In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Language Maintenance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Conference Proceedings
  • Language Maintenance, Language Endangerment, and Revitalization
  • Language Documentation for Language Maintenance
  • Terminology for Language Maintenance
  • Calibrating Stages of Language Shift
  • Implementation of Language Maintenance
  • Standards for Language Maintenance
  • Sociolinguistics of Language Maintenance

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Language Maintenance
David Bradley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0290


Language maintenance involves efforts to maintain an existing language, as opposed to language planning (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics article Language Policy and Planning, which may implement changes to an existing language; language maintenance efforts may also involve some language planning where needed. Language maintenance is usually a response to language shift, which has led at least part of the speaker community to feel that some risk exists to the language’s ongoing use; language maintenance is their action to maintain it. The goal of most language maintenance efforts is usually not to retain all socio-dialectal and stylistic diversity, but rather to focus on some particular “standard” variety. Education is the setting where most language maintenance work occurs, but other types of community efforts are usually also present. These efforts may center on language, but they may also include important territorial, literary, cultural, historical, and other components and may extend into political activism. Where government policy supports cultural and linguistic diversity, competition for recognition and resources for language maintenance usually exists. Whether a language is Indigenous or is not Indigenous may also be relevant: languages that are not Indigenous and that are part of a diaspora community may have contact with and support from other places where the language has higher status and is not undergoing a shift; indigenous minority languages may be seen as having a stronger claim for resources, but they may often have lower status in the wider community. Much of the effort of many linguists in recent years has focused on language endangerment (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics article Endangered Languages, which is a consequence of language shift. Language maintenance for endangered languages is usually called revitalization, though various other terms are also used. The type of revitalization required differs greatly depending on how far the language shift has progressed.

General Overviews

The studies cited here are a small selection illustrating many different approaches to language maintenance. Kloss 1927 defines the field of language maintenance; Weinreich 1953 shows how it relates to ongoing multilingualism and language contact; and Fishman 1970 places language maintenance in a wider context. Pauwels 2016 is the most extended and focused summary, while Ostler 2005 is a more popular overview.

  • Fishman, Joshua A. 1970. Sociolinguistics: A brief introduction. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

    This is a classic overview of the entire field of the sociology of language, including insightful discussion and definitions of language maintenance, written by an expert with a strong personal commitment to language maintenance.

  • Kloss, Heinz. 1927. Spracherhaltung. Archiv für Politik und Geschichte 8:456–462.

    This is the classic short article that defined the field of language maintenance.

  • Ostler, Nicholas. 2005. Empires of the word: A language history of the world. New York: HarperCollins.

    This volume, accessible to a general audience but also valuable for experts, shows how dominant languages, language contact, multilingualism, and language shift have been a constant theme throughout human history.

  • Pauwels, Anne. 2016. Language maintenance and shift. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107338869

    This volume provides an overview of language maintenance as well as a detailed discussion of methodology for investigating language maintenance and language shift. Background literature is extensively discussed and fully referenced, with many suggestions about how language maintenance can be implemented.

  • Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in contact. New York: Linguistic Circle of New York.

    This work is a summary of language maintenance issues, with most examples drawn from multilingual Switzerland, where one of the four national languages, Romantsch, is undergoing language shift. The author’s 1951 PhD thesis, published in Weinreich 2011, is a deeper investigation of the same topic.

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