Standardise this! Prescriptivism and resistance to standardization in language revitalization

Vicki Couzens, Alice Gaby, Tonya Stebbins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


As a relatively new phenomenon, languages redeveloped through revitalization pose a range of descriptive challenges to linguists, not least because they are researched and developed at the same time as they are learned and used. Successful language revitalization depends crucially on people in communities regaining authority over their languages as well as developing the ability to use them in a wide range of contexts. In this process of language reclamation, tensions can develop around the need for and implementation of standardization practices. In particular, these speakers may wish to set targets of pronunciation, lexicon and grammar defined by the norms of the language as it was spoken before contact with English. Exactly what these targets should be, how they are to be identified, taught and upheld are crucial considerations for any community reclaiming their language. We draw upon interview data with language activists from the eastern states of Australia to consider how those doing the work of language revitalization are grappling with questions of standardization and prescriptivism. We identify nonstandardized practices, which deflect and/or decline the use of standardization, and unstandardizable practices focused on language as personal or community identity-building.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDynamics of Language Changes
Subtitle of host publicationLooking Within and Across Languages
EditorsKeith Allan
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789811564307
ISBN (Print)9789811564291
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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