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By: Kim Potowski

Language shift is the replacement of one language by another as the primary means of communication and
socialization within a community. In an effort to understand the factors that contribute to language shift and those
which seem to militate against it, this chapter explores several immigrant and non-immigrant contexts around the
world, with particular focus on the United States. The principal factorsdivided into individual, family, community,
and broader societal factorsare often interdependent. The discussion also notes the basic tenet emphasized by
Fishman (1991) that language maintenance must involve intergenerational transmission of the language. If
intergenerational transmission of a language ceases, it can be said that the speakers have shifted to another language.
Many of the worlds 6000 to 7000 languages are being lostby some estimates, up to half of themmostly due to
the spread of a few dominant languages, which many speakers are shifting to.
By: Anne Pauwels


The study of language shift and maintenance constitutes a central focus of contemporary
linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. Even though someof its central aspects have a rather long
history in the field of study known as language, culture, and society, in the most recent research agenda
interest in linguistic shift and maintenance has touched on almost all crucial areas of the study of
dynamic language phenomena. It engages a focus on both linguistic structure and linguistic praxis,
including language ideologies,discourse and interaction, micro-as well as macro-sociological parameters,
issues relating the self and society to global concerns, and a feedback between what communities
understand as their sociolinguistic condition and what scholars, academics, and various institutional
sources of authority perceive as shift and maintenance.
In general, we consider the language or languages of a communityas undergoing shift when the
codes under scrutiny are being either progressively or more suddenly replaced by other languages in
speakersrepertoires, with structural consequences for the receding codes, and sociocultural
repercussions for the communities involved. Conscious efforts centered around various attempts to
reverse the shift and retain or regain the structural and functional integrity of a threatened language fall
within the social dynamic that is called language maintenance. Shift and maintenance are two poles in a

complex dialectic since any social or intellectual movement voicing an advocacy for maintenance would
be meaningless without the existence of historical contingencies that threaten to push languages in the
direction of shift.
To view language shift and maintenance as unilinear phenomena obeying rules of a mechanistic
nature where by the language of a politically dominant community pushes, so to speak, out of use the
expressive means of a subordinate community and later forces come upon the scene to save the
minority language, even though true to some extent, would constitute an oversimplified perspective on
a rather complex process. Crucial questions are: what specific conditions determine the shifting of a
language, which kinds of agency are involved, and which particular aspects of language structure and
use are affected.

Language shift Language shift is language transfer or language replacement where by a speech
community of a language shifts to speaking another language. Its 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.
Language shift in different communities.
Migrant minorities. People usually switch rapidly from phrase to phrase for instance. Reactions to codeswitching styles are negative in many communities, despite the fact that proficiency in intra sentential
code-switching requires good control of both codes. This may reflect the attitudes of the majority the
monolingual group in places like in North America and Britain. In places such as New Guinea and East
Africa where multilingualism is the norm, attitudes to proficient code-switching are much more positive.
The order of domains in which language shift occurs may differ for different individuals and different
groups, but gradually over time the language of the wider society displaces the minority language
mother tongue. This may take three or four generations but sometimes language shift can be

complemented in just two generations. Typically, migrants are virtually monolingual in their mother
tongue, their children are bilingual, and their grandchildren are often monolingual in the language of the
host country.
Non-migrant communities. Language shift is not always the result of migration. For this community the
home is the one most under any familys control, language may be maintained in more domains than
just the home.
Migrant majorities When language shift occurs, it is always shift towards the language of the domain
powerful group. A domain group has no incentive to adopt the language of minority. The domain
language is associated with status, prestige, and social success. When a language dies gradually, as
opposed to all its speakers being wiped out by a massacre or epidemic, and the function of the language
are taken over in one domain after another by another.
Attitudes and values. Positive attitudes support efforts to use the minority language in a variety of
domains, and this helps people resist the pressure from the majority group to switch their language.
There are certain social factors which seem to retard wholesale language shift for a minority language
group, at least for a time. First, where language is considered an important symbol of a minority groups
identity. Second, if families a minority group live near each other frequently. Another factor which may
contribute to language maintenance for those who emigrate is the degree and frequency of contact with
the homeland. Factors contributing to language shift, those are economic, social, and political factors.
The most obvious factor is that the community sees an important reason for learning the second
language. The second important factor is their ethnic language. Demographic factor are also relevant in
accounting for the speed of language shift. Resistance to language shift tends to last longer in rural than
in urban areas. Shift tends to occur faster in some groups than in other. The size of the group is
sometimes a critical factor. Although the pressures to shift are strong, members of a minority
community can take active steps to protect its language. Where a language is rated as high in status by
its users, and yet also regarded as a language of solidarity to be used between minority group members.
Different factors combine in different ways in each social context, and the result are rarely predictable.
Monolingualism is regarded as normal, bilingualism is considered unusual. Bilingualism and
multilingulism which is normal.
Factors contributing to language shift:
1. 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

2. 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
3. Attitudes and values
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 maintenance is the degree to which an individual or grups continues to use their
language, particulary in bilingual or multilingual area or among imigrant grup whereas language shift is
the process by which a new language is acquired by new community usually resulting with the loss of
the communitys first language.
Language maintenance refers to the situation where speech commuity continues to use its
traditional language in the face of a host of condition that might foster a shift to another language.
If language maintenance does not occur, there can be several results. One is language death;
speakers become bilingual, younger speakers become dominant in another language, and the language
is said to die. The speakers or the community does not die, of course, they just become a subset of
speakers of another language. The end result is language shift for the population, and if the language
isn't spoken elsewhere, it dies.
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

Intermarriage within the same minority group is helpful to maintain the native language.
Ensuring that the minority group language is used at formal settings such as schools or worship
places will increases language maintenance.
An extended normal family in which parents, children and grandchildren live together and use
the same minority language can help to maintain it.
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


When all the people who speak a language die, the language dies with them. Sometimes this
fact is crystal clear. When a language dies gradually, as opposed to all its speakers being wiped out by a
massacre or epidemic, the process is similar to that of language shift. The functions of the language are
taken over in one domain after another by another language. As the domains in which speakers use the
language shrink, the speakers of the dying language become gradually less proficient in it. 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 stylistic range that people acquire when they use a
language in a wider range of domains disappeared.
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
Example of language loss:
Annie at 20 is a young speaker of Dyirbal, an Australian Aboriginal language. He also speaks English
which she learned at school. There is no written Dyirbal material for her to read, and there are fewer
and fewer contexts in which she can appropriately hear and speak the language. So she is steadily
becoming less proficient in it. She can understand the Dyirbal she hears used by older people in her
community, and she uses it to speak to her grandmother. But her grandmother is scathing about her
ability in Dyirbal, saying Annie doesnt speak the language properly.
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

In conclusion, there is no magic formula for guaranteening language maintenance or for
predicting language shift or death. There are three factors contributing to laguage shift. First are
economic, social and political factors, second is demographic factors, and the last are attitudes and
values. Language shift generally refers to the process by which one language displaces another in the
linguistic repertoir of a community. Language death has occured when a language is no longer spoken
naturally anywhere in the world.