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 Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 11:01

Ireland and Wales both deem the revival of their indigenous languages a success, and in the sense that a language has been brought back from the verge of extinction this claim has considerable merit. However neither has achieved universal usage, or even understanding, of the revived language throughout their population. In Ireland, at least, this had been a stated objective at the start of the exercise, so the definition of success has had to be revised considerably in order to claim it as one. In other countries revival of a disused tongue has excited opposition and controversy, to the extent that the success of the venture seems doomed almost from the outset. Throughout the world one finds isolated examples of states wishing to establish an independent identity. Not all have a local dead or dying language which they wish to employ as a tool to that end, but of those who do attempt to do so, how many have achieved their goal - even partially?

So, if success is measured not just by the actual relevance of a language to its indigenous population but also by its usefulness, its ability to propagate without artificial state support and its impact on its neighbouring tongues, have any of these state-initiated resuscitations ever really succeeded?
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 11:20

I don't think it is possible, or if it is possible it would take a very long time to evolve. For a language to become fully universal in any place or country it has to become the first language a person speaks, and for that to happen the paticular language needs to be spoken in the majority of home at all times. A child's first language is invariably that of the mother.

As in Ireland's case, English is still most people's first language and the indigenous language is taught as a second language in school. That will need to change and it cannot be done overnight.

Just thoughts anyway and written in haste, more later.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 11:32

Not a "dead" local language, but I'm watching with interest the attempts to establish "Namlish" - English in all but name - in Namibia. Do you regard the attempt to revive Cornish in the same light as the OP examples? What about Manx? I regard Scots Gaelic in a somewhat different light, too - there are and always have been a number of communitities in the traditional Gaeltach where this remains the proncipal language of the home.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 12:58

I don't know if any research had been carried out in Scotland as to whether new learners of Gaelic use that ability other than as 'tourists' or to read and maybe write literature and songs. Do any of them decide that it will become their everyday means of conversation within the family or elsewhere? Unless they have connections with an existing Gaelic speaking community, I suspect that the endeavour is very often a pc version of learning Latin or Ancient Greek and is at best an academic pursuit or even a hobby and at worst, an affectation.
The vision that I have is of a sort of language zoo where endangered species are kept going but without the environment they need to flourish; AID linguistics.
Where there are living speakers or a body of written text or even voice recordings then the retention of the understanding of the tongue must be encouraged but artificial resuscitation seems pointless.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 12 May 2012, 21:57

The case of the Irish language is an interesting one.

Irish Gaelic was the majority language in Ireland (although declining) during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries when English became the language of the Protestant Ascendancy. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, following parliamentary union with Great Britain in 1801 the number of Irish-speakers actually increased during the first generation of the 19th Century as a result of the rapid growth in the population during that time.

This all changed, however, with the great famine of the 1840s which particularly affected the rural and western Gaelic-speaking areas of the country. The death and emigration of so many Gaelic speakers and the accompanying social and economic upheaval meant that the middle decades of the 19th Century would see English surpass Gaelic as the most widely spoken language in the country. Nevertheless there were still over half a million Gaelic speakers at the time of partition and the independence of southern Ireland in the early 1920s.

What is telling, perhaps, is that 90 years after independence, the number of Irish-speakers has fallen from 500,000 to just around 90,000 today. This is despite Irish being the official language of the Republic and also state-supported. It's difficult to see this as being a success.

By contrast the story of the Hebrew language during the same time-frame has been almost the exact opposite. In the 1920s (during the first decade of the British mandate of Palestine) there were only around 90,000 Hebrew speakers there. Hebrew itself had been revived from the dead during the previous 40 years by Zionist settlers many of whom eschewed Ladino and Yiddish etc in favour of reviving Hebrew. Yet from having only 90,000 speakers in the 1920s Hebrew can now boast over 5 million speakers in Israel today. That's a success story by any measure.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sat 12 May 2012, 22:51

That's interesting about Israel Viz. Is Hebrew actively promoted as a unifying force and an identity marker or is its adoption a more practical response?
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 05:25

Welcome Viz, it is good to see you!
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 15:08

hi ferval, thanks Id - it's good to be here!

re Hebrew and whether it is actively promoted or else a practical response, then I think that it's a bit of both. We must also appreciate that there are several different types of Hebrew. For the purposes of this thread, however, the reference is to 'modern Hebrew'.

Prior to 1880 hardly anyone spoke or read Hebrew save a few academics and Jewish rabbis etc. As with Latin and Sanskrit, it was a dead language kept alive only in college libraries and synagogues etc. Following the first Zionist settlements in the Levant, however, a 'modern Hebrew' was adopted by many of the settlers as a lingua franca because they spoke different languages depending on where they had come from. So in that sense it was unifying.

Modern Hebrew differed from the older existing forms of Hebrew which were mainly religious in their usage. Modern Hebrew was adapted by the Zionists to be a functioning, secular version. So in that sense it was practical.

A boost for the modern language came in 1922 when Article 22 of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate stated that the 3 official languages of the British-administered territory should be English, Arabic and Hebrew. This was followed in 1925 by the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 16:34

Was Hebrew ever widely spoken outwith the rabbinical ranks as a normal day to day language? If Aramaic was the usual means of discourse in the early synagogue period, was Hebrew restricted to matters of religion and the laws?
I could look this up but it's so much nicer to have a predigested account presented on a plate, caters nicely to my laziness.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 19:55

Ancient Hebrew (i.e. classical Hebrew or Biblical Hebrew) is believed to have been a rarefied language of the priestly elite and was never commonly spoken. The same theory also applies to Sanskrit.

The priestly language theory is sometimes applied to the later 'Early Rabbinic' Hebrew. However there is evidence put forward that the Hebrew of the Early Rabbinic period (circa 600 BC to 500 AD) was indeed spoken popularly.

The co-existence of Early Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic could, maybe, be likened to Ireland today where the Irish language co-exists with English. The former is elevated and even venerated but is only really understood by the few, meanwhile the latter is widely used. Not the best analogy, perhaps, but a workable one.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 20:07

Thanks Viz, I thought that might be the case since the dedicatory mosaics to donors are in Aramaic at that time. The next query is, how understandable was the liturgy to the worshippers then and, if it really wasn't, could that be an explanation for the proliferation of the elaborate illustrated mosaic floors? The similarity would be with medieval church decoration and iconography for the illiterate or non Latin speakers I suppose.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 21:54

In the last few years there has been a partially successful bid to revive Jèrriais (the native tongue of Jersey), though more for to preserve the native culture than to make it a widely spoken language. It has never, in fact, been a 'legal' language (English and Jersey Legal French hold that status). It did enjoy a brief upsurge during the German Occupation of 1940-45, since it could be neither understood by the Germans, nor their French interpreters. Roughly 15% of Islanders know some Jèrriais. Sercquiais (spoken in Sark) is what you might call a colonial dialect of Jèrriais, being descended by the Jerseymen and women that Elizabeth I encouraged to settle there (it was then uninhabited other than as a base for pirates), mainly as an anti-piracy measure. The language was also used in some areas of North America, particularly in the Gaspé peninsula, Quebec, where it was still spoken into the 1960s - it was originally brought there by Jersey cod fishermen in the 17th century.

Oddly enough, the most common language in the Island after English is probably Portuguese, due to the large number of Portuguese and Medeiran immigrants that started to arrive from the 1960s onwards (initially as short-terms workers, though many ultimately settling).
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 22:10

It depends, of course, upon which era is being discussed ferval. But - yes - biblical Hebrew would have been unintelligible to large numbers of ancient Hebrew people. The current Irish analogy is, therefore, quite strong in this case.

That said - it would seem that 'otherness' is deliberately promoted by the priestly class of any religion or society. For example today the closest thing we might have to a priestly class (albeit a secular one) would be doctors of medicine. And neither are they averse to speaking in 'jargon' (e.g. medical terms, medical Latin and abbreviations etc) with each other and sometimes with their patients. In these latter cases then the effect is often deliberately impressive.

Another example would be the style of language used in the King James Bible. Although not intended to be unintelligible as such, it is nevertheless written in a literary, rarefied and poetic style which would have sounded slightly archaic even at the time of its publication.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Sun 13 May 2012, 23:03

I was thinking of the 5th-6thc and those in present day Israel rather than the diaspora, Viz; Maon, Sepphoris, Anim, Beth Alpha etc.


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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 08:41

@Vizzer wrote:
Another example would be the style of language used in the King James Bible. Although not intended to be unintelligible as such, it is nevertheless written in a literary, rarefied and poetic style which would have sounded slightly archaic even at the time of its publication.

As an example of just how archaic, roughly a third of the New Testament is taken verbatim from Tyndale's translation, completed in 1524, whilst most of the rest was heavily influenced by it. So when the KJV was published, worshippers got a 'modern' translation written in a style over eighty years old!
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 09:42

Have we any evidence that that was deliberate? I know I just can't get on with modern translations, they don't 'feel' right and don't convey the sense of solemnity of the KJV, and that makes me speculate if the choice of an archaic style was intentional. So much of the formal and deeply serious elements of life are expressed in a voice and vocabulary that are imbued with a sense of the weight of the past and the importance of their contents, legal and constitutional documents for instance, that I'm tempted to wonder if that might have been one motive for that decision.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 09:47

@Anglo-Norman wrote:
@Vizzer wrote:
Another example would be the style of language used in the King James Bible. Although not intended to be unintelligible as such, it is nevertheless written in a literary, rarefied and poetic style which would have sounded slightly archaic even at the time of its publication.

As an example of just how archaic, roughly a third of the New Testament is taken verbatim from Tyndale's translation, completed in 1524, whilst most of the rest was heavily influenced by it. So when the KJV was published, worshippers got a 'modern' translation written in a style over eighty years old!

Tyndale's version did sell like hot cakes though - and the King James's Bible (despite its awful "literary, rarefied and poetic style" ) also proved quite popular, both in England and, later, in one or two other places.

But gosh, didn't Tyndale (the "hell-hound in the kennel of the devil...discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his brutish beastly mouth", according to an outraged Thomas More) get some folk upset? Bishop Tunstall warned that this translator of the New Testament had "profaned the hitherto undefiled majesty of holy scripture with cunning perversities and heretical depravity."

Awful thing was that not just the ploughboys and artisans liked Tyndale - he even got *women* reading his damnable stuff: "Despicable women, proudly rejecting the supposed ignorance of men," Cochlaeus wrote, were looking to the Bible rather than the Church for evidence of God's purpose; some of these foolish and hysterical creatures "carried it in their bosoms and learnt it by heart."


Last edited by Temperance on Mon 14 May 2012, 09:55; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 09:51

@ferval wrote:
Have we any evidence that that was deliberate? I know I just can't get on with modern translations, they don't 'feel' right and don't convey the sense of solemnity of the KJV, and that makes me speculate if the choice of an archaic style was intentional. So much of the formal and deeply serious elements of life are expressed in a voice and vocabulary that are imbued with a sense of the weight of the past and the importance of their contents, legal and constitutional documents for instance, that I'm tempted to wonder if that might have been one motive for that decision.

Wasn't the King James Bible very concerned with majesty - God's and King James's?

PS "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." You have to admit that sort of stuff does have a certain ring to it.

The angel told Mary that she would fall pregnant with a very special baby isn't quite the same - well I don't think so anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 10:13

Quote :
Wasn't the King James Bible very concerned with majesty - God's and King James's?

As ever, you've expressed that so much better than I did. And doesn't it just reek of that, a truly magisterial document in a way that an entirely contemporary rendering could not be and its import carried as much by its sounds and rhythms as by its contents. Rather like Viz's point about the use of a specialised and esoteric language to emphasise the importance of liturgical practice, it also must have, by its very archaism, have given an impression of timelessness and continuity as well as authority. And it still does.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 16:47

At least it is in English and still understandable, though it may not be in 1 or 2 thousand years time. I remember sitting (or fidgeting rather) through church services in Latin affraid and all church services and the Bible in Greece are still in Ancient Greek.

In Islam also, don't Muslims have to learn Classical Arabic in order to read the Qoran and recite prayers?
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Mon 14 May 2012, 17:35

@Islanddawn wrote:
In Islam also, don't Muslims have to learn Classical Arabic in order to read the Qoran and recite prayers?

As far as I can remember from my RE lessons(!), English translations can be used in the Koran, but to be a 'proper' Muslim yes, you have to know it in the original language. Not sure about prayers, but the Adhaan (call to prayer) is in Arabic. It supposed to be sung by a Muezzin (sp?), but I understand they're in short supply (like organists!) and so a lot of mosques use recordings instead...
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 15 May 2012, 05:07

A sad sign of the times everywhere then AN, in Greece the larger churches all use recordings of the bells to announce the various services. It is just not the same as the real thing, a good bell ringer (is there a special name for that?) is a wonder to hear.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 15 May 2012, 06:45

@Islanddawn wrote:
... a good bell ringer (is there a special name for that?) ...

A campanologist isn't it?


Last edited by Meles meles on Tue 15 May 2012, 15:46; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Oh... just noticed I'd missed out an "o".)
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 15 May 2012, 14:14

Or a noisy b......d if it is early on a Sunday morning!
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 15 May 2012, 17:16

Thanks MM, campanologist it is. Not a word I've come across before so something I've learned today!

From the Latin campana - bell. Campanologist - the art and study of bell casting and ringing.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 15 May 2012, 17:49

@Islanddawn wrote:
A sad sign of the times everywhere then AN, in Greece the larger churches all use recordings of the bells to announce the various services. It is just not the same as the real thing, a good bell ringer (is there a special name for that?) is a wonder to hear.

I'm surprised. A lot of churches in the UK have electronic ringers for the real bells.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Tue 02 Oct 2012, 22:44

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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Wed 03 Oct 2012, 12:55

[quote="Anglo-Norman"]
@Islanddawn wrote:
In Islam also, don't Muslims have to learn Classical Arabic in order to read the Qoran and recite prayers?

Actually they don't as the language is mostly unchanged and there are only a few words that are no longer in modern use that they need to look up or have explained.

English translations are freely available (and distributed free here quite often - I think I have about four as it is difficult to refuse a copy) and quite acceptable for non arabic speakers although learning from the original is encouraged. Prayers are done in arabic but the sermon would be in the local language.
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Wed 03 Oct 2012, 14:07

Possibly not in Saudi Nan, but what about countries like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia et al where English or Arabic aren't the native nor the first languages?
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PostSubject: Re: Has a dead language's resuscitation ever actually succeeded?   Wed 03 Oct 2012, 19:47

Sikhs are supposed to learn to read the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjabi, AIUI.

AV of the bible - there were a number of groups who worked on it, and a group specifically dedicated to integrating the others, and keeping the language used on the rails.
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