Influences on Native American language revitalization in the U.S.: Ideology and culture

Amelia Chantal Shettle, Purdue University


Languages are disappearing at an alarming rate from around the world. Native America is experiencing first hand many of those disappearances. For this reason, language documentation and revitalization has been called by some to be “the most important task in linguistics today” (Dixon 1997: 137). After several generations of international and local pushes for language revitalization, few languages have been restored to widespread daily use by tribal members (Crystal 2005: 340). My intent with this thesis is to compare several different Native languages’ contexts and approaches to revitalization with the purpose of identifying principles that are necessary in the restoration of Native languages to active and spreading use in the United States. Using a document analysis approach, I have looked into the contexts surrounding ten different Native tribes involved in revitalization in the U.S. Specifically I looked into community ideologies and the programs and materials available to the communities in order to identify what commonalities and patterns can be discerned. The main elements that stood out from this overview of revitalization efforts were ideology and culture. Regardless of how young the revitalization program is, each of the tribes that have reported positive growth and use among younger generations has put strong emphasis on community-oriented programs within their language revitalization work. Additionally, positive ideologies correlate with recovery while negative ideologies correlate with continued language loss. The results from this study suggest that a successful language revitalization program will focus on revitalizing the language through cultural means with strong family and community support and improving negative ideology in every aspect of the program.




Benedicto, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Language|Native American studies

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