HOW LANGUAGES BECOME ENDANGERED?
abdul at October 1st, 2015
While nations all across the world strive to communicate with one another in the hopes of boosting their economy and national interests, they are forced to implement ‘official languages’ like English, Spanish, French, Russian, etc. to promote the high prestige of speaking an ‘international’ language. As Crystal (2000: 70) points out:
The full range of factors is fairly easy to identify, thanks to the many case studies which have now been made; what is impossible, in our current state of knowledge, is to generalize about them in global terms. The current situation is without precedent: the world has never had so many people in it, globalization processes have never been so marked; communication and transport technologies have never been so omnipresent; there has never been so much language contact; and no language has ever exercised so much international influence as English.
These factors include:
Intermarriage: According to David and Nambiar (2003), marriages or partnerships where one parent speaks a minority language and the other only the majority language, can have a negative influence in the retention of the minority tongue by the children. The tendency is to adopt the majority language only. For example, Fulfulde (a language spoken in Nigeria) is under threat because of intermarriage with speakers of other languages in the state of Gombe (Baldauf & Kaplan 2007: 197).
Market forces: Ridler and Pons-Ridler (1984) suggest that the choice of language reflects the workings of the market. People choose a language that will benefit them in the long run. In addition, Schiffman (1998) states that language shift (i.e. where people stop using one language and adopt another, more prestigious language) in the minority group is inevitable when the language of the minority is seen as a language which does not help the speakers to improve their socio-economy and social mobility. Thus, the minority group will shift to the dominant language. As previously mentioned, parents in Singapore are shifting toward English and abandoning Asian languages in the home because of the market value the English language has and the advantages it will give their children (Coupland 2011).
Migration: Grimes (2001) notes that sociolinguists agree that migration, either voluntary or forced, is a cause of language shift. When members of a language community migrate, the remaining community decreases in size and thus they may be unable to maintain their language.
Assimilation: Another possible cause of language shift in the family and community is when there is very little difference in terms of lifestyle, custom and culture between the majority and minority language community. It could be argued, for example, that the Welsh have maintained their language relatively more successfully than other Celtic languages because of their literary tradition, based upon the Eisteddfod (bardic poetry) festival, thus keeping their identity distinct from that of the neighbouring English. There is a children’s version of the Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod yr Urdd) which encourages children to participate in traditional poetry and literature in a ‘modern’ way. Click on this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWJd8lspx84) to see how younger speakers of Welsh are being encouraged to take up Welsh literary traditions. Of course, this is just one factor among many, since Ireland, Scotland and Brittany also have distinct cultural identities, but this has not prevented massive language shift among Celtic language speakers in these countries as a result.
National Education Policies: According to Grimes (2001), nation-state building through the schools (by educating pupils in the national language) has contributed to language shift in several countries, although it does not cause universal shift of the language. This is because sub-ethnic languages are not given attention in all education policies drawn up by the government. For example, one of the major causes of language shift among regional language speakers in France has been the lack of recognition of these languages in the French educational system.
Modernization: Grimes (2001) notes that modernization, among other things, is a factor which accompanies language shift. When industrialization comes to areas where minority languages are spoken, it is the majority language which is used to train employees in the new plants and factories, and the majority language which is used as a lingua franca.