Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages

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Every time an immigrant learns the native language of the new country and passes it down to children in place of the old country language. For example, when a migrant minority group moves to a predominately monolingual society dominated by one majority group language in all the major institutional domains — school, TV, radio, newspaper, government administration, courts, work — language shift will be unavoidable unless the community takes active steps to prevent it.

Demographic factor: Resistance to language shift tends to last longer in rural than in urban areas because rural groups tend to be isolated from the centres of political power for longer. The rural people can meet most of their social needs in the ethnic or minority language. For example, Ukrainians in Canada who live out of town on farms have maintained their ethnic language better than those in the towns because of their relative social isolation. When the minority group support the use of the minority language in a variety of domains, it helps them to resist the pressure from the majority group to switch to the majority group language.

For example, Polish people have regarded language as very important for preserving their identity in the many countries they have migrated to, and they have consequently maintained Polish for three to four generations. The language also can be maintained if families from a minority group live near each other and see each other frequently or if they have a frequent contact with their homeland. Language revival is when people try to make a language that is not spoken or is spoken very little, spoken more often again.

While language death is what happens when a language is not used by the people who spoke it before. Thus, language revival wants to save a language that is dead or endangered. Furthermore, a single language may have different degrees of minority status within a given country. To cite one of the most obvious examples, Spanish is a majority language in a number of countries but a minority language in the United States overall.

At the same time, in US states, counties, or regions with large Latino populations it is much more prevalent and even valued, and is indeed spoken by a majority of the population in some counties in Texas and New Mexico. This example highlights the most problematic part of the definition given above; namely, that it makes no claim about the economic, social, or political prestige of a minority language. Given such differences, it may make good sense to distinguish between indigenous, immigrant, and ethnic linguistic minorities, and to characterize minority languages in terms of their social and economic functions.

Doing so follows the precedent set by landmark documents such as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, adopted in by the Council of Europe. The charter defines minority languages based on two criteria: a numerically smaller speaker population and a lack of official status. Accordingly, languages such as Irish that have official status but are spoken by smaller segments of a given population do not count as minority languages. But at the same time, the charter excludes dialects and migrant languages, even though the classification of a language variety as a dialect is as much a sociopolitical judgment as a linguistic one.

Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages - Google книги

In assembling this annotated bibliography, the authors have sought to keep in mind the various, sometimes conflicting ideas of what minority languages are or should be. The sources cited have been grouped under headings related both to geographical regions North America, Africa, Australia, and so on and to issues of broader import. For readers who would like a broad take on minority languages and on the issues concerning their maintenance and revitalization, the following works are recommended. Note that the overlap with resources on language endangerment is largely unavoidable, given that so many minority languages are losing speakers due to language shift and, as a result, face significant challenges for long-term vitality.

Readers should keep in mind that while there are major global trends and typologies, the specific issues can vary from country to country, and even from region to region within countries. Several of the works here are introductions to theoretical considerations.

"Why Save a Language" (2006)

Ricento is an excellent, textbook-like overview of the field; Edwards and Fase, et al. Fishman is a foundational text that should prove useful for those interested in the process of language maintenance and of documentation. Spolsky provides a crucial discussion of language management, through which various players and institutions e. Case studies are to be found in Gorter, et al. The articles in King, et al.

Language in the small spaces

Edwards, John R. Minority languages and group identity: Cases and categories.

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Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Excellent overview of issues of minority languages, with a survey of existing typologies of minority-language settings. Particularly valuable for its discussion of theoretical issues of language ecologies and contact, policy implications, and conflict. These conclusions are confirmed by rigorous and extensive studies by Cummins , Ramirez , Collier , Lindholm and Aclan and many others.

For those who worry that teaching the home language may interfere with the development of English skills, there is abundant evidence that the opposite occurs Cummins, Instruction that promotes proficiency in one's first language L1 also promotes proficiency in the second language L2 , provided there is an adequate amount of exposure to L2 and motivation to learn it. Both languages are manifestations of a common underlying proficiency CUP.

A student who has mastered a concept or skill in one language does not need to relearn it in his second language; all he needs is to learn new words and structures. These conclusions apply to the study of subjects such as algebra or history as well as to the acquisition of literacy. According to Heath , p.

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A wide range of possible language uses can be compared to a rich wardrobe to fit all occasions. One does not usually dress in the same kind of clothes for a wedding and for a football game, for winter and for summer. Instead of throwing away wool socks and fuzzy earmuffs because summer is here, one stores them for use when the weather turns cold again. Dressing appropriately for a variety of occasions and needs requires a certain amount of diversity in our wardrobe so that we can make suitable choices, just as a rich variety of linguistic tools allows us to select the language and style that is most likely to achieve the desired results in a given situation at a particular time.

Attitudinal change Although minority children are no longer subjected to corporal punishment for using their home language, they are often the target of other, more subtle forms of rejection and ostracism on the part of teachers, administrators, and peers. That the acquisition of more than one language is an asset and not a handicap is well known to scholars Saunders, ; however, fears of confusion and other problems persist in many families, especially when one of the languages e.

When we talk about prestige, we are dealing with attitudes, and these are much harder to correct than misconceptions. A study of language shift among language-minority children in the United States indicates that the loss of primary languages is a national phenomenon, which can be very costly not only to the families and communities that are directly involved, but to society as a whole Fillmore, It is not easy to explain or understand why these children are dropping their home language as they learn English, since second-language learning does not necessarily result in the loss of the primary language.

However, most language-minority children encounter powerful pressures for assimilation and conformity to the norms of the mainstream American youth culture even before they enter school. They begin to see themselves as different in language, appearance, and behavior, and they come to regard these differences as undesirable because they impede their easy participation in the society around them.

If they want to be accepted, they have to learn English, because others are not going to learn their language. English is the high-status prestige language in the United States and Canada as is Spanish in most of Latin America , and although young children do not yet care about prestige and status, they do need belonging and acceptance.

Teaching Indigenous Languages

As they learn the prestige language, they stop using their primary language. If the parents or grandparents have not yet mastered English, what is lost is the vehicle for imparting values to the next generation, enabling the children to become the kind of men and women their families want them to be.

Parsons-Yazzie documented this kind of situation on the Navajo Reservation. The children were surrounded by an extended family that used Navajo routinely; some of the elders did not even know English. The adults considered Navajo a very important source of identity, strength, and sacredness, and they viewed the loss of their language as leading to social dysfunction, erosion of identity and beliefs, disappearance of sacred ceremonies, and abandonment of traditional teachings.

Being a native and longtime resident of the area, Parsons-Yazzie was able to conduct a series of unobtrusive observations in settings such as trading posts, homes, chapter houses, and waiting rooms. She heard a lot of Navajo spoken all around her but noted that when family groups consisting of adults parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles initiated a conversation in Navajo with a child, the child responded in English.

Sometimes this would mark the end of the exchange; sometimes the code-switching pattern would continue. Yazzie did not witness any attempt on the adults' part to ask or encourage the child to use Navajo. She states, "It appeared that the child was the one in each case who dictated what language was spoken," and the language was English , p. This is a startling conclusion in view of the parents' overt assertions of their allegiance to Navajo and their awareness of the moral and social consequences of its neglect.

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The tragic results of the intergenerational breakdown in communication have been documented not only in the case of Native American groups, but also in the case of Hispanic, Asian, and other minority groups where juvenile gang behavior and drug abuse are increasing. What should or can be done about it is still poorly understood, but there is no doubt that language minority children and their families are paying a very high price for admission into American society.

Children are sensitive to social approval or disapproval long before they enter school. They are surrounded by messages that promote the majority culture and its language and ignore all others, even if they do not explicitly downgrade them. Overt put-downs are most likely to come from older siblings who are ashamed of their own ethnicity. Having been ridiculed and called derogatory nicknames, they inflict the same treatment on others. If the school can develop better attitudes among its students, the benefits may filter down to the preschoolers and to children yet to be born.

The following recommendations were made at the Symposia on Stabilizing Indigenous Languages held at Northern Arizona University in and Cantoni, : All educators must show greater respect and appreciation for cultures of their students' parents. All educators should not criticize those who use the native language in school. There should be no put-downs of people who use the tribal language on the part of anyone who does not know that language. Perceptions that English is better than the local language should not be accepted or transmitted.

All educators including the school principal should try to learn the students' home language; even if they do not become very proficient, they will have indicated a certain degree of interest and respect. All educators must realize that, although they alone cannot be responsible for the intergenerational transmission of a language, they can do much to encourage positive attitudes towards it. To counteract the extinction of home languages, school boards and school administrators need to do much more than develop native language programs and hire qualified, literate teachers to implement them, for these teachers are few in number and control only a small portion of each student's time.

Native language and culture offerings tend to be isolated from the rest of the curriculum, from subjects taught in English, and from the majority of teachers and pupils. This amounts to a form of segregation. What the entire educational establishment must do, instead, is to actively and systematically promote linguistic diversity rather than conformity.

This would be feasible if it was required that all English-speaking teachers become fluent in another language. If they do, they will gain very rewarding experiences and personal growth.

Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages

However, let us be realistic; we are talking about attitudes, not about some unreasonable standard of proficiency. Sustained action Educators can play a significant role not only in promoting positive attitudes towards the local native language but in creating opportunities for people to use it. School personnel and community members together can create and support participation in such initiatives. Many years ago I was invited to the traditional Crow Arrow Games by some friends from Lodge Grass, and it was an unforgettable experience.

The spectators sat around the huge playing field, each family gathered under an awning or a big umbrella, enjoying refreshments and conversation. The announcements and the talk were all in Crow, but from time to time someone would take me aside and whisper a quick English summary of what was being said. This kind of event included adults as well as children, and this is where a lot of language learning and practice was taking place. The school provided additional instruction, including reading and writing from an impressive collection of Crow language materials. Many schools have similar programs for Native students, but the Arrow Games are a unique and exemplary model of community involvement.

It is important to keep in mind that if a language is learned as an academic subject, it may enjoy high prestige and yet never be used for meaningful communication in authentic social interactions. This is what happened when I was taught Latin in Italy, where I obtained most of my education.

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I began to study Latin in a public school when I was ten and continued until the end of college.