The most important thing that can be done to keep a language from disappearing is to create favourable conditions for its speakers to speak the language and teach it to their children. This often requires;

  • national policies that recognize and protect minority languages,
  • Education systems that promote mother-tongue instruction, and
  • Creative collaboration between community members and linguists to develop a writing system and introduce formal instruction in the language.

Since the most crucial factor is the attitude of the speaker community toward its own language, it is essential to create a social and political environment that encourages multilingualism and respect for minority languages so that speaking such a language is an asset rather than a liability. Some languages now have so few speakers that they cannot be maintained, but linguists can, if the community so wishes, record as much of the language as possible so that it does not disappear without a trace.

See the Selected Bibliography for descriptions of specific projects and methodological approaches.

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