Linguistics Language Shift
by
Nicholas Ostler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0193

Introduction

In this article, “language shift” means the process, or the event, in which a population changes from using one language to another. As such, recognition of it depends on being able to see the prior and subsequent language as distinct; and therefore the term excludes language change which can be seen as evolution, the transition from older to newer forms of the same language. (For this latter topic, seek references in “Historical, or Diachronic, Linguistics.”) Language shift is a social phenomenon, whereby one language replaces another in a given (continuing) society. It is due to underlying changes in the composition and aspirations of the society, which goes from speaking the old to the new language. By definition, it is not a structural change caused by the dynamics of the old language as a system. The new language is adopted as a result of contact with another language community, and so it is usually possible to identify the new language as “the same” as, that is, a descendant of, a language spoken somewhere else, even if the new language has some new, perhaps unprecedented, properties on the lips of the population that is adopting it. Language shift results in the spread of the new language that is adopted, and may result in the endangerment or loss of the old language, some or all of whose speakers are changing their allegiance. As a result, some readings on language spread and endangerment are relevant to language shift. Language shift may be an object of conscious policy; but equally it may be a phenomenon which is unplanned, and often unexplained. Consequently, readings in language policy (especially those on status planning) often relate to it. The conditions of imperial relations between societies, and the special links mediated nowadays by technological inventions, often worldwide and at a particularly rapid pace, are thought by some to require special theories.

General Theory and Background

Language shift is a dynamic phenomenon of social change, and is therefore a topic of sociolinguistics. There is no general theory of its causation that is universally accepted. Ostler 2011 sets it within a general framework of change in language-using populations. Wendel and Heinrich 2012 gives a framework for kinds of shift, as well as a useful bibliography of past seminal works. Thomason and Kaufman 1988 considers the effects on the corpus of a language that may result from shift, among other language-contact phenomena. Mackey 2001 begins the search for universals that apply in the relative propensity and speed of languages to shift. Barreña, et al. 2007 discusses possible criteria that may indicate impending shift. Bonfil Batalla 1996 outlines a theory of cultural control which bids to explain the linguistic transition. Mufwene 2008 places language shift (as well as language competition and globalization) within a more general context of language ecology.

  • Barreña, A., E. Amorrortu, A. Ortega, B. Uranga, E. Izagirre, and I. Idiazabal. 2007. Does the number of speakers of a language determine its fate? International Journal of the Sociology of Language 186:125–139.

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    The authors show that the number of speakers cannot be considered the most important criterion in trying to anticipate language survival or death. Instead, natural transmission and intergenerational use are indicated.

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    • Bonfil Batalla, G. 1996. La teoría del control cultural en el estudio de los procesos étnicos. Acta sociológica 18:11–54.

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      The background to language shift is theorized in terms of a theory of cultural control, whereby a social group becomes alienated and accepting of external institutions.

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      • Mackey, W. F. 2001. The ecology of language shift. In The ecolinguistics reader: Language, ecology, and environment. Edited by Alwin Fill and Peter Mühlhäusler, 67–74. London and New York: Continuum.

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        Offers some recent evidence (e.g., in Quebec) for languages more closely related genetically to yield to one another, but different genetic types to act as a buffer on shift.

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        • Mufwene, Salikoko. 2008. Language evolution: Contact, competition and change. London and New York: Continuum.

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          A general view of the dynamic relation of languages, changing and expanding at one another’s expense among human populations.

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          • Ostler, Nicholas. 2011. Language maintenance, shift and endangerment. In Cambridge handbook of sociolinguistics. Edited by Raj Mesthrie and Walt Wolfram, 315–334. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511997068Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            There are three major issues addressed: how a new language can come on the scene; how the rising generation can come to learn it; and what determines when the result is language replacement, and when bilingualism.

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            • Thomason, Sarah, and Terrence Kaufman. 1988. Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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              The effects of shift (where a whole language has been replaced, with various degrees of imperfect learning of the new language) are principally compared with those of borrowing (where only new lexis, morphology, or constructions are absorbed into the old language).

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              • Wendel, J., and P. Heinrich. 2012. A framework for language endangerment dynamics: The effects of contact and social change on language ecologies and language diversity. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 218:145–166.

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                This framework distinguishes replacement (which involves elimination of a distinct community) from shift (which involves long-term language change, typically with smaller languages giving place to larger ones).

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                Language Attitudes

                Language attitudes are believed to be important in determining the prospects for shift of languages whose contact with others places them at risk. Not all languages enjoy the same respect among those who know of them, and these differences are related to social attitudes to their speaker communities. Differences between attitudes provide a motive for learning and using one language or another. The readings are largely distinguished by their geographical focus, athough Cooper and Fishman 1974 is a more general review of approaches to this topic. Garrett 2010 is a recent general introduction. The literature on language attitudes has a tendency to be highly methodological, which can delay introduction of specific examples which illustrate the power of the idea (e.g., Baker 1992). This is perhaps characteristic of early sociolinguistics more generally. Agheyisi and Fishman 1970 is helpful in explicitly fitting previous work into a methodological framework, as is Cooper and Fishman 1974. A remedy for this can be volumes of readings on different situations: examples of these are Shuy and Fasold 1973 and Garrett, et al. 2003. More recently, works like Pedersen 2010 and Bradac 1990 enrich our understanding of attitudes by drawing out features of an exemplary language situation.

                • Agheyisi, Rebecca, and Joshua A. Fishman. 1970. Language attitude studies: A brief survey of methodological approaches. Anthropological Linguistics 12:137–157.

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                  A methodological survey of previous works on language attitudes, which subscribed to the then important distinction of behaviorist as against mentalist approaches.

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                  • Baker, Colin. 1992. Attitudes and language. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

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                    Concerned to rest language attitudes within a well established body of literature in social psychology.

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                    • Bradac, James J. 1990. Language attitudes and impression formation. In Handbook of language and social psychology. Edited by Howard Giles and W. Peter Robinson, 387–412. Oxford: Wiley.

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                      Discusses the kinds of message-recipient judgments which can be affected by language in context.

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                      • Cooper, Robert L., and Joshua A. Fishman. 1974. The study of language attitudes. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 3:5–19.

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                        A general review of approaches taken when the field was young.

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                        • Garrett, Peter. 2010. Attitudes to language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844713Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          General introduction, with various examples.

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                          • Garrett, Peter, Nikolas Coupland, and Angie Williams. 2003. Investigating language attitudes: Social meanings of dialect, ethnicity and performance. Cardiff, UK: Univ. of Wales Press.

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                            The role in society of perceived attributes of others’ speech performance, related also to ethnicity.

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                            • Pedersen, I. 2010. The role of social factors in the shaping of language attitudes—with an evaluation of the concept of life style. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 204:129–150.

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                              A contrastive study of language attitudes held by speakers of different Scandinavian languages and their outcomes.

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                              • Shuy, Roger W., and Ralph W. Fasold, ed. 1973. Language attitudes: Current trends and prospects. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press.

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                                A collection of articles, largely focused on language attitudes within North America, although there is one article on Spanish and Quechua in Peru.

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                                Diversity in Itself

                                Language shift typically sees the speakers of large numbers of smaller languages going over to fewer, but larger, languages, where the latter have more speakers and greater areas. To understand the previous state, it is useful to contemplate the properties of linguistic diversity. This is clearly put across, from various viewpoints, in Nettle 1999, with a more dynamic view in Pagel 2000 (cited under Pre-Historic). Scanlon and Singh 2006 offers a view on why the language density of the world is decreasing.

                                • Nettle, Daniel. 1999. Linguistic diversity. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                  This is good on general features of the world’s language distribution.

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                                  • Scanlon, C., and M. Singh. 2006. Theorizing the decline of linguistic diversity. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 182:1–24.

                                    DOI: 10.1515/IJSL.2006.066Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    This seeks explanation in increasingly abstract form of social organization, which subverts the direct interaction within small communities that have bred language diversity.

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                                    Language Spread

                                    Language spread is the other side of the coin of diminishing linguistic diversity. Cooper 1982b is a collection of studies of language replacement from the point of view of the encroaching language, united by a general framework as outlined in Cooper 1982a. Liberson 1982 examines the dynamics of the process. Ferguson 1982 considers the role of religion in sustaining and expanding the domain of languages.

                                    • Cooper, Robert L. 1982a. A framework for the study of language spread. In Language spread: Studies in diffusion and social change. Edited by Robert L. Cooper, 5–36. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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                                      This article is a typology of the causes of language spread.

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                                      • Cooper, Robert L., ed. 1982b. Language spread: Studies in diffusion and social change. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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                                        A collection which is old enough to predate the concerns for language endangerment first raised in Krauss 1992 (cited under Concerned).

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                                        • Ferguson, Charles A. 1982. Religious Factors in Language Spread. In Language spread: Studies in diffusion and social change. Edited by Robert L. Cooper, 95–106. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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                                          This notes how indirect and complex are the links between religion and language spread. It emphasizes the role of religions in the spread literacy in particular languages.

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                                          • Liberson. 1982. Forces affecting language spread: Some basic propositions. In Language spread: Studies in diffusion and social change. Edited by Robert L. Cooper, 37–62. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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                                            This offers seven non-trivial empirical generalizations about language spread as it has occurred.

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                                            Difference of the Modern Era from the Past

                                            There is considerable debate about the special nature of globalizing forces in the modern world, and the unprecedented effect these may have on language spread and endangerment. De Swaan 2001 outlines a theory of the world language system today, describing five regional constellations of languages. Maurais and Morris 2003 considers the world from three perspectives: overall; from eight regions; and from six major languages. Mackey 2003 attempts to quantify the demography of languages. Maurais 2003 looks at the particular context of languages in the 21st century.

                                            • De Swaan, A. 2001. Words of the world: The global language system. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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                                              The propensity of foreigners to learn another language is predicted by its Q-value, a function of the number and the multilinguality of the language’s speakers. English, with highest Q-value, is a hyper-collective good. But little is said of what determines the propensity for languages to fail in transmission.

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                                              • Mackey, W. F. 2003. Forecasting the fate of languages. In Languages in a globalising world. Edited by J. Maurais and M. A. Morris, 64–81. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613739Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                A methodological paper, encouraging sophistication and skepticism about the trends of language history.

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                                                • Maurais, J. 2003. Towards a new linguistic world order. In Languages in a globalising world. Edited by J. Maurais and M. A. Morris, 13–36. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613739.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  A review of some of the apparently language-determining events of our era.

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                                                  • Maurais, J., and M. A. Morris, eds. 2003. Languages in a globalising world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613739Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Again, in this top-down approach, nothing is said of the perspective from small language communities.

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                                                    Special Effects of Empires

                                                    There is a view that empires of supra-national scale cause the conditions of language shift to be biased politically. Hamel 2006 is focused, despite its title, on English, while Phillipson 1992 is directly concerned to paint the hazards of a single overmighty language. Mühlhäusler 2002 uses imperial advance into the Pacific to cue an analysis of language ecology more generally.

                                                    • Hamel, Rainer Enrique. 2006. The development of language empires. In Sociolinguistics—Soziolinguistik. 2d ed. Vol. 3. Edited by Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgill, 2240–2258. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

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                                                      A politically concerned and highly theoretical essay, aiming to elucidate the contributions of English to the agency and power of certain elites, and drawing on historical comparisons with the Roman and Spanish empires only.

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                                                      • Mühlhäusler, P. 2002. Linguistic ecology: Language change and linguistic imperialism in the Pacific region. New York: Routledge.

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                                                        Account of the dynamic changes in the Pacific area’s languages, largely due to the invasion of imperial powers.

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                                                        • Phillipson, R. H. L. 1992. Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                          The classic warning against the presumptions of English, as an example of “linguicism,” a form of noxious discrimination comparable to racism or sexism.

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                                                          Ethics

                                                          In 1992, Michael Krauss (Krauss 1992, cited under Concerned) used the pages of Language (journal of the Linguistic Society of America) to issue an alarm call on behalf of the world’s minority languages in general. Since then, the impending doom for most of the world’s linguistic diversity has become a common theme.

                                                          Concerned

                                                          The article which opened up global concern about the fate of minority languages is Krauss 1992. The theme is well expounded, with global detail, in Crystal 2002 and Hagège 2002. Harrison 2007 stresses the consequent losses to human knowledge, Evans 2010 expands the theme, and the author uses his long direct experience of language communities in Australia and Southeast Asia to paint a picture of premodern communities and the way of life which stands to be forgotten, while linking it to the known pre-history of Eurasia. Some works have attempted to link the fate of the world’s languages directly with the general endangered diversity of the environment, and life on earth, such as Nettle and Romaine 2002, others attempt to build language policy of a more general concept of sustainability, such as Bastardas-Boada 2007. Dorian 1998 takes a more historical view of how attitudes have changed in Europe, especially.

                                                          • Bastardas-Boada, Albert. 2007. Linguistic sustainability for a multilingual humanity. Glossa. An Interdisciplinary Journal 2.2.

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                                                            This is a largely philosophical drawing out of the content of sustainability.

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                                                            • Crystal, David. 2002. Language death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                              A very good general introduction to the global situation.

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                                                              • Dorian, Nancy. 1998. Western language ideologies and small-language prospects. In Endangered languages: Current issues and future prospects. Edited by Lenore J. Grenoble and Lindsay J. Whaley, 3–21. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139166959Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                This is a review of current attitudes to language rights and language prospects from a historical perspective.

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                                                                • Evans, Nicholas. 2010. Dying words: Endangered languages and what they have to tell us. Oxford: Blackwell.

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                                                                  This work is unique in combining an exposition of top-level research with anecdotes of actual experience with communities in the field. It is also very well informed historically.

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                                                                  • Hagège, Claude. 2002. Halte à la mort des langues. Paris: O. Jacob.

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                                                                    English translation, On the Death of Life and Languages (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2009.) This work is especially strong on historical aspects, and in particular the successful revival of the Hebrew language, from liturgy to life, in the 20th century.

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                                                                    • Harrison, K. David. 2007. When languages die: The extinction of the world’s languages and the erosion of human knowledge. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181920.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      This is based in fieldwork in Siberia, although the author is active worldwide. He has popularized the concept of “language hotspots.”

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                                                                      • Krauss, Michael. 1992. The world’s languages in crisis. Language 68.1: 4–10.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1353/lan.1992.0075Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Arguably, Krauss’s call is skewed by his special knowledge of the situation of endangerment in North America. But there is no denying the effect in provoking a worldwide debate, and indeed action.

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                                                                        • Nettle, Daniel, and Suzanne Romaine. 2002. Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                          It remains an open question whether the link between the threats to local languages and the environment is a necessary one, or just an analogy.

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                                                                          Skeptical

                                                                          Evidently, concern for minority languages can be contested, and here are two collections of papers which attempt to put the contrary case. Duchene and Heller 2007 argues that what they call the “discourse of endangerment” is too often used as a disguise by European nationalists; while Freeland and Patrick 2004 and Errington 2003 are concerned to put language rights on a sociologically sound basis, disjoint from any romantic loyalties. Hill 2002 is more ambiguous in her sympathies and analysis.

                                                                          • Duchene, Alexandre, and Monica Heller. 2007. Discourses of endangerment: Interest and ideology in the defense of languages. Advances in Sociolinguistics. London and New York: Continuum.

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                                                                            Despite its prejudice, this does provide interesting accounts of language discourse in Canada, Switzerland, Corsica, Catalonia, Ireland, Sweden, France, and the Spanish-speaking world.

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                                                                            • Errington, Joseph. 2003. Getting language rights: The rhetorics of language endangerment and loss. American Anthropologist 105:723–732.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1525/aa.2003.105.4.723Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              This article focuses on tacit, enabling assumptions of three distinct strategies for framing and redressing “threats” to marginalized languages and speech communities. Errington aims to develop a sharper sense of their different uses, and the different social meaning that linguistic descriptions can have in and for marginalized communities.

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                                                                              • Freeland, Jane, and Donna Patrick, eds. 2004. Language rights and language survival: Sociolinguistic and sociocultural perspectives. Papers presented at a colloquium “Language rights and wrongs” organized at the Sociolinguistics Symposium held in Ghent in 2002. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome.

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                                                                                A major contribution of this work is to discuss Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as applied to a language tradition worth saving, an elaborated reality which is separate from an “essentialized” culture, such as J. G. Herder proposed.

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                                                                                • Hill, Jane H. 2002. “Expert rhetorics” in advocacy for endangered languages: Who is listening, and what do they hear? Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 12.2: 119–133.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1525/jlin.2002.12.2.119Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Hill takes a sympathetic view of indigenous language communities while being hard on the emotive categories which may be employed in their defense.

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                                                                                  History

                                                                                  Since language shift is a phenomenon that takes place over generations, it is often best viewed historically. It is convenient here to divide the coverage into three eras, Pre-Historic, Premodern, and Modern. The divider between the former two is the advent of writing (allowing languages to be directly documented) and between the latter two the advent of global exploration by Europeans (and others) in the 16th century CE.

                                                                                  Pre-Historic

                                                                                  Early language succession is necessarily speculative, based primarily on comparative linguistics, but also on genetic evidence. Cavalli-Sforza 2001 correlates genetic and comparative evidence, producing a picture of the shifting language identities, especially in Europe. Bellwood 2005 and Beckwith 2009 represent the spread of farming techniques as the root of language spread in the last ten millennia. Pagel 2000 is interested in the numbers of languages generated by major movement of the human populations of the earth. Nichols 1992 is more directly based on linguistic evidence (than mathematical models) and uses evidence from linguistic diversity rather than similarity to map the paths of language spread.

                                                                                  • Beckwith, Christopher. 2009. Empires of the Silk Road. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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                                                                                    This suggests that the differences between Indo-European families may actually represent substrate effects of these prior languages.

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                                                                                    • Bellwood, Peter. 2005. First farmers. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

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                                                                                      Although it is assumed that language shift took place as farming populations replaced hunter gatherers, there is little evidence for the prior languages.

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                                                                                      • Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca. 2001. Genes, peoples and languages. London: Penguin.

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                                                                                        Patterns in human populations are argued to derive from demographic expansions, determined by technical advances in food production, mobility, or military power. In this way, both genes and languages are spread to potentially vast areas. The resulting genetic and linguistic pedigrees tend to correlate, but are both subject to smudging through direct contacts between neighbors.

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                                                                                        • Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic diversity in space and time. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago press.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226580593.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          This is the first work to make constructive use of second-order patterns in linguistic data, e.g., measures of the diversity versus uniformity seen in certain linguistic parameters, as well as the global location of certain typological features of languages, and to draw historical conclusions about human migration.

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                                                                                          • Pagel, Mark. 2000. The history, rate and pattern of world linguistic evolution. In The evolutionary emergence of language: Social function and the origins of linguistic form. Edited by C. Knight, M. Studdert-Kennedy, and J. Hurford, 391–416. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511606441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            This draws meaning from mathematical models of the number and pattern of the world’s languages in pre-history.

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                                                                                            Premodern

                                                                                            In the premodern period the linguist can focus on named languages, and from their direct written evidence see how languages have succeeded one another. Dalby 2002 expatiates on Europe’s language diversity before the leveling effect of the Roman Empire. Ostler 2005 gives an overall view of the spread of languages round the world. Gómez Mango de Carriquiry 1995 considers language shift as a result of the encounters of Spanish with the languages of the New World. Price 2000 considers the layers of linguistic history in the British Isles. Bauer 1996 ponders the shift from Gaulish to Latin in western Europe. Berndt 1969 charts the degrees of shift around the encounter of English with Norman French. Wolff 1971 charts the replacements for Latin in western Europe and Wright 1982 considers in greater detail how the survival of Latin as a learned lingua franca was mediated into the late Middle Ages of Europe.

                                                                                            • Bauer, Brigitte L. M. 1996. Language loss in Gaul: Socio-historical and linguistic factors in language conflict. Southwest Journal of Linguistics xv.1–2: 23–44.

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                                                                                              Notes on the replacement of Gaulish by Latin, and the curious similarity between the languages which facilitated the shift.

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                                                                                              • Berndt, Rolf. 1969. The linguistic situation in England from the Norman Conquest to the loss of Normandy. In Approaches to English historical linguistics. Edited by Roger Lass, 369–391. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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                                                                                                Lists multiple reasons why French had little or no chance of spreading to replace English after the Norman conquest of England.

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                                                                                                • Dalby, Andrew. 2002. Language in danger. London: Penguin.

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                                                                                                  This leads from a sense of the recorded language history of Europe to the predicament of language diversity in the present age.

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                                                                                                  • Gómez Mango de Carriquiry, Lidice. 1995. El encuentro de lenguas en el “Nuevo Mundo.” Córdoba, Spain: Cajasur.

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                                                                                                    A description of the various ways in which Spanish came to replace indigenous languages in the Americas.

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

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                                                                                                      This work provides details and context on most of the language shifts which led to the growth and spread of the world’s large-scale languages.

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                                                                                                      • Price, Glanville, ed. 2000. Languages in Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Blackwell.

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                                                                                                        This exhaustive account of languages past and present in the British Isles is in the form of a dictionary of language names.

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                                                                                                        • Wolff, Philippe. 1971. Western languages AD 100–1500. London: Weidenfeld.

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                                                                                                          Recounts the intermediate stages to the establishment of vernacular Romance dialects as literate and official languages of European kingdoms.

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                                                                                                          • Wright, Roger. 1982. Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France. Liverpool, UK: Francis Cairns.

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                                                                                                            How Alcuin’s reforms to standardize the pronunciation of Latin effectively separated it as a language from the vernacular Romance dialects.

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                                                                                                            Modern

                                                                                                            There are a variety of studies of language shift as observed in the modern world: Leclerc 2001 sketches a major linguistic effect of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France; Ryckeboer 2002 gives a millennial context to language shift in Picardy; Veltman 1983 generalizes about developments in a vast community being repopulated with immigrants; and Fishman 1966 adds more detail on immigrant communities’ languages there. English has tended to play an ever-more decisive role in the development and spread of other languages, even its major European competitors. Many of the case studies in this section of the article might also be seen as contributions to the various modern history of language shift.

                                                                                                            • Fishman, Joshua, ed. 1966. Language loyalty in the United States: The maintenance and perpetuation of non-English mother tongues by American ethnic and religious groups. The Hague: Mouton.

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                                                                                                              An extensive study of the degree and process of shifting in the United States.

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                                                                                                              • Leclerc, Jacques. 2001. Histoire du français au Québec. Quebec: TLFQ, Université Laval, L’aménagement linguistique dans le monde.

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                                                                                                                An account of what happened to French in Canada over the century after the conquest by Britain in the Seven Years’ War.

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                                                                                                                • Ryckeboer, Hugo. 2002. Dutch/Flemish in the North of France. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 23.1–2: 22–35.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/01434630208666452Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  This tells the story of the retreat of Dutch/Flemish as the vernacular language of northern France (as far as the Pas de Calais), a process which has extended over almost a thousand years.

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                                                                                                                  • Veltman, Calvin. 1983. Language shift in the United States. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter.

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                                                                                                                    The process by which most minority language communities have shifted, and are shifting, to English in the United States.

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                                                                                                                    Policy

                                                                                                                    Language policy, insofar as it is directed at status planning, is precisely about the desired relative status of languages. If it elects to reinforce or promote a majority language at the expense of less populous competitors, it may well contribute to language shift. More controversial––at least as to feasibility––is action to attempt to reverse language shift, to restore a previous state, so that a language which has weakened is artificially strengthened. It is also a matter of controversy what methods may be effective in revitalizing a language in this way. If some time has passed since the target language has declined, it may well be necessary to document it, to get a clearer idea of its corpus before attempting to recover its use. And the whole field of language studies may yield insights which will inform language policy aimed at reversing language shift. Each of these aspects of language policy are considered separately.

                                                                                                                    Deliberate Replacement

                                                                                                                    These texts are summaries of language policy initiatives, largely post-1945, in some areas of European colonialism, Africa, and (southern and eastern) Asia. The postwar independence of colonial states has given rise to a wide range of language policy choices. The hard-headed but neutral stance has often seemed to be to retain the common language used by the previous colonial power. Simpson 2008 considers the issues as they manifested in Africa, and Simpson 2007 in Asia.

                                                                                                                    • Simpson, Andrew. 2007. Introduction. In Language and National Identity in Asia. By Andrew Simpson, 1–30. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                      This lays bare the motives for promoting one language, often a European one, as a common official language in newly founded Asian states. This may be at the expense of development of one or more indigenous languages.

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                                                                                                                      • Simpson, Andrew. 2008. Introduction. In Language and National Identity in Africa. By Andrew Simpson, 1–25. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                        This lays bare the motives for promoting one language, often a European one, as a common official language in newly founded African states. This may be at the expense of development of one or more indigenous languages.

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                                                                                                                        Attempted Reversal

                                                                                                                        Unlike continuation of an established language, deliberate revitalization can seem a quixotic policy. However, as the difficulties are analyzed, it can seem more practical. Fishman 1991 is a pioneering consideration of the feasibility of reversing language shift, and Fishman 2001 assesses the balance sheet of success and failure ten years on.

                                                                                                                        • Fishman, Joshua A. 1991. Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened language. Clevedon, UK: Multilingal Matters.

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                                                                                                                          This book, which gave currency to the expression “language shift” itself, is a classic on the ethical and practical issues in language revitalization. It also defined the GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale) which has inspired a series of quantitative measures of threat to a language’s status and survival.

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                                                                                                                          • Fishman, Joshua A. 2001. Can threatened languages be saved?: Reversing language shift, revisited––A 21st century perspective. Clevedon, UK: Multilingal Matters.

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                                                                                                                            This book, composed of a series of case studies in which Fishman has special knowledge, is united by a sophisticated understanding of the value of a language, and emphasis on the social fact that languages are endangered through serial loss of individual functions.

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                                                                                                                            Practical Revitalization

                                                                                                                            These remedies largely emphasize the variety of cases of language weakening and endangerment, which therefore call for various policies in response. Some works aim to characterize the requirements of the situation (Fishman 1997; King, et al. 2008; Tsunoda 2006), some review different aspects through different authors or add a specific situation (Hinton and Hale 2001, Cowell 2012), and some just aim to offer concrete advice (Grenoble and Whaley 2006; Thieberger 1995; Hinton, et al. 2002).

                                                                                                                            • Cowell, A. 2012. The Hawaiian model of language revitalization: Problems of extension to mainland native America. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 218:167–193.

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                                                                                                                              Traces differential success of revitalization to latent cultural properties, specifically “dispersed cultural” versus “ethnic” traits.

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                                                                                                                              • Fishman, Joshua A. 1997. Maintaining languages: What works? What doesn’t? In Stabilizing indigenous languages. Edited by Gina Cantoni, 186–198. Flagstaff: Northern Arizona Univ., Center for Excellence in Education.

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                                                                                                                                Besides the need for specific approaches, Fishman highlights a crucial problem in the intimacy and informality of what stands at risk, when a language is going out of use: it is hard organize to resist such trends.

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                                                                                                                                • Grenoble, Lenore A., and Lindsay J. Whaley. 2006. Saving languages: An introduction to language revitalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                  Aims at being a practical, general, how-to-do-it guide.

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                                                                                                                                  • Hinton, Leanne, and Kenneth Hale, ed. 2001. The green book of language revitalization in practice: Toward a sustainable world. New York: Academic Press.

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                                                                                                                                    This is a collection of articles which contain knowledge positive for maintenance and revival of endangered languages. It has an emphasis on the Amerindian and Australian languages, but also Welsh.

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                                                                                                                                    • Hinton, Leanne, Matt Vera, and Nancy Steele. 2002. How to keep your language alive: A commonsense approach to one-on-one language learning. Berkeley, CA: Heyday.

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                                                                                                                                      Aims to be simple and accessible.

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                                                                                                                                      • King, Kendall, Natalie Schilling-Estes, Lyn Wright Fogle, and Jia Jackie Lou, eds. 2008. Sustaining linguistic diversity: Endangered and minority languages and language varieties. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                        Focuses heavily on problems of definition, and (in practice) on methods of documentation.

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                                                                                                                                        • Thieberger, Nicholas, ed. 1995. Paper and talk. Canberra, Australia: Aboriginal Studies Press.

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                                                                                                                                          Addressing especially the case of Australian languages, the contributors suggest techniques for going from written records to practical conversations

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                                                                                                                                          • Tsunoda, Tasaku. 2006. Language endangerment and language revitalization: An introduction. Trends in Linguistics 148. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1515/9783110896589Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            This provides a middle-of-the-road view of the issues in language endangerment.

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                                                                                                                                            Language Documentation

                                                                                                                                            In order to revitalize a language, it is of course necessary that it be known. If it is no longer known instinctively by a speaker community, the next best thing is the analytical knowledge of grammar, lexis, and discourse available through linguistics. But how is this knowledge best made available? This is a major concern of language documentation (besides simple record keeping, when a language is obsolescent, but no revitalization is immediately foreseen). Bird and Simons 2003 provide conventions for “meta-data,” that is descriptors of documentary resources. These, if widely adopted, will make such media accessible. Gippert, et al. 2006 is a more practical guide to the methods of creating such resources. Austin 2001–2012 is series of volumes filled with (theoretically inspired) descriptions of aspects of endangered languages.

                                                                                                                                            • Austin, Peter, ed. 2001–2012. Language documentation and description. Working Papers series of the Endangered Language Academic Programme (ELAP) at London School of Oriental and African Studies. Vols. 1–10.

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                                                                                                                                              This vast domain is being actively trawled and analyzed in a series of volumes produced by practitioners.

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                                                                                                                                              • Bird, Steven, and Gary Simons. 2003. Seven dimensions of portability. Language 79:557–582.

                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1353/lan.2003.0149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                Access to records is facilitated by standards in meta-data, the information on the contents of potentially useful linguistic documentation materials.

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                                                                                                                                                • Gippert, Jost, Nikolaus Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel, ed. 2006. Essentials of language documentation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1515/9783110197730Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  This is a comprehensive manual of best practice.

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                                                                                                                                                  Aspects of Language Endangerment

                                                                                                                                                  There is a wide range of literature on endangered languages, and policies that may relate to them. As a convenient conspectus, this article focuses––mainly, but not exclusively––on the descriptions that have been published in conference proceedings of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, focusing in turn on social causes of endangerment, the results of an endangered condition in a language, and the potential policy responses to this condition.

                                                                                                                                                  Social Causes

                                                                                                                                                  Dorian 1989b gives a range of stories which instantiate this topic, while Dorian 1989a gives a specific case. The following works, published by the Foundation for Endangered Languages, give more information about language situations, which are considered politically (Argenter and Brown 2004), anthropologically (Crawhall and Ostler 2005), historically (Elnazarov and Ostler 2009), or geographically (Blythe and Brown 2003). The generalizations about cause have to be drawn from concrete cases.

                                                                                                                                                  • Argenter, Joan A., and R. McKenna Brown, eds. 2004. On the margins of nations: Endangered languages and linguistic rights. Proceedings of the Eighth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                    This work covers the politics of language from grass-roots activity to political institutions at all levels: how are linguistic rights acknowledged and, where necessary, enforced? How can communities act to defend them? It also covers the interplay of the global and the local in linguistic rights—international, national and local—and linguistic rights crossing borders.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Blythe, Joe, and R. McKenna Brown, eds. 2003. Maintaining the links: Language, identity and the land. Proceedings of the Seventh FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                      Throughout the world the relationships between language, land, and identity are varied and complex, especially for indigenous communities. For some coastal and seafaring communities the “sense of place” may be felt in connection with the sea as well as the land. This conference aimed to better understand the relationships between language, the culture and identity of its speakers, and the land. These understandings can then provide an important guide to establishing priorities, when choosing approaches to endangered languages.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Crawhall, Nigel, and Nicholas Ostler, eds. 2005. Creating outsiders: Endangered languages, migration and marginalisation. Proceedings of the Ninth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                        Today’s world-maps, political and linguistic, were laid out through human population movements, some ancient but some of them very recent. This conference addresses the effects of these movements on language communities: how they dissolve communities, and change their status; how communities may re-form in foreign places, and the relations between incomers and established populations, whichever has the upper hand.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Dorian, Nancy C. 1989a. Small languages and small language communities: News, notes, and comments 3. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 80:139–141.

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                                                                                                                                                          A brief article on the improving status of the Faroese language, against language policy in the Danish empire, and the general struggle to achieve official status among European languages over the last millennium.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Dorian, Nancy C., ed. 1989b. Investigating obsolescence: Studies in language contraction and death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620997Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            This is a collection of papers giving a wide range of descriptions of language histories.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Elnazarov, Hakim, and Nicholas Ostler, eds. 2009. Endangered languages and history. Proceedings of the Conference FEL XIII. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                              Endangered languages can serve to legitimize the sovereignty of the dominant nations, or to reaffirm their identity and authority over the territory, often at the expense of other languages. In the process, the endangered languages themselves may be strengthened or weakened as the past of the nation becomes a bone of contention.

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                                                                                                                                                              Products and Outcomes

                                                                                                                                                              These works, all published by the Foundation for Endangered Languages, consider endangered languages from the perspective of their creative impact. Brown 2002 is focused on literature, David, et al. 2007 on the interaction with linguistic research. Elangaiyan, et al. 2006 considers the role of endangered languages in highly multilingual environments, and Haboud and Ostler 2011 their perception within a wider world. Ka’ai, et al. 2012 look at the role of the latest language technology, as it interacts with endangered languages, and Moseley, et al. 2001 the place of endangered languages among mass media coverage.

                                                                                                                                                              • Brown, R. McKenna, ed. 2002. Endangered languages and their literatures. Proceedings of the Sixth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                One of the most powerful functions of a language is that of repository for the culture and worldview of its speakers. Its grammar and lexicon store the shared experiences of past generations, and a language is the channel by which these images, emotions, knowledge, and beliefs are transmitted to the next. A language does not just transmit messages; it decorates them aesthetically, and so facilitates their reception and retention.

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                                                                                                                                                                • David, Maya Khemlani, Nicholas Ostler, and Caesar Dealwis, eds. 2007. Working together for endangered languages––Research challenges and social impacts. Proceedings of the Eleventh FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                  The social status of a language is a matter of overriding concern. When the number of speakers of a language starts to shrink, something must be done in order to maintain and preserve the language. If this is not done the language may be doomed. Although the competence of speakers does not disappear overnight it does gradually result in the loss of linguistic proficiency, signaling that the language is in the process of dying. It is, in fact, vital that linguists from different parts of the world work together to prevent language loss or extinction of many minority languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Elangaiyan R., R. McKenna Brown, Nicholas Ostler, and Mahendra K. Verma, eds. 2006. Vital voices: Endangered languages and multilingualism. Proceedings of the Tenth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Like the earth’s species, all our languages have inherent vitality and viability to survive and develop and respond to the needs of their communities. Even those put on the list of “vanishing voices” are vital to the maintenance of the linguistic equilibrium. But our societies, increasingly oriented to respect capital, generally reject or ignore the potential viability of languages, if their speakers seem to lack a critical mass of wealth or influence.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Haboud, Marleen, and Nicholas Ostler, eds. 2011. Endangered languages: Voices and images. Proceedings of the Conference FEL XV. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Language endangerment is now accepted as an important issue of our times, but it is sometimes misrepresented as a problem just for the speaker communities, and not for the wider societies which surround and often penetrate them. What messages do endangered languages send to the wider world? These voices and images may play vital roles in the formation of language attitudes.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Ka’ai, Tania, Muiris Ó. Laoire, Nicholas Ostler, Rachel Ka’ai-Mahuta, Dean Mahuta, and Tania Smith, eds. 2012. Language endangerment in the 21st century: Globalisation, technology and new media. Proceedings of Conference FEL XVI. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Over the years technology from the tape recorder to digital archiving has become increasingly used, and clearly useful, for the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages. At the same time, many endangered languages appear to making a successful transition to new media.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Moseley, Christopher, Nicholas Ostler, and Hassan Ouzzate, eds. 2001. Endangered languages and the media: Proceedings of the Fifth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Among the most powerful instruments of the process we have come to know as “globalization” are the mass media. Through the medium of the written and spoken word, the increasingly concentrated ownership of the world’s mass media exercises a strong influence on the hearts and minds of all but the most remote of the world’s languages. The pattern of use and control of the world’s press and broadcasting has shifted even faster than the speed of shrinkage of the world’s minority languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Policy Responses

                                                                                                                                                                          What is the appropriate way to approach endangered languages from a policy perspective? De Graaf, et al. 2008 consider the deployment of language learning methods, while Lewis and Ostler 2010 broach the topic of how a language tradition can be turned around. Ostler and Rudes 2000 considers the important role that alphabetization and formal teaching have played in the sustenance of endangered languages, Ostler 1998 examines the potential dubious role of outsiders with respect to a language community. Ostler 1999 considers the role of education more generally, as it bears on the future of endangered languages.

                                                                                                                                                                          • De Graaf, Tjeerd, Nicholas Ostler, and Reinier Salverda, eds. 2008. Endangered languages and language learning. Proceedings of the Twelfth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                            This begins with specifics, how linguistic details of endangered languages are to be covered in a syllabus, followed by discussions of the various approaches that can be adopted in the classroom. Then it considers the implications of different political and social settings when schools teach languages, what we refer to as “School Contexts.” Independently, proposed methods of instruction may differ and be developed on novel lines, and this gives a new dimension on which to consider teaching practices.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Lewis, Hywel Glyn, and Nicholas Ostler, eds. 2010. Reversing language shift: How to re-awaken a language tradition. Proceedings of the Conference FEL XIV. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Language revitalization requires the collaboration of a wide range of expertise. Institutional, political, and local support all play crucial roles, along with educationists and language planners. But how can these, working together, have practical effects in the daily language usage of ordinary people, and how can they achieve the goal of slowing down language erosion and revitalizing language tradition?

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Ostler, Nicholas, ed. 1998. Endangered languages: What role for the specialist? Proceedings of the Second FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                                In recent years, a number of support organizations have established themselves, aiming to mobilize research effort, popular opinion, and money in defense of declining languages. The question is often raised of how these outsiders can really help the cause that they have identified. In order to survive, language communities must have their own inner strength, or at least the will and the means to go on using their traditional tongues. But such qualities can never come directly from outside organizations, however well-meaning.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Ostler, Nicholas, ed. 1999. Endangered languages and education. Proceedings of the Third FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Education, seen as any formal process whereby knowledge is passed on to new people, usually plays an important part in such changes. But it may act to promote, resist or even reverse the loss of a language. One fundamental tension is that while organized education may be a threat to traditional culture and language (bringing foreign elements to the explicit attention of pupils), people once educated are more likely to resist unwanted intrusions from outsiders, and build confidence in their own traditions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Ostler, Nicholas, and Blair A. Rudes, eds. 2000. Endangered languages and literacy: Proceedings of the Fourth FEL Conference. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Introducing literacy is widely seen as a necessary first step in maintaining and promoting use of the language. But efforts to develop a written language and instill literacy may encounter cultural obstacles. It may also have unforeseen consequences. Might the development of literacy, over time, alter or interrupt the oral transmission of a community’s knowledge and beliefs? At a more conscious level, may the members of the community resist literacy? Their culture may enjoin beliefs about the spiritual or mystical nature of oral communication.

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