Sheena Shah

Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Hamburg  

Hamburg (Germany) and London (UK)

From November 12 to November 19, 2018 

Biography —

Personal Web

Sheena Shah is a Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Hamburg. Her research involves working on endangered and minority languages, including the Indigenous Click languages spoken by the former hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa, siPhûthî spoken in Lesotho, Gujarati spoken by Indian diaspora communities in England, Singapore and South Africa, and German spoken as a minority language in Namibia and South Africa. Originally from London, she is fluent in English, Gujarati, French and German, and has worked with various organizations, including UNESCO in Paris, UNICEF in Ranchi (India), Save the Children in Washington DC, and the education sector in Namibia, South Africa, Togo, Germany, Saudi Arabia, UK and USA. Her long-standing interest in research and languages has led her to conduct linguistic and anthropological fieldwork in Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Cameroon, Singapore, France, UK and USA. She is a strong advocate of community-driven projects and has collaborated closely with several communities, and encouraged, trained, and supported them in their efforts to maintain and document their heritage languages and cultures.

Project —

Three South African key language activists: Language revitalisation efforts and aspirations

At the Faber Residency, I will consider the role of “language icons” (see Shah and Brenzinger 2018), i.e. community members who are highly motivated and dedicated to preserving their threatened ancestral languages. I will focus on the language revitalisation efforts and aspirations of three South African key language activists: Bradley van Sitter, Katrina Esau and Willem Damarah. I will also draw on other language icons featured in case studies from across the globe.


Shah, Sheena & Brenzinger, Matthias (2018). The role of teaching in language revival and revitalization movements. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.