Linguistics for Language Revitalization

Thursday, April 20
4-5 p.m.
BH 415 and On Zoom

A virtual talk by Samantha Prins


A wide array of skills, disciplines, and methods make up the revitalizationist’s toolkit. Linguistics, a field concerned with language documentation, description, theory, and—increasingly, revitalization—is one such tool. As interdisciplinary work in linguistics and language revitalization becomes more and more common, we have the opportunity to better understand the benefits and limitations of these kinds of collaborations. This talk explores the intersections of linguistics and language revitalization, drawing on the perspectives of stakeholders and practitioners in both fields.

Linguistic knowledge is useful for many kinds of revitalization work, including activities like documentation, resource development, orthography design, teaching, learning, and even addressing harmful language ideologies. Though linguistics-revitalization partnerships can be quite positive, the two fields are not always aligned in their approaches. While linguistics approaches language as an object of study, revitalization is informed by a more holistic understanding, where language is recognized as a living, interconnected element of culture and identity (Leonard 2017, Grenoble & Whaley 2021). Historically, the primary goals of linguistics have been theoretical development and academic display, not community use or benefit (Leonard 2020). Still today, revitalization is often framed as a byproduct of linguistic inquiry, rather than a central outcome (Grenoble 2009, Rice 2009). The trend, however, has been toward increased attention to and compatibility with community-based revitalization efforts, coinciding with growing community scholarship and activism in linguistics (Leonard 2018). As we continue in this direction, it is important to reflect on the respective histories and shared futures of these two fields, considering how linguistics can most effectively support revitalization efforts, and further, how revitalization can inform the trajectory of linguistics going forward.


Grenoble, Lenore. 2009. Linguistic Cages and the Limits of Linguistics. In Reyhner & Lockard (eds.) Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance, and Lessons Learned. 37-59. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Grenoble, Lenore & Lindsay Whaley. 2021. Toward a new conceptualization of language revitalization. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 42(10). 911-926.

Leonard, Wesley. 2017. Producing language reclamation by decolonising ‘language’. Language Documentation and Description 14. 15-36.

Leonard, Wesley. 2018. Reflections on (de)colonialism in language documentation. In McDonnell, Berez-Kroeker & Holton (eds.) Reflections on language documentation 20 years after Himmelmann 1998. 55-65. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Leonard, Wesley. 2020. Insights from Native American Studies for theorizing race and racism in linguistics. Language 96(4). e281-e291.

Rice, Keren. 2009. Must There Be Two Solitudes? Language Activists and Linguists Working Together. In Reyhner & Lockard (eds.) Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance, and Lessons Learned. 37-59. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Dr. Samantha Prins

Samantha Prins is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. She earned a BA in Linguistics from Western Washington University in 2015 and an MA in Linguistics from the University of Montana in 2019. Their current research is focused on the intersections between linguistics and language revitalization, Blackfoot nominal inflection, and other aspects of Algonquian morphosyntax.