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.