Language maintenance and Shift (Janet Holmes)

CHAPTER 3- Language maintenance and Shift

Language shift: it happens when the language of the wider society (majority) displaces the minority mother tongue language over time in migrant communities or in communities under military occupation. Therefore when language shift occurs, it shifts most of the time towards the language of the dominant group, and the result could be the eradication of the local language

 What factors lead to language shift?

Economic, social and political factor

1-The dominant language is associated with social status and prestige

2-Obtaining work is the obvious economic reason for learning another language

3-The pressure of institutional domains such as schools and the media

Demographic factors

1-Language shift is faster in urban areas than rural

2-The size of the group is some times a critical factor

3-Intermarriage between groups can accelerate language shift

Attitudes and values

1-Language shift is slower among communities where the minority language is highly valued, therefore when the language is seen as an important symbol of ethnic identity its generally maintained longer, and visa versa.

 Language death and Language loss:

When all the people who speak a language die, the language dies with them.

With the spread of a majority group language into more and more domains, the number of contexts in which individuals use the ethnic language diminishes. The language usually retreats till it is used only in the home, and finally it is restricted to such personal activities as counting, praying and dreaming.

 How can a minority language be maintained?

1– A language can be maintained and preserved, when it’s highly valued as an important symbol of ethnic identity for the minority group.

2– If families from a minority group live near each other and see each other frequently, their interactions will help to maintain the language.

3– For emigrate individuals from a minority group, the degree and frequency of contact with the homeland can contribute to language maintenance.

4– Intermarriage within the same minority group is helpful to maintain the native language.

5– Ensuring that the minority group language is used at formal settings such as schools or worship places will increases language maintenance.

6– An extended normal family in which parents, children and grandchildren live together and use the same minority language e can help to maintain it.

7– Institutional support from domains such as education, law, administration, religion and the media can make a difference between the success and failure of maintaining a minority group language.

 Language revival: some times a community becomes aware that its language is in danger of disappearing and takes steps to revitalises it.


In 1840, two thirds of the Welsh people spoke Welsh, but by 1980, only 20% of the population spoke Welsh, therefore the Welsh people began a revival process of Welsh language by using a Welsh-language TV channel and bilingual education programs that used Welsh as medium of instruction at schools.

CHAPTER 4- Linguistic Varieties and Multilingual Nations

– Vernacular language: It generally refers to a language which has not been standardised or codified and which does not have official status (uncodified or standardised variety). It generally refers to the most colloquial variety in a person’s linguistic repertoire.

– Standard Language: a standard variety is generally one which is written, and which has undergone some degree of regulation or codification (in a grammar and a dictionary).

* The development of Standard English illustrates the three essential criteria which characterise a standard: It emerged in the 15th as a delicate of the London area and it was influential or prestigious variety (it was used by the merchants of London, it was codified and stabilised (the introduction of the first printing press by Caxton accelerated its codification), and it served H functions in that it was used for communication at Court, for literature and for administration.

– World Englishes: world English languages are classified into, inner circle Englishes as in the UK, USA (English as a native or first language); Outer circle Englishes as in India, Malaysia, Tanzania (English as a second language with an official status), and Expanding circle Englishes as China, Japan, Russia (English as a foreign language).

– Lingua franca: a language used for communication between different language users, for people whose first languages differ, such as pidgin between European colonizers and African slaves (Swahili).

– Pidgin: it is a language which has no native speakers. Pidgins develop as a means of communication between people who don’t have a common language.

– Creole: when a pidgin becomes the language of newly-born generations as a mother-tongue or first language, and acquires additional vocabulary and grammatical structures to serve their various necessary communicative needs (referential and social functions) it becomes a Creole.

CHAPTER 5- National Language and Language Planning

– National language: it is the main language of political, social and cultural practices, where people use it as a symbol of their national unity / Official language is the language used by governments for formal functions / In a monolingual community, a national language is usually also the official language, but in bilingual or multilingual communities, it may or may not be the official language. For example: English and French are both official languages in Canada.

 Planning for a national official language:

1– Selection: selecting the variety or code to by developed.

2– Codification: standardising its structural or linguistic features.

3– Elaboration: extending its functions for use in new domains.

4– Securing its acceptance: acceptance by people in terms of attitude & prestige.

* Linguists have played an important role at the micro level of language planning activates. Many of them work as members of communities with a lot of influence on language planning, and especially on the standardization or codification of a particular variety. Example: Samuel Johnson’s 40,000-word dictionary was a landmark in the codification of English.

– Acquisition planning: sociolinguists can make a contribution to organized efforts to spread a language by increasing the number of its users, by using it in the education system (language-in- Education planning) or in the media domains such as news papers, radio, etc.

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