Carmel O'Shannessy recently gave a talk titled "Informed pedagogy in the light of Fishman's (2001) five questions" at the International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC), hosted by the Department of Linguistics and the National Foreign Language Resource Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Carmel's talk was part of an NSF-funded special session on pedagogy in language conservation, called 'Language Pedagogy and Practice in Indigenous Australia: Learning Observations from Infancy to Teenhood'. The conference is held every two years and this year over 160 languages were represented. The title and an abstract of Carmel's talk are given below.

Informed pedagogy in the light of Fishman's (2001) five questions

Fishman (2001) posed five essential questions to consider when wanting to set up language programs for language revival, but the questions can be applied to many other kinds of language program, including those for language maintenance when language shift is already underway. The questions are (paraphrased): 1. For what social functions will the language be used? 2. Which institutions will foster the language? 3. What societal rewards can the institution provide? 4. What are the competitor languages? 5. What is the sociolinguistic history of the context?

It can often be difficult to identify the strengths of, and challenges for, a language program. Fishman’s questions provide a way of thinking about current or planned programs that could lead to changes in strategies. In this paper I refer to a case study of a Warlpiri-English bilingual education program in Australia to show how Fishman’s questions can help to frame critical challenges and strengths. To do this I draw on several years of experience as teacher linguist in the program, and on observations during research visits to the community since.

The question of which social functions the target language will be used for helps to clarify the aim of the program, and leads to issues of the role of oracy and literacy practices in the program. The role of institutions is not limited to formal institutions but also includes less formal social units such as the family and community. In what ways do these units promote target language use? In what ways do structures within them support the program? Are these being supported or built in turn? The notion of institutional rewards for use of the target language is powerful – what incentives are structured into the learners’ social lives, and in what way? The final two questions prompt us to position the program in its sociohistorical context, asking how this can be a resource, and what barriers are present.

Specific examples of practices in one program are discussed to show how thinking about them in terms of Fishman’s questions can be useful for identifying the strengths and direction of a program.

Fishman, Joshua A. (2001). If threatened languages can be saved, then can dead languages be revived? Current Issues in Language Planning, 2(2), 222-230.