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Regional Library of Bizkaia, Bilbo (Bilbao), Bizkaia.
Regional Library of Bizkaia, Bilbo (Bilbao), Bizkaia. Photo by Mary Linn

Communities around the world have responded to language endangerment with unique and effective approaches. The Sustaining Minoritized Languages in Europe (SMiLE) project shares some of the accumulated knowledge about language revitalization efforts to help language use grow worldwide.

Language revitalization efforts can be formal or informal; they can be community-wide or initiated by small groups. They can focus on maintaining a language in bilingual contexts, revitalizing a language that has skipped one or more generations of active speakers, or they can awaken a language that has not been spoken for a generation or much longer. These initiatives have accumulated knowledge about language revitalization in practice: how they started; how they sustain and build their motivation even through political, economic, and cultural changes; and how they manage issues in language policy and planning that challenge all language efforts.

In 2015, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage established SMiLE as an interdisciplinary and international research program, examining several minoritized language communities and their revitalization initiatives. In Europe, some language programs have continued in various forms for over a hundred years, and although language revitalization is community-driven and responsive to local traditions and concerns, efforts everywhere can learn from each other in how they work through common problems.

SMiLE research was particularly interested in building a set of case studies that look in depth at factors that:

  • reveal the trajectory of a community’s language revitalization program(s) and/or efforts at various stages of their life cycles.
  • show how the programs respond to internal and external social, cultural, economic, and political factors.
  • explore relationships among language revitalization, cultural heritage, and traditional cultural transmission—areas of particular interest to the Center.

The SMiLE case studies, accessible here, focus on how language revitalization programs and efforts sustain and build on their accomplishments over time. In doing so, they reveal how community-driven efforts not only survive and grow but how they gain control—or agency—over the future of their languages.

Developing the Case Studies

A group of people with laptops in a conference room filled with bookcases having a discussion.
Cassie Smith-Christmas discusses findings from the Irish case study, SMiLE Final Collaborative Workshop, Glasgow, Scotland, October 3, 2019.
Photo by Mary Linn


Major Project Events

A group of people with conference badges standing in front of an archway.
Gathering of European language revitalization specialists to talk about SMiLE, Language Vitality in Social Context workshop, University of Barcelona, October 7, 2016.

Case Study Communities

SMiLE research and case studies were completed in summer 2019. Below you can explore the case study communities and research teams. Each profile is in both English and the focus language(s) or variations. The following information is included in each language profile.

Endonyms are names people give to themselves and their languages, as opposed to exonyms which are used by people outside of that group. For example, the language spoken in the Netherlands is called Dutch in English and holandés in Spanish, but their own name for their language is Nederlands.
ISO codes (ISO 639-2 Language Codes) are international standards that represent the names of languages. The codes help to disambiguate multiple language names and spellings when conducting research in archives, libraries, or online.
Current speakers include native and new speakers. Numbers cannot reflect actual usage or pressures from the majority language(s). These numbers are provided by the research teams and are meant only to give a general idea of the speaker base.
  • Semente, Santiago de Compostela
    Photo by Marcos López Pena
    • Endonym: Galego
    • ISO Code: glg
    • Current Speakers: 2,400,000
  • “Attraversando il Griko” event in Corigliano d’Otranto, August 2016.

    Photo by Manuela Tommasi
    • Greko
    • Endonym: to greko, i glossa greka, ta chorìa greka, i Area Grekanika
    • ISO Code: none (considered a dialect of Greek: gre)
    • Current Speakers: unknown
    • Griko
    • Endonym: 'o griko, i glossa grika, ta chorìa grika, i Grecìa Salentina
    • ISO Code: none (considered a dialect of Greek: gre)
    • Current Speakers: unknown
  • Children show off artwork created at Casadh na Gráige.
    Photo courtesy of OChD
    • Endonym: Gaeilge (variants: Gaelainn, Gaoluinn)
    • ISO Code: gle
    • Current Speakers: <80,000
  • Dancing at the Fering Inj (or “Frisian Evening,” loosely translated) of the Föhr Association in February 2018.
    Photo courtesy of Nils Langer
    • Endonym: Friisk (variants: Frasch, Fräisk, Fräisch, Freesk, Fering, Sölring, Halunder, Öömrang)
    • ISO Code: frr
    • Current Speakers: 5,000–7,000
  • A pro-Occitan language demonstration in Béziers, France, in 2007.
    Photo by Ana-Maria Poggio
    • Endonym: Los occitans
    • ISO Code: oci
    • Current Speakers: 600,000–3,000,000
  • Photo courtesy of researchers
    • Upper Sorbian
    • Endonym: Serbja
    • ISO Code: hsb
    • Current Speakers: 15,000
    • Lower Sorbian
    • Endonym: Serby
    • ISO Code: dsb
    • Current Speakers: <4,000

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