Pia Lane

From silence to silencing? Paradoxes of language revitalisation

Friday March 13th 5:45 – 6:45


Language revitalisation is frequently portrayed as emancipatory, allowing speakers to find their own voice; yet, reclaiming a language can be a painful, silencing experience. Indigenous languages are often perceived as rooted in a cultural context, and new speakers may therefore be expected to embody this rootedness and, paradoxically, reclaim what they already ought to possess. This tacit expectation places new speakers in a precarious position. A case in point is the situation of new speakers of Sámi in Northern Norway. European nation states colonised not only in the global South, but also ‘at home.’ Thus, the South, in the form of excluded, silenced and marginalised populations, also exists in the global North (Santos 2012). Historically, Norway implemented systematic oppressive policies towards the Sámis, resulting in a feeling of shame, language shift and a devaluation of local culture. Today, new speakers of Sámi carry with them a complex history of belonging, but also silence and shame, passed on by previous generations and now part of our historical bodies (Lane 2010; Scollon and Scollon 2004). Because of this heritage and social control as to who may claim the role of an authentic speaker, emotional aspects of language learning are particularly salient in indigenous contexts – often leading to fear of speaking. In order to explore such paradoxes of revitalisation, I investigate lived experiences of language reclamation, focusing on inherent tensions and emotions in revitalisation processes. I will offer some explanations for such tensions and investigate how new speakers may attempt to resolve them.


Pia Lane is professor of multilingualism at MultiLing – Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo and a research professor at the Arctic University of Norway. She has investigated multilingualism from a wide range of theoretical perspectives, and her current project explores emotional aspects of language reclamation and revitalization in Kven and Sámi communities in Northern Norway, combining narrative analysis and nexus analysis in order to analyse the experiences of new speakers of indigenous languages. She is main editor of the volume Standardizing Minority Languages: Competing Ideologies of Authority and Authenticity in the Global Periphery (Routledge) and co-editor of Language planning – the theory and practice of standardisation, Sociolinguistica – Internationales Jahrbuch für europäische Soziolinguistik 2016 and the new series Linguistic Minorities in Europe Online (De Gruyter Mouton).

An overview of her projects and publications may be found here

Pia Lane serves as a member of the Committee of Experts for the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Norwegian Truth and Reconciliation Commission