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Language shift, sometimes referred to as language transfer or language replacement or assimilation, is the process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. Often, languages perceived to be "higher status" stabilise or spread at the expense of other languages perceived by their own speakers to be "lower-status".
- 1 Mechanisms of language shift
- 2 Examples
- 3 Social consequences
- 4 Reversing
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Mechanisms of language shift
For prehistory, Forster et al. (2004) and Forster and Renfrew (2011) observe that there is a correlation of language shift with intrusive male Y chromosomes but not necessarily with intrusive female mtDNA. They conclude that technological innovation (the transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture, or from stone to metal tools) or military prowess (as in the abduction of British women by Vikings to Iceland) causes immigration of at least some males, who are perceived to be of higher status than local males. Then, in mixed-language marriages with these males, prehistoric women prefer to transmit the "higher-status" spouse's language to their children, yielding the language/Y-chromosome correlation seen today.
The process whereby a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language, and gradually shifts allegiance to the second language is called assimilation. When a linguistic community ceases to use their original language, language death is said to occur.
The rate of assimilation is the percentage of individuals with a given mother tongue who speak another language more often in the home. The data are used to measure the use of a given language in the lifetime of a person, or most often across generations within a linguistic community.
In the context of the Indo-European migrations, it has been noted that small groups can change a larger cultural area. Michael Witzel refers to Ehret’s model[note 1] "which stresses the osmosis, or a "billiard ball," or Mallory’s Kulturkugel, effect of cultural transmission." According to Ehret, ethnicity and language can shift with relative ease in small societies, due to the cultural, economic and military choices made by the local population in question. The group bringing new traits may initially be small, contributing features that can be fewer in number than those of the already local culture. The emerging combined group may then initiate a recurrent, expansionist process of ethnic and language shift.
David Anthony notes that the spread of the Indo-European languages probably did not happen through "chain-type folk migrations," but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political elites, which are emulated by large groups of people.[note 2] Anthony explains:
Language shift can be understood best as a social strategy through which individuals and groups compete for positions of prestige, power, and domestic security [...] What is important, then, is not just dominance, but vertical social mobility and a linkage between language and access to positions of prestige and power [...] A relatively small immigrant elite population can encourage widespread language shift among numerically dominant indigenes in a non-state or pre-state context if the elite employs a specific combination of encouragements and punishments. Ethnohistorical cases [...] demonstrate that small elite groups have successfully imposed their languages in non-state situations.
Anthony gives the example of the Luo-speaking Acholi in northern Uganda in the 17th and 18th century, who's language spread rapidly in the 19th century. Anthony notes that "Indo-European languages probably spread in a similar way among the tribal societies of prehistoric Europe," carried forward by "Indo-European chiefs" and their "ideology of political clientage." Anthony notes that "elite recruitment" may be a suitable term for this system.[note 3]
Until the mid 19th century, southern Carinthia in Austria had an overwhelming Slovene-speaking majority: in the 1820s, around 97% of the inhabitants south of the line Villach-Klagenfurt-Diex spoke Slovene as their native language. In the course of the 19th century, this number dropped significantly. By 1920, already a third of the population of the area had shifted to German as their main language of communication. After the Carinthian Plebiscite in 1920s, and especially after World War II, most of the population shifted from Slovene to German. In the same region, today only some 13% of the people still speaks Slovene, while more than 85% of the population speaks German. The figures for the whole region are equally telling: in 1818, around 35% of the population of Carinthia spoke Slovene; by 1910, this number dropped to 15.6% and by 2001 to 2.3%. These changes were almost entirely the result of a language shift in the population, with emigration and genocide (by the Nazis during the Second World War) playing only a minor role.
Despite the withdrawal of Belarus from the USSR proclaimed in 1991, use of the Belarusian language is declining. According to a study done by the Belarusian government in 2009, 72% of Belarusians speak Russian at home, while Belarusian is used by only 11.9% of Belarusians. 29.4% of Belarusians can write, speak and read Belarusian, while only 52.5% can read and speak it. According to the research, one out of ten Belarusians does not understand Belarusian.
In the last two centuries, Brussels transformed from an exclusively Dutch-speaking city to a bilingual city with French as the majority language and lingua franca. The language shift began in the 18th century and accelerated as Belgium became independent and Brussels expanded out past its original city boundaries. From 1880 on, more and more Dutch-speaking people became bilingual, resulting in a rise of monolingual French-speakers after 1910.
Halfway through the 20th century, the number of monolingual French-speakers carried the day over the (mostly) bilingual Flemish inhabitants. Only since the 1960s, after the establishment of the Belgian language border and the socio-economic development of Flanders was in full effect, could Dutch stem the tide of increasing French use. French remains the city's predominant language and Dutch is spoken by a minority.
Language shift is occurring all across China. One trend is the replacement of and shifts within China's numerous minority languages, due to influence by the Han Chinese majority. Both Mandarin Chinese and regional Chinese dialects have an impact on these minority languages. For example, in Southwest China, there are a number of minority languages dying out, and many languages are progressively including more borrowings from the Chinese language. However, in Southwest China, especially in rural areas, Standard Mandarin is still rarely spoken, and regional Chinese dialects are far more common.
One important language shift in China has been the disappearance of the Manchu language. When China was ruled by the Qing dynasty whose Emperors were Manchu, Chinese and Manchu had co-official status, and the Emperor heavily subsidized and promoted education in Manchu. However, learning Chinese was so essential to upward mobility and contact with non-Manchu groups that even the Manchu Emperors began to prefer Chinese to Manchu. It is believed that the Qianlong Emperor and his successors, though ethnically Manchu, were more proficient in Chinese than in Manchu. In several years following the fall of minority rule and the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, Manchu people completely dropped their own language. Today there are fewer than 100 native speakers of Manchu. A number of loanwords from Manchu can be found in the Northeastern varieties of Chinese, though.
Because of Hong Kong's cultural influence, the adoption of Mandarin Chinese has been slow in the province of Guangdong which is close to Hong Kong.  In most other parts of China, Mandarin Chinese is the target of the shift, because of its use as a lingua franca among people from across the country.
Finland still has coastal Swedish-speaking enclaves, unlike Estonia where the last coast-Swedes were decimated or escaped to Sweden in 1944. As Finland was under Swedish rule from the medieval ages until 1809, the language of education was Swedish, with Finnish being allowed as a medium of education at the university only in the 19th century, and the first thesis in Finnish being published in 1858. Several of the coastal cities were multilingual; Viipuri had newspapers in Swedish, Finnish, Russian and German. However the industrialization in the prewar and especially the postwar era and the "escape from the countryside" of the 1960s changed the demography of the major cities and led to the Finnish language dominating. While Helsinki was a predominantly Swedish-speaking city in 1910, the Swedish speaking minority is now 6% of the population.
In Alsace, France, a longtime Alsatian-speaking region, the native Germanic dialect has been declining after a period of being banned at school by the French government after the First World War and the Second World War. It is being replaced by French.
French Flanders, which gradually became part of France between 1659 and 1678, was historically part of the Dutch sprachraum, the native dialect being West Flemish. The linguistic situation did not change dramatically until the French Revolution in 1789, and Dutch continued to fulfill the main functions of a cultural language throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, especially in the second half of it, Dutch was banned from all levels of education and lost most of its functions as a cultural language. The larger cities had become predominantly French-speaking by the end of the 19th century. However, in the countryside, many elementary schools continued to teach in Dutch until World War I, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to preach and teach the catechism in Flemish in many parishes. Nonetheless, since French enjoyed a much higher status than Dutch, from about the interbellum onward, everybody became bilingual, the generation born after World War II being raised exclusively in French. In the countryside, the passing on of Flemish stopped during the 1930s or 1940s. Consequently, the vast majority of those still having an active command of Flemish are older than 60. Therefore, complete extinction of French Flemish can be expected in the coming decades.
Cumans seeking refuge from the Turko-Mongols settled in Hungary and were later Magyarized. The Jassic people of Hungary originally spoke the Jassic dialect of Ossetic, but have completely adopted the Hungarian language, forgetting their previous Ossetian language. The territory of today's Hungary was also previously settled by Slavic tribes, which became gradually assimilated to the Hungarian language. Also, language shift may have happened during Hungarian pre-history, as the prehistoric culture of Magyars shows very little similarity to the other Uralic peoples.
Canada and the United States
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Calvin Veltman ("Language Shift in the United States," 1983) has written extensively on the language shift process of a dozen minority language groups in the United States. Based on a 1976 study prepared by the Bureau of the Census, data show that rates of language shift and assimilation have been rising for the past fifty years in the United States. Spanish-speaking immigrant families are switching to English within two generations, and in the absence of continuing immigration, the language would not survive more than two generations. Quebecois French, widely spoken by French-Canadian immigrants in New England in the early 20th century, has more or less disappeared from the United States, replaced by English; a similar process has occurred in Louisiana, a former French colony. Data published in McKay and Wong's "New Immigrants in the United States" confirm this picture with data from the 1990 Census.
This process has also been observed in English-speaking regions of Canada, where the rates of shift for French language minorities presage their disappearance. Meanwhile, in Quebec, the decline of French has been reversed, and given high rates of emigration and substantial intermarriage with French Canadians, the English language now has faced decline. Quebec's Eastern Townships, once a predominantly English-speaking region, is now overwhelmingly French-speaking. The French-speaking populations of neighboring Ontario and New Brunswick, once on the decline, have also rebounded.
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Before the 1930s, Italian was the only official language of Malta, even though it was spoken by only the upper classes, with Maltese being spoken by the lower class. However, English was then added to the mix, and was made a co-official language alongside Maltese, with Italian being dropped as official. The English language has since grown in the country and now threatens the status of Maltese. The number of speakers of Italian there has increased from when the language was official. A trend among the younger generations is to mix English and Italian vocabulary patterns, in making new Maltese words. For example, the Maltese word for library was originally "bibljoteka", but this has since been displaced by "librerija", formed from the English "library", and an Italian pattern ending. In addition to mixing English with Italian, Maltenglish is a commonly occurring amalgam of English and Maltese. This involves using English words in Maltese sentences, or adding English vocabulary into Maltese. Trends show that English is not only becoming the language of choice for more and more people, but is actually transforming the Maltese language itself.
In the Philippines, Spanish-speaking families have gradually switched over to English since the end of World War II until the former eventually ceased to be a practical everyday language in the country.
Another example would be the gradual death of the Kinaray-a language of Panay as many native speakers especially in the province of Iloilo are switching to Hiligaynon or mixing the two languages together. Kinaray-a was once spoken in the towns outside the vicinity of Iloílo City, while Hiligaynon was limited to only the eastern coasts and the city proper. However, due to media and other factors such as urbanization, many younger speakers have switched from Kinaray-a to Hiligaynon, especially in the towns of Cabatuan, Santa Barbara, Calinog, Miagao, Passi City, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Tubungan, etc. Many towns, especially Janiuay, Lambunao, and San Joaquin still have a sizeable Kinaray-a speaking population with the standard accent being similar to that spoken in the predominantly Karay-a province of Antique. Even in the province of Antique, "Hiligaynization" is an issue to be confronted as the province, especially the capital town of San José de Buenavista, undergoes urbanisation. Many investors from Iloílo City bring with them Hiligaynon-speaking workers who are reluctant to learn the local language.
One of the problems of Kinaray-a is its written form, as its unique "schwa sound" is difficult to represent in orthography. As time goes by, Kinaray-a has disappeared in many areas it was once spoken especially in the island of Mindoro and only remnants of the past remain in such towns as Pinamalayan, Bansud, Gloria, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay, and Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro and Sablayan, Calintaan, San Jose, and Magsaysay in Occidental Mindoro, as Tagalog has become the standard and dominantly recognised official language of these areas.
After Singapore's independence in 1965, there was a general language shift in the country's interracial lingua franca from Malay to English, as English was chosen as the first language for the country. Among the Chinese community in Singapore, there was a language shift from the various dialects of Chinese to Mandarin Chinese. For instance, Mandarin Chinese has replaced Singaporean Hokkien as the lingua franca of Chinese community in Singapore today. There has been a general language attrition in the use of Chinese other than Mandarin Chinese, especially amongst young Singaporean populace.
The progressive dominion exerted by the Kingdom of Castile over Spain in as much as it gained political power throughout centuries, contributed to the expansion of its language at the expenses of the rest. That has affected in different degrees the territories where other languages are spoken, such as Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencian Community, Asturias, Galicia, the Basque Country, Navarre or Aragon. The consequences vary; an advanced language shift affects some regions, for example Asturias, whose native linguistic varieties are now close to extinction, or Aragonese language, whereas in other areas, such as Catalonia or the Basque Country, the strong link between identity and local language has contributed to its better preservation.
Since the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, French has declined heavily in Vietnam from being a government language and primary language of education in South Vietnam to being a minority language limited to the elite classes and elderly population. Today, French is spoken fluently by only slightly over 5% of the Vietnamese population. The language shift from French to Vietnamese occurred earlier in the north due to Viet Minh and later communist policies enforcing Vietnamese as the sole language for political and educational purposes. However, since the late 1990s, there has been a minor revival of French in Vietnam.
Language shift can be detrimental to at least parts of the community associated with the language which is being lost. Sociolinguists such as Joshua Fishman, Lilly Wong Fillmore and Jon Reyhner report that language shift (when it involves loss of the first language) can lead to cultural disintegration and a variety of social problems including increased alcoholism, dysfunctional families and increased incidence of premature death. Others claim that language shift allows greater communication and integration of isolated groups previously unable to communicate. This could have a positive effect in the long term.
For example, Ohiri-Aniche (1997) observes a tendency among many Nigerians to bring up their children as monolingual speakers of English and reports that this can lead to their children holding their heritage language in disdain, and feeling ashamed of the language of their parents and grandparents. As a result of this, some Nigerians are said to feel neither fully European nor fully Nigerian.
American linguist Joshua Fishman has proposed a method of reversing language shift which involves assessing the degree to which a particular language is disrupted in order to determine the most effective way of assisting and revitalising the language.
- Second language
- Extinct language
- Endangered language
- Koiné language
- Germanic substrate hypothesis
- World Englishes
- Michael Witzel: Ehret, Ch., 1988. "Language Change and the Material Correlates of Language and Ethnic Shift," Antiquity, 62: 564–74; derived from Africa, cf. Diakonoff 1985.
- Compare the process of Sanskritization in India.
- Another example Anthony gives of how an open social system can encourage recruitment and language shift, are the Pathans in estern Afganistan. Traditionally status depended on agricultural surpluses and landownership. The neighbouring Baluch, outnumbered by the Pathans, were pastoral herders, and has hierarchical political system. Pathans who lost their land, could take refuge among the Baluch. As Anthony notes, "chronic tribal warfare might generally favor pastoralism over sedentary economics as herds can be defended by moving them, whereas agricultural fields are an immobile target."
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- Anthony 2007.
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