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Differences In Ethnolinguistic Vitality Of Minority Language Languages Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2412 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The transient nature of the human experience is reflected in the diverse and integrated variation of language lexicons prescribed between different individuals (Lawson & Sachdev, 2000), society (Lebov, 2006 [1966]) and ethnolinguistic identities (Toribio, 2000).

Language does not develop in a vacuum, etymological and social factors vary the linguistic vocabulary as it evolves and shifts through providence. Linguistic deviation in speech can clearly illustrate social membership and attitudes of the communal values encompassing the individual. Every utterance allows the linguist to understand the dynamic social environment that influences the language domains.

There are many rules that arbitrate conversation. In closer scrutiny, the simple starting and ending points of conversation infer implicit linguistic codes of conduct. To start a conversation a rule based system is first used in the recognition of the identity of each of the conversers. Whilst, ending a conversation is a more complex multi-layered event, where many attempts to finish a conversation may pass between the conversers before the task can be ceased. Brown and Levinson’s (1998) theory of linguistic politeness suggests that the protocol in communication is to avoid causing offence by miscommunication. This is established through culture pragmatic competence, euphemisms, and indirectness.

There are many other organisational structures entangled within the use of language. A motivation for incorporating these structures can include the facilitation of impression management, by publicising social identity, status or sophistication.

In understanding phenomena such as style shifting or code switching in linguistic domains, a topographical approach is used in exploring diglossia in multilingual societies. The use of these variations in communication can be understood differently by considering factors relating to cultural heritage, class structure and the general perceived status of the language used. These factors are fundamentally important in assessing the continuum of use and vitality of the language. The term ethnolinguistic was first used by social psychologists investigating the relationships between groups of individuals and the languages used. Vitality refers to the high vitality, which supposes that the language use is strong and that based on a number of factors is likely to be passed to further generations. Whereas low vitality suggests that the language use is weakened and likely to become extinct and will not be used by subsequent generations (Meyerhoff, 2006).

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Essentially there are a number of factors that can mitigate the ethnolinguistic vitality (ELV) of a language. The proximal distance from areas of significant population density of people with intergroup linguistic heritages. Ehala and Niglas (2007) illustrated in a mathematical model of ELV. The ELV was lowest where intergroup distance was smallest and the cultural mass of monolingual groups highest. This inevitably reduces the sociolinguistic immersion and the potential numbers of domains that the language inhabits (Bourhis, 1984; Wardhaugh, 1987). The frequency in which the language is used and in what way the code switching behaviour relates to its dominance (Bourhis, Giles and Rosenthal, 1981). Other important factors that effect ELV are the levels of Institutional support, perceived group status and demographic strength of the language (Giles, Bourhis, Yaylor, 1977; Bourhis et al, 1981). The prestige associated with the language from an internal and external perspective (Saint-Blancat, 2010). And the status of the language in a multilingual setting (Kwan-Terry, 2000). The economic and social vitality of the community using the language can further correlate with the languages primacy in multilingual domains (Atkinson, 2000).

In a multilingual society the vitality of a language can predict the hierarchy of its use and the varieties of code switching it may ascertain. Attitudes both political and social affect the use and status of a language (Rampton, 2010). In multilingual communities the primacy of one language is usually established through the combination of institutionalised support; both formal and informal use, demographic: size and concentration and perceived social status of the language (Giles et al, 1977). Furthermore cultural identity and heritage may be intertwined in this prioritisation.

The European dominance in colonising the New World over the past 300 years has produced clear traces of linguistic demarcations today. The British Empire has left an indelible mark in the wide usage of English as the primary official language in many of its former colonies. The continued use of English as the official language denotes the prestige that the master once held over the slave. Even with the notions of self determination in the building of post-colonial nations the old ways were hard to forget with regard to the perceived high status of the former colonial language. It appears that institutional support is a predominant factor in estimating the ELV of a language. It can mitigate and legitimise the usage and perceived social status of the hierarchy of language used in either formal or familiar environments (Giles, Bourhis, Yaylor, 1977; Bourhis et al, 1981; Saint-Blancat, 2010)

However, in many former colonised nations when independence was achieved an initial backlash occurred towards the former colonist’s high status language. This allowed for resurgence in many native languages that were formerly oppressed and at risk of dying out, due to their prior low status. The new sense of national identity revitalised the indigenous languages by accentuating the ethnolinguistic characteristics of intergroup similarities (Giles, Johnson, 1987). This allowed for a reversal of language shift away from the dominant colonial language.

Not all institutional support for a language is positive for the languages vitality. In Soweto, South Africa in 1976, riots in the township were fuelled by government policy to make the teaching of Afrikaan compulsory in Schools. Many Black South Africans living in an apartheid system perceived this language to be a symbol of oppression and discrimination (Meyerhoff, 2006).

In Ireland a bilingual nation, the language supported by the state as the official language is Irish. However usage doesn’t reflect its stature. Not many Irish people residing in Ireland actually speak it compared with Welsh national speakers in Wales. In institutional formal settings Irish is high status, but in informal environments is low status and English is held in high status.

The reason for this is that the Welsh language has been separated from the nationalistic representation of being Welsh. It has been promoted as a youth-friendly, trendy language in forums. The informal increase of domains for everyday use has been explored subtly by institutions such as the Mentrau Iaith Cymru (Meyerhoff, 2006). This increases concentration and the status assigned to it, which is very different to the institutional approach to promoting the Irish language.

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The Irish language like the Afrikaan one, has established a socio-historical identification providing specific cultural continuity with language. The Irish language is perceived as a first language (L1) by the state but a second language (L2) by the majority of citizens. This problem is further extenuated by the compulsory teaching of Irish in schools and the negative association of a forced learning paradigm which reduces the motivation to acquire the language as stated by Gardner in 1985. Gardner stated that the effects of motivational factors and attitude in second language learning are crucial for proper acquisition. The Irish institutional strategy has effectively acted as an inhibitor in acquiring the language, so most Irish people don’t bother. The dominant language spoken is English (L2).

However, conversely due to the Irish languages association with cultural identity many universities around the world have included the language as part of Celtic studies in academic programmes. This informal institutional support has acted to romanticise the language with former immigrants, galvanising a sense of Irish cultural connectivity. This also has benefits in creating awareness of the language in a global environment, increasing its status but does little for the languages vitality overall. The demographic density of global usage is not concentrated enough to ascertain a good prognosis for survival of the language by this means alone.

The Maori in New Zealand illustrate this point clearly. The proportion of fluency of the indigenous language “Te Reo Maori” was quite high among ethnic Maori. The Maori moved from cultural areas “Marae” and populations were spread between many different towns in New Zealand. The low population density of the Maori with respect to non-Maori New Zealanders and the relative proximities of these populations to the Marae, acted as a negative factor for the vitality of the indigenous language. The Te Reo Maori language was under-concentrated in proximity terms preventing general social usage. This meant that the ELV of the language was quite low and there was a severe risk of losing it as a spoken language, even though fluency rates were high. The solution was to identify and resolve the issues of language loss based on macro factors such as, language density and educational support and micro level factors relating to motivation and attitudes to the Maori culture (Grenoble, Whaley, 1998). Access to cultural domains, education and Te Reo Maori television counteracted the linguistic dilution effect and negative cultural associations.

Scholars suggest that languages around the world are declining due to a variety of factors including government suppression of local languages, globalization and migration. Harmon (2002) suggests that almost 80% of languages are spoken by 10,000 individuals or less and 3000 languages, which correspond to nearly 50% of all surviving languages, are in danger of becoming extinct in the next century. The Inuit populations in the Arctic regions (Norris, 2005), the Polynesian Pacific Islanders (Muhlhausler, 1996) and the Tribes of the Amazon are in particular danger of losing the vitality of their indigenous languages. As with Maori, and a lot of indigenous peoples ELV is relatively low for these communities. The same demographic factors relating to population concentration as discussed with the Maori example, is having an opposite effect. Population over-concentration and the death of the traditional cultural lifestyles through urbanisation and globalisation are reducing the vitality of linguistic diversity. Researchers suggest that the spread of literacy is encouraging monoglotism and the disappearance of local languages (Muhlhausler, 1996). These indigenous people generally do not use the written word in their cultures. Cultural identity and linguistic knowledge are passed down in tandem with cultural storytelling and dogma. The loss of the tradition lifestyle through urbanisation is jeopardising the survival of these peoples and their respective languages. A key strategy by the respective governmental and social institutions in the revitalisation of ELV for these groups is domain promotion. This focus is directed towards engaging the youth in appreciating the importance of the value of linguistic vitality in preserving cultural identity.

This illustrates that the intervention and strategies to promote language vitality and status must evolve just as the languages themselves do. Different approaches encompassing knowledge ascertained in exploring linguistic vitality must me managed collectively. Strategies need to be devised to increase the vitality of ethnolinguistic varieties, by using a multi faceted interdisciplinary approach.

Hartmut Haberland (2010) suggests that English as an international language has been taken as a second language by more people than the combined total of monolingual English speakers. This has been largely due to the predominance of English as a major global language. The proposition of the corporate world in making English the official language for business has also facilitated this effect. Many former Non-English speakers have perceived the acquisition of the language as an investment and have a vested interest in its domain. English as a linguistic entity has become a “lingua franca” meaning it is “used as a medium of communication between people or groups of people each speaking a different native language” (Gnutzmann, 2000).

Haberland suggests that the English language will receive mass-cultivation from these new speakers. Haberland also denotes that this may be unwelcome from purist monolingual speakers. The researcher also suggests that a differentiation between ownership and maintenance of the discourse is needed. This would obviously transfer to other colonialist languages such as French, German and Italian where much variation has already been recorded in vocabulary use, phonetics and code switching patterns.

The linguistic ownership of high vitality languages will have a bearing on the prestige of the language and its proper use. Institutional support will probably be directed to protecting the vitality of the language by maintaining standards within a demographically diverse society. The overall vitality of the new globalised English language will create further separate cohorts of ethnolinguistic variants stemming from the original language due to code switching and language shift.

The dominance of a specific language through high vitality over that of a minority language creates variants that are as rich and as varied as the original language. The cross seeding with secondary languages and subsequent linguistic dialects are evident in post-colonial Creole and Pidgon. This in turn creates new ethnolinguistic variation and vitality over time. No language operates in a vacuum and the diversity of the ELV of a language is only relative to that of another language. Essentially all languages are in a constant state of flux, which is directly related to the diverse nature of the human temporal experience.


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