Linguistic Ecology: Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Region

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

10

The sociolinguistics of language shift, decay and death

In order for a language to die, injustice and oppression must be mediated precisely by the culturally appropriate practices that oppressed people adopt in order to defend threatened identities.

(Hill 1993:90)


INTRODUCTION
This and the following chapter focus on the effects of the disruptive processes discussed in Chapters 3 to 9. The identification of these effects is by no means a simple matter, partly because linguists have as yet to come to grips with the difference between normal and pathological language change and partly because the prevailing emphasis on synchronic states offers few insights which could be of use to a theory of language attrition. This chapter has as its principal domain the sociolinguistic aspects of this process. I have refrained from recounting McConvell’s (1991) valuable survey of theories of language attrition, mainly because I feel that the more fundamental issue of problem recognition needs to be addressed before progress can be made on the theoretical and indeed the applied front. It would seem essential to spell out what precisely the problem is which is in need of remedy.
1 Is it the loss of a particular group of speakers together with their language?
2 Is it the loss of languages?
3 Is it the fact that languages lose prestige?
4 Is it the shrinking of functions and domains?
5 Is it the fact that languages change?
6 Is it the fact that language ecologies collapse?
7 Or is there nothing really to worry about, as seems to be suggested by Matisoff (1991):

-269-

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