Electronically Mediating Language Revitalization: Linking Homeland and Heritage Francoprovençal

Authors: Jonathan Kasstan (University of Westminster, U.K.)
Naomi Nagy (University of Toronto, Canada)
Evelyn Nericcio (Università degli studi di Foggia, Italy)
Speaker: Jonathan Kasstan, Naomi Nagy, Evelyn Nericcio
Topic: Language Revitalization
COMELA 2020 General Session


We discuss a project to digitally bridge several Mediterranean regions with their North America diasporas, across four countries whose boundaries delimit different national languages. They are united only in that small communities in each also speak Francoprovençal: an obsolescent language with no history of standardization (Zulato et al. 2018). In such communities, we observe generational divides between younger less proficient speakers and older fluent speakers, a situation described elsewhere as engendering ‘social and linguistic incompatib[ility]’ (O’Rourke & Ramallo 2011:139). Electronically mediated communication (EMC) can alleviate such conflicts and promote language revitalization (Holton 2014), including efforts of new language learners. EMC can foster virtual language communities in which speaker errors and innovations are less likely to trigger essentialist “standard language” ideologies. However, given EMC’s text-based nature, its benefits do not naturally accrue in communities without codified writing systems.

The project is an interactive e-platform that encourages speakers to share natural-speech and text responses to task-based activities via computer/smart phone. We argue that this holistic, community-driven approach to revitalization offers several advantages to speakers, which we illustrate using the case of Francoprovençal. First, such an approach brings into contact groups with differing degrees and types of linguistic (including orthographic) practices on both sides of the Atlantic. Interacting with readers who have different (or no) orthographic rules can abate concerns about writing a little-codified language “the wrong way”. Second, our activities will encourage inter-generational communication (e.g. “Ask your grandma about her favourite meal and post a picture of it”) that link younger speakers with strong technical skills to older speakers with strong linguistic and cultural knowledge. Third, these activities will introduce the language into modern domains of usage where younger community members are active. Finally, such an approach may foster a new generation of linguists: a virtual adaptation of Polinsky (2019)’s ‘field stations’, providing enduring samples of the language in use.

Holton, H. 2014. The role of information technology in supporting minority and endangered languages. Cambridge Handbook of Language Endangerment. Cambridge: CUP, 371-399.
O’Rourke, B. & F. Ramallo. 2011. The native-non-native dichotomy in minority language contexts: Comparisons between Irish and Galician. Language Problems & Language Planning, 35(2):139-159.
Polinsky, M. 2019. Field stations for linguistic research: A blueprint of a sustainable model. Language, 95(2):e327-e338.
Zulato, A., Kasstan, J. & N. Nagy. 2018. An overview of Francoprovençal vitality in Europe and North America. IJSL, 249:11-29.

Keywords: Language endangerment, language revitalization, Francoprovençal, electronically mediated communication