Language Endangerment and Revitalization: What’s Happening, and Why It Matters

Dr. Kelly Harper Berkson, Indiana University Bloomington

The vast majority of the world's 7000+ languages are spoken by a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Each one of these languages—about 25% of which have fewer than 1000 speakers—represents both a repository of human knowledge and experience and a unique linguistic system, and yet these languages are vanishing at an alarming rate. Why does this matter: why should we care? Who is working to fight this trend, and how can linguistics help? This talk presents a broad overview of the topic of language endangerment and revitalization, and attempts to answer these and other pressing questions. Along the way, we’ll hear audio clips of Cherokee and Comanche, learn about linguistic diversity in North America, and swing by far-flung places like the Maori language nests in New Zealand.

About the speaker: Kelly Harper Berkson received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Kansas. Her current research focuses on language endangerment and revitalization and on the phonetics and phonology of breathy voiced  sonorants and obstruents in Indic languages. She is an alumna of Vassar Collage and of the American Indian Language Development Institute, has an MA in Global Indigenous Nations Studies, and is currently co-authoring a linguistics textbook for language revitalization work in Indigenous communities. Finally, while Kelly hails from New Hampshire she is sorry to report that she has neither the caught/cot nor the witch/which distinction.