Attitudes of native speakers as a major threat to language growth
abdul at October 1st, 2015
Another factor that might lead to languages becoming endangered is the views held by parents. Parents today encourage their children to learn languages of wider communication instead of their heritage languages due to the globalization of the world. Nowadays it is more likely for children to succeed if they are able to speak the popular languages of the world in order to obtain better jobs and prospects.
One major factor that affects the survival of minority languages is the attitudes of the majority language speakers with whom the minority language speakers co-habit on a given territory. One of these groups is the dominant language group (for example, English in Canada) and controls access to authority in the areas of administration, politics and the economy, and gives job preference to those applicants who have command of the dominant language. The disadvantaged language group (in this case, French both inside and outside Quebec) is then left with the choice of renouncing its social ambitions, assimilating or resisting. While numerically weak or psychologically weakened language groups tend towards assimilation, in modern societies numerically stronger, more homogeneous language groups possessing traditional values, such as their own history and culture, prefer political resistance. This type of conflict becomes especially prominent when it occurs between population groups of differing socioeconomic structures (urban/rural, poor/wealthy, indigenous/immigrant). Although in the case of French-speaking Canada, English appeared to be the necessary means of communication in trade and business, nearly 80% of the francophone population spoke only French, and were thus excluded from social elevation in the political/economic sector. It was a small French-speaking elite, whose original goal was political opposition to the dominant English, ultimately brought about socioeconomically motivated language conflict, as Nelde (1997) has termed it. (See the following clip from the 1970s, when the Parti Québécois instituted French as the official language of Quebec:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2Cr693XaFU ). Such situations of language conflict are inevitably complex and not straightforward.
One writer has suggested that in today’s modern world, there simply may not be enough room for too many languages. Harrison (2007: 5) says that ‘languages do not literally “die” or go “extinct”, since they are not living organisms. Rather, they are crowded out by bigger languages. Small tongues get abandoned by their speakers, who stop using them in favour of a more dominant, more prestigious, or more widely known tongue.’ According to Crystal (2000: 77), this crowding out is facilitated by urbanisation, whereby rural populations move into the cities and the learning of the dominant language is more likely. Thus the three key factors in one language being replaced by another appear to centre on the associated power a language has (its status), on its association with elite groups in society (its prestige) and how widely spoken it is and by how many people (its distribution and its demography). Take, for example, the case of the Irish people massively adopting the English language as their vernacular, even though it is the language of the traditional ‘enemy’. When the shift toward English began on a huge scale in the 19th century, Irish was associated with a rural, isolated and impoverished way of life in the west of Ireland, while English represented one of the most powerful empires in the world. The following extract illustrates the attitude towards Irish, noted in 1927:
Ni raibh aon tora ar Ghaoluinn an uair sin; agus nuair a théighinn go dí aonach Chathair Saidhbhín, n’fhéadfainn mo bhó ná mo chapall a dhíol gan cúnamh fháil ó fhear a’ Bhéarla, agus ba bhristecruíoch an obair í sin, ná féadfá do ghnó a dhéanamh gan a bheith a braith ar a’ bhfear thall.
Irish was of no use at that time, and when I went to the fair at Cathair Saidhbhín, I could not sell my cow or horse without getting help from the English speaker. It was heart-breaking not to be able to do your business without having to rely on the other man.
(Ó Duilearga 1977: xxviii).
The English language was seen as the only way for people to escape the misery of their impoverished existence and for them to improve their situation (if not them, then their children). That another option was available, namely bilingualism, simply did not occur to speakers of Irish seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Luckily, more and more language communities are now recognizing the benefits of bilingualism and are choosing to have their children educated in the local, endangered language, as well as a more widespread language.