Research Articles

Resisting rhetorics of language endangerment: Reclamation through Indigenous language survivance

  • Jenny L. Davis


Hill (2002) (and the robust discussions it inspired) demonstrated the importance of looking carefully at the rhetorics used by academics when discussing Indigenous and endangered languages. Fifteen years later this still remains a subject of concern. In this article I examine how three related strategies are increasingly employed in both academic and public domains: Linguistic extraction is the process of discussing languages and language reclamation movements removed from the personal lives, communicative practices, and embodied experiences in which they inherently are embedded, while the erasure of colonial agency minimises the historical and ongoing causes of language endangerment and dormancy, sometimes to the extent of misattributing agency for such realities onto Indigenous communities themselves. Lasting is a discursive process through which Indigenous populations are framed as ‘vanishing’, first by defining Indians based on a singular characteristic, and then lamenting the passing of the ‘last’ Indians assumed to have had that single defining characteristic (O’Brien 2010). I explore the implications of these rhetorics for both endangered language movements and the communities at the center of those movements, with a particular emphasis on the discursive tactics that resist these strategies which are utilised by Indigenous community members and language activists.

Keywords: language endangerment, Indigenous languages, reclamation, survivance, rhetorics, linguistic extraction, erasure of colonial agency, Lasting, discursive tactics

How to Cite:

Davis, J., (2017) “Resisting rhetorics of language endangerment: Reclamation through Indigenous language survivance”, Language Documentation and Description 14, 37-58. doi:

Download PDF



Published on
30 Sep 2017
Peer Reviewed