Apache, school programs, with their emphasis on rules and grammar, did not take into account the local method of language socialization. A project to develop technological teaching methods was canceled, because it did not reflect how learners would use Apache in real situations, and community members were concerned about the delivery of the materials over the Internet. In sum, language program activities that were perceived to be removed from the community element from language were opposed.

This article is written for an academic audience and encourages non-community member researchers and educators to be aware of and listen to local discourse about language loss. It is available in libraries, or may be obtained for a fee from the publisher.

Reyhner, J., & Tennant, E. (1995). Maintaining and renewing Native languages. The Bilingual Research Journal, 19(2), 279-304.

This article takes the stance that maintaining indigenous languages is an important activity for helping Native American youth “walk in two worlds” between their heritage and mainstream cultures. The authors outline tribal and national policy regarding endangered language revitalization, but point out that grassroots efforts and community involvement are essential elements of the revitalization process. They then discuss several language revitalization programs at various levels, from preschool to college, and discuss practical approaches to language teaching, both within and outside of a school classroom, that have been shown to help maintain and renew endangered languages. The authors recommend an immersion approach to language teaching, arguing that teaching grammar and translation approaches don’t work. They emphasize real communication and contexts, interesting content, and language modeling. However, they note the importance of providing simplified, oral-language oriented grammatical explanations at the students’ level to avoid fossilization of incorrect patterns. Finally, they discuss materials development, parent involvement, and incorporating the help of “action linguists” to help with language planning and instructional methods.

This article covers a broad spectrum of topics in endangered language revitalization and summarizes the ideas of several important researchers in the field. It is therefore a good place to start for people unfamiliar with the topic. It is intended for an academic audience, but is easily accessible to non-scholars. This article is available on-line in the archives of the Bilingual Research Journal:

Slaughter, H.B. (1997). Indigenous language immersion in Hawai‘i: A case study of Kula Kaiapuni Hawai‘i, an effort to save the indigenous language of Hawai‘i. In R.K. Johnson & M. Swain (Eds.), Immersion education: International perspectives (pp. 105-129). New York: Cambridge University Press.

The author discusses the community-initiated Hawaiian language immersion program, whose overriding goal is “to preserve the indigenous language and culture of Hawai‘i” (p. 111). She argues that participation in the program has improved student attitudes about their cultural background. This is because the program curriculum emphasizes Hawaiian native cultural practices and values, sometimes deviating from the English curriculum taught in other Hawaiian public schools. She also discusses the challenges faced by the program, which often lacks adequate materials, especially in subjects like math; trained teachers or teachers with sufficient knowledge of the Hawaiian language; administrator support; adequate classroom space; tutoring help for students falling behind; and ongoing teacher in-service training.

Smallwood, B. A., Haynes, E. F., & James, K. (2009). English language acquisition and Navajo achievement in Magdalena, New Mexico: Promising outcomes in heritage language education. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

This paper describes a heritage language revitalization and English language acquisition program in a rural New Mexico school district that targeted speakers of the Alamo dialect of Navajo, a Native American language. Through this multi-faceted program, students of Navajo heritage, who represent approximately half of this public school district’s student body, received English as a second language (ESL) instruction as well as instruction in Navajo language and culture as part of the regular school day. During this 4-year demonstration program, students exhibited increased involvement and pride in their school and improved reading, math, and science scores on standardized tests. Their parents also became more involved in school activities. Learn more about this project and download this report free of charge at CAL's Web site.

Suina, J. (2004). Native language teachers in a struggle for language and cultural survival. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 35(3), 281-302.

This article discusses the results of ethnographic interviews with six Pueblo Native language teachers who teach in both Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and public primary schools. All teachers grew up speaking the Pueblo language, but experienced active resistance to their language and culture when they attended school. They expressed anxiety that the loss of their language entails the loss of their culture as well. They preferred hands-on teaching methods, and they used the cultural calendar to guide curriculum topics. For example, they reported using song and dance to teach language associated with cultural events. They also celebrated non-Native American holidays with the students (e.g. Valentine’s Day), and translated popular English stories (e.g. “Little Red Riding Hood”). The challenges they faced in teaching included the fact that language writing and recording is prohibited in some Pueblos, as well as difficulties with the development of curriculum, classroom materials, teaching guidelines, and assessment and placement devices. In addition, teachers generally struggled to gain equal recognition and status for their language classes within the schools, and also found that parents depended on them for language revival efforts, even if the parents spoke the language. However, all of the teachers agreed that they alone could not revive the languages, and that they would have to be spoken in homes and in the community to survive. The author concludes with the argument that schools should be more supportive of the programs so as not to dampen the students’ motivation to learn.

This article is intended for an academic audience, but it provides valuable information about the experiences of Native American language teachers in schools. It is available in libraries, or it may be ordered for a fee from the publisher:

Tulloch, S. R. (2004). The promotion of Inuktitut among Inuit youth: Language attitudes as a basis for language planning, Laval University.

The objective of this thesis was to identify language perceptions and attitudes among Inuit youth (18-25 years old) in three Baffin Island communities: Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet. The premise of the study was that the Inuktitut language will only thrive if young Inuit are committed to using and maintaining their ancestral language.
Semi-directed interviews (37) and closed questionnaires (130) elicited information on day-to-day language choice, perceptions of language use, problems or concerns in daily language use, symbolic and practical value of Inuktitut, English and French, and opinions about the promotion of Inuktitut in Nunavut. These language perceptions and attitudes expressed by young Inuit illuminate reasons for the current level of use of Inuktitut and help prioritize areas for future language planning.

Findings suggest that although Inuktitut remains relatively strong, Inuit youth are aware of and sensitive to the loss of Inuktitut, particularly in Iqaluit. Inuktitut is valued by Inuit youth because it is the mother tongue; the language of Inuit tradition, culture and identity; a "fun" language; a language that is being lost; a useful language for getting a job; and an effective tool for participating and integrating in the community. At the same time, English is valued because it is a "cool" language, the language of the new millennium that allows Inuit youth to travel, get an education, get jobs, and participate in their local communities and beyond.

Inuit youth are strongly motivated to maintain both Inuktitut and English. They need both languages in order to pursue their aspirations of making the best of both worlds in which they are currently negotiating their place.

Warner, N., Luna, Q., & Butler, L. (2007).  Ethics and revitalization of dormant languages: The Mutsun language. Language Documentation and Conservation, 1(1), 58-76.

The authors discuss ethical issues associated with revitalizing the sleeping language Mutsun, an indigenous California language that has not been spoken fluently for many decades. The revitalization process is therefore primarily based on written documents and texts. One issue that those seeking to revitalize languages have faced is the perceived legitimacy of the language. The authors argue that revitalization from text is a legitimate enterprise, despite detractors from outside the community who claim that language not passed on by a fluent speaker is not “real”. Another issue is how to create new words in the language. The community has decided to create words using affixation in the language rather than borrow words from related languages or English. The authors also discuss the ethical issues surrounding the work of non-community linguists, including intellectual property rights, non-linguistic needs of the community (e.g. cultural revitalization), and conflicting priorities. They argue that community decisions and needs are paramount. Outside linguists should be aware of community goals and work with them in establishing a long-term and productive relationship.

This article is intended for an academic audience, especially linguistic scholars who work with Native American communities in language revitalization efforts. It is available on-line at:

Wong, L. (1999). Authenticity and the revitalization of Hawaiian. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 30(1), 94-115.

This article explores the issue of authenticity in the Hawaiian language revitalization effort, discussing the shift from “real” Hawaiian (i.e. Hawaiian spoken by individuals who spoke it as their first language) to a version that has greater influence from English. The author argues that disputes over variations in the language are fueled by the notion of authenticity, and people who have social power promote their own variety as authentic, thereby reinforcing their position. A Western dichotomous worldview prevents the acceptance of multiple variations. However, the author points out that because there was no written record of the language before the arrival of colonizers, it’s impossible to tell how the language was spoken before contact with English. Instead, she argues that it is sufficient to be able to trace a clear connection between current linguistic practices and the community’s perceived traditional roots, even for words expressing modern concepts. It is also necessary to coin sufficient vocabulary for modern domains of speech so that the language will remain a viable means of communication.

This article is intended for an academic audience. However, its content is of interest to anyone involved in revitalization projects for languages that currently exhibit a great deal of variation, or that do not have widely accepted terms for modern concepts. It is available in libraries, or it may be ordered for a fee from the publisher:

Watahomigie, L.J. & McCarty, T.L. (1994). Bilingual/bicultural education at Peach Springs: A Hualapai way of schooling. Peabody Journal of Education, 69(2), 26-42.

This article describes the Hualapai bilingual education program at the only school on the reservation. The program is a community-based effort that started in 1976 when it was discovered that half of the students entering school had Hualapai as their first language. An orthography was developed to provide biliterate instruction, and Hualapai materials were produced that were of the same quality as comparable English materials. Student achievement improved, and parents and staff became more committed to ensuring the success of the program. One aspect that aided the staff of the program is that they received linguistic training, participated in workshops on curriculum development, and earned teacher certification. Information about Hualapai teaching and learning styles was integrated into the curriculum, and the first instructional units were on topics such as local plants and animals and Hualapai narratives. The program has undergone changes over the years as more and more children enter the school speaking only English, but the authors state, “Genuine bilingualism remains a firm program goal” (p. 40). They note that the program has benefited from steady funding, community support, and local leadership, factors that aren’t always present for other programs.

Yamauchi, L.A., Ceppi, A.K., & Lau-Smith, J. (2000). Teaching in a Hawaiian context: Educator perspectives on the Hawaiian language immersion program. Bilingual Research Journal, 24(4), 385-403.

This article discusses the results of interviews and focus group discussions with 37 teachers and 4 principals at K-12 Hawaiian immersion schools, which have the goal of revitalizing the endangered Hawaiian language. The study focused on the educators’ identities and how they’ve been shaped by the program. Teachers in the program who were Hawaiian had become involved “to contribute to the revival and perpetuation of their language and culture” (p. 389). They also wanted to help Hawaiian students retain their self-esteem, after having witnessed Hawaiian speakers discriminated against and ridiculed when their own generation had gone to school. The Hawaiian immersion teachers in the study viewed their role as teachers differently from the role of English language teachers. They spent time outside of school with students, doing weekend activities or helping them with their homework, and reported close-knit or extended family-type relations. They adopted traditional methods of teaching, and noted that culture is an important part of the curriculum.

This article is intended for an academic audience. It highlights the difference in the sociocultural context within the school environment that occurs in the Hawaiian immersion program. It is available online in the archives of the Bilingual Research Journal:

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