Language shift: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Language shift, sometimes referred to as language transfer or language replacement or assimilation, is the progressive process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. The rate of assimilation is the percentage of individuals with a given mother tongue who speak another language more often in the home. The data is used to measure the use of a given language in the lifetime of a person, or most often across generations within a linguistic community.

The process whereby a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language, and gradually shift allegiance to the second language is called assimilation. When a linguistic community ceases to use their original language, we speak of language death.





In Alsace, France, a longtime German-speaking region, German and Alsatian, the native Germanic dialect, all but disappeared as useful languages after a period of being banned and persecuted by the French government subsequent to the First and Second World Wars, superseded by French.[1]


In the last two centuries, Brussels transformed from an exclusively Dutch-speaking city to a bilingual city with French as the majority language and lingua franca. The language shift began in the 18th century and accelerated as Belgium became independent and Brussels expanded out past its original city boundaries.[2][3] From 1880 on, more and more Dutch-speaking people became bilingual, resulting in a rise of monolingual French-speakers after 1910. Halfway through the 20th century the number of monolingual French-speakers carried the day over the (mostly) bilingual Flemish inhabitants.[4] Only since the 1960s, after the fixation of the Belgian language border and the socio-economic development of Flanders was in full effect, could Dutch stem the tide of increasing French use.[5]

French Flanders

French Flanders, which gradually became part of France between 1659 and 1678, historically was part of the Dutch sprachraum; the native dialect being West Flemish. The linguistic situation did not dramatically change until the French Revolution in 1789, and Dutch continued to fulfil the main functions of a cultural language throughout the 18th century.[6] During the 19th century, especially in the second half of it, Dutch was banned from all levels of education and lost most of its functions as a cultural language. The larger cities had become predominantly French-speaking by the end of the 19th century. However, in the countryside, many elementary schools continued to teach in Dutch until World War I, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to preach and teach the cathechism in Flemish in many parishes.[6] Nonetheless, since French enjoyed a much higher status than Dutch, from about the interbellum onward everybody became bilingual, the generation born after World War II being raised exclusively in French. In the countryside, the passing on of Flemish stopped during the 1930s or 1940s. As a consequence, the vast majority of those still having an active command of Flemish belong to the generation of over the age of 60.[6] Therefore, complete extinction of French Flemish can be expected in the coming decades.[6]


North America

Calvin Veltman ("Language Shift in the United States," 1983) has written extensively on the language shift process of a dozen minority language groups in the United States. Based on a 1976 study prepared by the Bureau of the Census, data show that rates of language shift and assimilation have been rising for the past fifty years in the United States. Immigrants of Spanish mother tongue are switching to English within two generations, and in the absence of continuing immigration, the language would not survive more than two generations. Quebecois French, widely spoken by French-Canadian immigrants in New England in the early 20th century, has more or less disappeared from the U.S., replaced by English; a similar process has occurred in Louisiana, a former French colony. Data published in McKay and Wong's "New Immigrants in the United States" confirm this picture with data from the 1990 Census.

This process has also been observed in Canada outside of Quebec, where the rates of shift for French language minorities presage their disappearance. Meanwhile, in Quebec itself, the decline of French has been reversed, and given high rates of emigration and substantial intermarriage with French Canadians, the English language is now faced with decline.


Before the 1930s, Italian was the only official language of Malta, even though it was only spoken by the upper classes, with Maltese being spoken by the lower class. However, English was then added to the mix, and was made a co-official language alongside Maltese, with Italian being dropped as official. The English language has since grown in the country, and now threatens the status of Maltese. Interestingly, the number of speakers of Italian there has increased from when the language was official. A trend among the younger generations is to mix English and Italian vocabulary patterns, in making new Maltese words. For example, the Maltese word for library was originally "bibljoteka", but this has since been displaced by "libreria", formed from the English "library", and an Italian pattern ending. In addition to mixing English with Italian, Maltenglish is an amalgam of English and Maltese that commonly occurs. This involves using English words in midset sentences of Maltese, or adding English vocabulary into Maltese. Trends show that English is not only becoming the language of choice for a larger and larger number of people, but is actually transforming the Maltese language itself.


In the Philippines, Spanish-speaking families have gradually switched over to English since the end of World War II until the former eventually ceased to be a practical everyday language in the country although many people still speak Spanish and it has become a language re-introduced into education thanks to the President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Spanish speaker.

Another example would be the gradual death of the Kinaray-a language of Panay as many native speakers especially in the province of Iloilo are switching to Hiligaynon or mixing both languages together. Kinaray-a was once spoken in the towns outside the vicinity of Iloílo City while Hiligaynon was only limited in the eastern coasts and the city proper. However, due to media and other factors such as urbanization, many younger generations have switched from Kinaray-a to Hiligaynon, especially on the towns of Cabatuan, Santa Bárbara, Calinog, Miagao, Passi City, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Tubungan, etc. Many towns especially the towns of Janiuay, Lambunao, and San Joaquín still have a sizeable Kinaray-a speaking population with the standard accent similar to that spoken in the predominantly Karay-a province of Antique. Even in the province of Antique, the issue of "Hiligaynization" is something to be comfronted about as the province, especially the capital town of San José de Buenavista is undergoing urbanisation. Many investors from Iloílo City brings with them Hiligaynon-speaking workers who are reluctant to learn the local language.

One of the problems of Kinaray-a is its written form, as its unique "schwa sound" is difficult to represent in orthography. As time goes by, Kinaray-a has disappeared in many areas it was once spoken especially in the island of Mindoro and only remnants of the past remains in such towns as Pinamalayan, Bansud, Gloria, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay, and Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro and Sablayan, Calintaan, San José, Oriental Mindoro, and Magsaysay in Occidental Mindoro, as Tagalog became the standard and dominantly recognised official language of these areas.

Social consequences

Language shift can be detrimental to at least parts of the community associated with the language which is being lost. Sociolinguists such as Joshua Fishman, Lilly Wong Fillmore and Jon Reyhner report that language shift (when it involves loss of the first language) can lead to cultural disintegration and a variety of social problems including increased alcoholism, dysfunctional families and increased incidence of premature death.

For example, Ohiri-Aniche (1997) observes a tendency among many Nigerians to bring up their children as monolingual speakers of English and reports that this can lead to their children holding their heritage language in disdain and feeling ashamed of being associated with the language of their parents and grandparents. As a result of this some Nigerians are said to feel neither fully European nor fully Nigerian.


Joshua Fishman has proposed a method of reversing language shift which involves assessing the degree to which a particular language is disrupted in order to determine the most effective way of assisting and revitalising the language.

See also


  1. ^ Veltman & Denis (1989) Le declin du dialecte alsacien.
  2. ^ (French)[1] "Wallonie - Bruxelles", Le Service de la langue française, 19/05/1997
  3. ^ (French)[2] "Villes, identités et médias francophones: regards croisés Belgique, Suisse, Canada.", Université Laval, Québec
  4. ^ (Dutch)"Thuis in gescheiden werelden" — De migratoire en sociale aspecten van verfransing te Brussel in het midden van de 19e eeuw", BTNG-RBHC, XXI, 1990, 3-4, pp. 383-412, Machteld de Metsenaere, Eerst aanwezend assistent en docent Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  5. ^ J. Fleerackers, Chief of staff of the Belgian Minister for Dutch culture and Flemish affairs (1973). "De historische kracht van de Vlaamse beweging in België: de doelstellingen van gister, de verwezenlijkingen vandaag en de culturele aspiraties voor morgen" (in Dutch). Digitale bibliotheek voor Nederlandse Letteren.  
  6. ^ a b c d Dutch/Flemish in the north of France, by Hugo Ryckeboer. University of Ghent.PDF


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