Planning for the survival of linguistic diversity

Abstract

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.

Abbreviations

RLS:

Reversing Language Shift

X/Xish:

Language undergoing shift

Xmen :

Speakers of language undergoing shift

Y/Yish:

Dominant language

H:

High language

L:

Low language

GIDS:

Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale

ELTSP:

English Language Teaching Support Programme

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Acknowledgements

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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Correspondence to Suzanne Romaine.

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Romaine, S. Planning for the survival of linguistic diversity. Lang Policy 5, 443–475 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-006-9034-3

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Keywords

  • Language revitalization
  • diglossia
  • intergenerational transmission
  • language shift