Language Policy

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 443–475 | Cite as

Planning for the survival of linguistic diversity

  • Suzanne RomaineEmail author
Open Access


The prospect of the loss of linguistic diversity on a large scale has prompted scholars such as Fishman and others to propose programs of intervention to ‚reverse language shift’ (RLS). RLS theories and efforts are byproducts of European indigenous minority problems, and the ideological bias of Fishman’s model of RLS privileges intergenerational transmission in the context of stable diglossia. This article examines the ideological underpinnings and utility of this framework as an appropriate model for stabilizing and revitalizing indigenous languages. I question the assumptions and theoretical perspectives underlying terms such as RLS and reconceptualize what it might mean for a language to be maintained and survive without intergenerational mother tongue transmission. As an increasing number of communities around the world face the impending loss of their languages, it is imperative to clarify these issues not just for theory’s sake, but in the interest of providing sound advice.


Language revitalization diglossia intergenerational transmission language shift 



Reversing Language Shift


Language undergoing shift


Speakers of language undergoing shift


Dominant language


High language


Low language


Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale


English Language Teaching Support Programme



I am grateful to a number of scholars and audiences for constructive feedback, including Elana Shohamy, two anonymous referees, and participants at GURT 2006 (Georgetown University Roundtable on Linguistics) and at the Workshop on Language Ideologies and Change in Multilingual Communities at the University of California, San Diego. I would also like to thank Harold Schiffman for discussions concerning development of scientific terminology.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Merton CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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