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In linguistics, a semi-speaker is a speaker of an endangered language who has a partial linguistic competence in the language. Generally semi-speakers do not regularly use the endangered language in conversation, and their speech can contain erroneous forms. Semi-speakers are often among the most motivated engaged participants in language revitalization projects.[1]

As languages become obsolete and speech communities shift to other languages they are spoken less frequently and in fewer social domains. For this reason many speakers learn the language partially, and often in a simplified way with significant influence from the majority language. These speakers are sometimes referred to as "semi-speakers", "quasi-speakers", or "rememberers". The word semi-speaker was introduced by linguist Nancy Dorian in describing the last speakers of the East Sutherland dialect of Scots Gaelic.[2][3]

When semi-speakers form a significant part of the speech community language contraction often ensues, as the linguistic norms are accommodated to the competences of the speakers.[4][5]


  1. ^ Grinevald, Collette & Michel Bert. 2011. "Speakers and Communities" in Austin, Peter K; Sallabank, Julia, eds. (2011). Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88215-6. p.50
  2. ^ Dorian, Nancy C. 1980. Language Shift in Community and Individual: The Phenomenon of the Laggard Semi-Speaker. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Volume 1980, Issue 25, Pages 85–94
  3. ^ N. Dorian, "The Problem of the Semi-Speaker in Language Death," International Journal of the Sociology of Language 12 (1977): 23-32.
  4. ^ Knowles-Berry, Susan (Winter 1987). "Linguistic decay in Chontal Mayan: the speech of semi-speakers". Anthropological Linguistics 29 (4): 332–341. JSTOR 30028108. 
  5. ^ Dorian, Nancy C. (September 1978). "Fate of morphological complexity in language death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic". Language 54 (3): 590–609. doi:10.1353/lan.1978.0024. JSTOR 412788.