Professor Ghil‘ad Zuckermann’s seminal book “Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond” (Oxford University Press) introduces for the first time a linguistic game-changer: revivalistics. Revivalistics is a trans-disciplinary field of enquiry surrounding language reclamation, revitalization and reinvigoration.
Revivalist-linguist Zuckermann makes a strong case for a clear distinction between revivalistics and documentary linguistics, the latter being the established field recording endangered languages before they fall asleep. Whilst documentary linguistics puts the language at the centre, revivalistics puts the language custodians at the centre.
The book is divided into two main parts, reflecting Zuckermann’s fascinating and multifaceted journey into language revival from analysing critically his Israeli mother tongue to reclaiming what he calls “dreaming, sleeping beauties” in Australia and globally.
The first part of the book provides a ground-breaking analysis of the Hebrew revival, which took place in 1880s-1930s. Zuckermann’s radical theory contradicts the conventional accounts that the language of the Hebrew Bible is now miraculously re-spoken by modern Israelis. He demonstrates in detail and a convincingly systematic way, how grammatical cross-fertilization with the revivalists’ mother tongues is inevitable in the case of successful “revival languages”. According to Zuckermann, “revival languages” contradict the tree model in historical linguistics. Whereas the tree model implies that a language only has one parent, Zuckermann argues that successful “revival languages” follow the Congruence Principle, which is statistical: the more contributing languages a linguistic feature occurs in, the more likely it is to persist in the emerging revival language. According to Zuckermann, revival languages share many common characteristics, and they should therefore be classified under the “revival language” “family” rather than under a specific language family such as “Semitic”.
The second part of the book applies lessons from the Israeli language to revival movements in Australia and globally. It also describes the “why” and “how” of revivalistics. It proposes systematically ethical, aesthetic and utilitarian reasons for language revival, suggesting for example that language, albeit intangible, is more important than land. It also offers practical methods for reviving languages, for example the quadrilateral Language Revival Diamond (LARD), featuring four core revivalistic quadrants: language custodians, linguistics, education and the public sphere. With regard to the public domain, for example, the book promotes Native Tongue Title, financial compensation for linguicide (language killing), as well as declaring Indigenous tongues the official languages of their region, and erecting multilingual signs, thus changing the lanGscape (linguistic landscape).
Zuckermann demonstrates two examples of righting the wrong of the past:
(a) A book written in 1844 in order to assist a German Lutheran missionary (Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann) to introduce Christianity to Aboriginal people at the expense of Aboriginal spirituality, is used 170 years later by a secular Jew (Zuckermann), to assist the Barngarla Aboriginal people of Eyre Peninsula (South Australia) to reconnect with their own Aboriginal heritage, which was subject to “linguicide” (language killing) by Anglo-Celtic Australians.
(b) Technology, used for colonization (ships, weapons) and Stolen Generations (“governmental black cars kidnapping mixed-race Aboriginal children from their mothers in order to forcibly assimilate them”), is employed (for example, in the form of Zuckermann’s Barngarla Aboriginal Language Dictionary App) to assist Aboriginal people to reconnect with their cultural autonomy, intellectual sovereignty, spirituality and wellbeing.
“To linguists Ghil‘ad Zuckermann is already something of a hero. This book shows why. Professor Zuckermann’s account of his work with language reclamation and salvation is as fascinating, enthralling and gripping as any great fictional adventure story, but with a purpose and meaning greater and more noble than any Allan Quatermain or Indiana Jones.”—Stephen Fry
“In Revivalistics, technically rigorous in content yet approachable in presentation, Ghil‘ad Zuckermann mounts a persuasive argument that the language spoken by ordinary Israelis is best thought of as a hybrid. He uses the story of the successful revival of Hebrew to propose how near-extinct Aboriginal languages of Australia can be brought back to life with immeasurable benefit to their traditional owners. With a multitude of the world’s languages staring oblivion in the face, this will be a key text for the new discipline that Zuckermann calls revivalistics.” —JM Coetzee
“Zuckermann is a polymath as well as a polyglot and Revivalistics is a brilliant study, challenging the conventional wisdom in its field, making good use of comparative material, sparkling with perceptive one-liners and making an eloquent argument for the revival of endangered languages.” —Peter Burke, University of Cambridge