ILR DE: Background

Around the world, indigenous languages are endangered and facing extinction or dormancy. UNESCO estimates that at least 43 percent of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered. In January 2016, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convened a three-day summit to discuss the future of indigenous languages. Its recommendations urge member states to support educational initiatives that focus on indigenous language revitalization; recognize and address disparities in political and social power that subjugate indigenous knowledge and languages; and establish effective channels for community members and heritage language speakers to collaborate with educational institutions to preserve and revitalize languages, among other strategies.

The DE in Indigenous Language Revitalization creates an interdisciplinary course of study, drawing together an intellectual cohort that will equip graduate students from various departments with knowledge of the methods, histories, and goals of indigenous language revitalization and reclamation. The DE emphasizes interdisciplinary coursework and hands-on experience (through practicum or fieldwork credits) that center on the critical methods and histories of the attempted eradication, the persistence, and the revitalization of indigenous languages in the context of colonization. While the content of the DE primarily focuses on indigenous contexts in the Americas, it is relevant to indigenous settings elsewhere.

The DE draws upon and extends resources uniquely available at Berkeley. The Linguistics Department has long been a leader in the study of indigenous languages, also supporting resources such as the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages and the California Language Archive. It was at Berkeley that the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (an indigenous nonprofit organization) collaborated with Prof. Leanne Hinton to create the Breath of Life Archival Institute; now in its third decade, this program helps revive dormant languages by recovering archival material for California Indian languages with no or few living first-language speakers. Indigenous communities and speakers collaborate with Berkeley researchers, and increasingly interface with and are themselves members of the University community. This rich intellectual heritage is the cornerstone of a DE that specifically trains and signals expertise in the area of indigenous language revitalization. In Native American Studies and Education, courses and faculty research have long addressed the historical and cultural contexts of language loss; educational policies related to language; and the epistemological and cultural values of indigenous languages. A critical mass of faculty and graduate students with shared interests in indigenous language revitalization working in linguistics, education, Native American studies, and anthropology made the establishment of this DE possible.