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Recovery plan


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IRIN’s Nawat recovery plan


language recovery [henceforth LR]

the reversing of a process of language loss (also known, particularly in its ‘terminal stage’, as language death)


Studies of successful cases of language recovery in modern societies reveal a number of interesting facts:


ü Like language loss, LR can be encouraged and hastened by some factors, activities and policies, and slowed or obstructed by others. Many of those factors, activities and policies are social phenomena that can be influenced by human intervention. There are thus many areas of action that can be engaged in by individuals, groups or institutions to either aid or impede the LR process.


ü The fatalistic view sometimes encountered that a certain language is historically destined to disappear is a fiction whose propagation may, however, help to make its pessimistic prediction come true. Therefore such a belief, like most attitudes concerning language, is far from ideologically neutral. In fact, it is frequently used by members of society and public entities to justify inaction, neglect and a lack of commitment to pro-LR movements at different times and places.


ü An extreme form of such fatalism is found when a belief is maintained and spread that a language is already dead, or ‘as good as dead’, when this is not strictly the case. Now there comes indeed a point in the process of language death when the remaining speakers are too few, too elderly, or too isolated from each other to be able to constitute any form whatever of ‘linguistic community’. On the other hand, there are many known cases in which a language that was ‘pronounced dead’ a hundred or more years ago is still around today.


ü In some such cases, a successful recovery process followed the language’s ‘death warrant’. This fact serves to stress the point that any language’s fate depends on what people are prepared to do about it and how effective any measures taken turn out to be. Probably in third place following these two determining factors comes the availability of human and material resources. When languages die they do not do so owing to some natural law, but as a consequence of human action and inaction. This is a fact too often forgotten when attempts are made to forecast a language’s life expectancy.


ü The situation of the Nawat language today is precarious and difficult to predict. What is certain is that Nawat’s future survival and chances of language recovery will be influenced by the presence or absence of effective action. It is also clear that if the general policy of neglect and alienation to which Nawat speakers have been subjected to for decades (previously a similar policy had alternated with one of active genocide and persecution) continues, without any concerted effort at language recovery, its final demise will become a certainty.


Thus the future of a language hangs in the balance today. Nawat is not dead yet, but nobody can say for sure how much more life remains in it. As a borderline case, it would be rash for IRIN, or anybody else, to make a confident prediction about what results may be attained through an optimal language recovery effort. However, we believe that this is no reason for not making that effort.



Supporting language recovery: areas of action


We have identified the following important areas of action in support of a LR process. It is not necessarily implied that these are the only areas to consider or that they cover the full range of significant action, but together they do suggest a substantial number of approaches to LR in the case of Nawat, none of which taken alone would be sufficiently effective, but which taken together may constitute a firm basis for a sound recovery process:


Social awareness: act to improve individual and public awareness and attitudes towards the language and its use.


Language use and ‘Nawatisation’: act to widen the range of social functions of the language and situations in which it is used, while teaching Nawat to more people with the object of enabling them to use the language.


Education: encourage and plan for the incorporation of the Nawat language and other dimensions of Pipil culture into different aspects of available education (and ensure that needed education is indeed made available).


Nawat teaching materials: develop, publish and distribute adequate language textbooks and other relevant resources.


Language documentation: carry out and support descriptive linguistic work that is useful for providing knowledge about the phonology, grammar, lexicon and pragmatics of the Nawat language, through data collection, corpus studies, linguistic analysis etc.


Language codification: contribute to establishing adequate models for using and teaching the language, such as the development of a spelling system, a standard grammatical framework etc.


Corpus production: encourage and support the production and, where appropriate, publication of a growing amount of oral and written material in Nawat, including any kind of literary and artistic production and the presence of Nawat in the media.


Language recovery initiative: the IRIN plan


§          IRIN (the Nawat Language Recovery Initiative) was created in 2003 by a group of concerned individuals interested in coordinating and supporting, in any and all ways suited to the language’s needs and available resources, a viable process of language recovery for Nawat. This initiative is institutionally autonomous and does not wish to compete with other individual or institutional actors for protagonism, but simply propose complementary activities and support to the best of its ability and without prejudice, any efforts being made in favour of Nawat.


§          IRIN understands that effective language recovery work must be supported from within the Pipil community and will give priority to action tending to enable and encourage native participation and protagonism in the recovery process. Some ways it plans to do this are ensuring membership of Pipils and Nawat speakers in IRIN and on its committees and commissions, facilitating information, training, work experience and decision-making roles to individuals and organisations originating from and close to the Pipil community, and locating IRIN activities and headquarters within the Pipil region.


§          Within the limits of available resources, IRIN proposes to set up a number of commissions concerned with different areas of language recovery such as a Language Commission, a Teaching Materials Commission, an Education Commission, a Commission of Coordination and Information, and a Publications Commission. It also proposes to encourage the creation of local committees to support all Nawat activities in particular communities. Parts of this structure are presently beginning to take shape.


§          Major practical concerns of IRIN at the present time are how best to support existing or future Nawat projects, and by what means to obtain the needed resources. El Salvador is a small, third-world country of very limited economic resources, and the Pipils and other ‘Indian’ communities in El Salvador are, with hardly any exception, at the very bottom end of El Salvador’s economic scale. Any real concern among the rest of the population for native issues, such as the loss of the only ‘Indian’ language still spoken in El Salvador (largely in consequence of public and official neglect and oppression in the present and the past!), is very low or nonexistent and there is hardly any public or private money available for such a cause, hopefully with the exception of foreign aid and solidarity.


§          Programmes and projects currently being undertaken as part of the language recovery effort, all of which are supported by IRIN, are the Nawat textbook and schools project, the adult Nawat program Tejemet Nusan, and the Nawat Linguistic Seminar. Other pages in this website describe these, so please read on...




© 2004 Alan R. King, Monica Ward and IRIN.