Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Language Change in the Ukrainian Home: From Transmission to Maintenance to the Beginnings of Loss

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Language Change in the Ukrainian Home: From Transmission to Maintenance to the Beginnings of Loss

Article excerpt


In the last two decades language change of minority group speakers in language contact situations has become an important area of language research. Linguistic, sociolinguistic, sociological and political factors of language movement are being investigated and attempts are made to describe how these factors interact in various language contact contexts (Fishman, 1990, 1991; Fase, Jaspaert and Kroon, 1992; Seliger and Vago, 1991). It is the purpose of this report to examine language change of one group of mothers and their children in a Ukrainian-English contact context.

Language Transmission--Language Maintenance

Fishman (1991) differentiates between language transmission and language maintenance, claiming that both are different yet related processes. Language transmission, or the passing on of a mother tongue to young children, happens mostly through the spoken medium in the home/family context. Following this, one can talk about language maintenance or the "post-transmission process" which happens in the wider societal environment and is characterized by attempts to protect, to further develop and to enhance that which has been transmitted. One way in which a minority language group can maintain and preserve their mother tongue in a language contact situation is to choose the "relative isolation option" where communication with those who do not speak the native language (hereafter L1) is limited, even avoided (Fase, Jaspaert and Kroon, 1992). The goal of transmission and maintenance, according to Fishman, is to create a state "in which the transmitted language can prosper and move toward a growing pool of speakers for subsequent intergenerational transmission" (p. 114). If this does not happen, Fishman believes, L1 will become "threatened," the number of speakers will decrease generation after generation and the uses of L1 will diminish and become isolated from the "higher social status" of the majority language. In such a situation, L1 will become more and more "deactivated" (Seliger and Vago, 1991). This will be followed by a clear change in linguistic performance where the majority language (hereafter L2) becomes the stronger and loss of L1 will occur.

Language Shift--Language Loss

Language shift and language loss have been described as different yet "linked" processes (Fase, et al., 1992). Both are multi-faceted and have psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic, linguistic and political elements. While language shift refers to changes in group language use or to a "collective notion of proficiency present within a community," language loss is the individual's decrease or erosion of linguistic ability (Fase, et al., 1992). Language loss is a "slow and cumulative process" (Fishman, 1991:40) characterized by gradual reduction of L1 in a language contact situation and the growing dominance of L2 and its replacement of L1. The end result of language shift and language loss is the disappearance of L1. Fishman outlines a framework for the preparation of an "informed evaluation" of language loss. Firstly, he emphasizes the importance of a time-interval where analysis of "before" (then) and "after" (now) data, preferably with the same subjects, will confirm whether language loss has occurred. Secondl y, an examination of four separate areas of language, understanding, speaking, reading and writing, will reveal where loss or erosion has occurred. And finally, a picture of language loss must include the identification of sociocultural contexts or domains in which loss has occurred.

The Ukrainian Language in Toronto

Along with Winnipeg and Edmonton, Toronto belongs to the "Big Three" Ukrainian Metropolitan Canadian Axis which "dominates the Ukrainian demographic scene in Canada" (Driedger, 1980:120). Ukrainian organized life was established in Toronto in the first decade of this century (Marunchak, 1970). By 1915 religious and cultural organizations were established: a Ukrainian Catholic church was erected in 1910 and by 1915 the Prosvita Society, an organization which "helped to raise both the national consciousness and the intellectual awareness" (Balan, 1984) of the new immigrants, was attracting a large membership and was meeting regularly. …

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