Handbook of Language &
Ethnic Identity, ch. 11
Joshua Fishman
Sociolinguistic perspective
• Sociolinguistic includes “the more
sociological and the more linguistic
aspects of a growing awareness that
language use and language behaviors
(including both language structure and a
variety of behaviors toward languages)
vary in accord with the social contexts in
which they transpire.”
How many kinds of
• There is not just one French, but
many, sometimes within the
repertoire of a single speaker,
modulated according to:
– Context of use
– Social class
– Education
• This is true of all languages, but
variation within a language is
harder to monitor than variation
between languages
Variation in
Ethnolinguistic Saliency
• An individual may belong to many groups
• An individual’s ethnic identity may be more
salient in some contexts than in others
• The salience of using a specific language may
also depend on context – when more than one
language may be used, what prompts speakers
to choose one over the other?
• When salience is high, speakers are more likely
to promote their identity and language
Variation in Language Attitudes and
Language Functions
• Attitudes are not always logically linked to
functionality – e.g. English which enjoys huge
functionality but is still perceived by the “Englishonly” factions as being threatened…
• There is a great growth in standardization and
literacy in lesser languages, and literacy is now
supported in over ¼ of the world’s languages.
What about the other three-fourths?
What is Diglossia?
• When a language community uses two
languages for two distinctive purposes
(e.g., speech vs. writing)
• Accepting diglossia (with English or
another major language) may help many
smaller languages to survive
Summary so far:
• Contextual variation – grievance and
contrast heighten ethnolinguistic saliency
• Functionality – advantageous functions
heighten ethnolinguistic saliency
• Attitudinal-functional mismatch – attitudes
toward languages are often irrational, not
informed by actual functionality
Variation in language policies
• Policies are adopted to foster (or hamper)
and to modernize (or archaize) one or
more languages of a community’s
• Can you name some examples of
language planning?
Examples of language planning:
• Noah Webster and a distinctively American
Federal English
• French protected in France and Quebec
• Academies and gov’t agencies that protect latemodernizing and minority languages
– Corpus planning: lexicons, orthographies, grammars,
– Status planning: acquisition of power-related
• 2/3 of world’s languages are endangered, but it
seems that most are trying to survive
Variations in Language Policy
• The need for economic survival is
ultimately the most important factor,
forcing many groups to become diglossic
in order to survive
• Basques, for example, eschew diglossia,
but seek universal bilingualism – so
everything inside Basque country will be in
Basque, but Spanish/French will be used
to communicate outside the community
“Outside” – “Inside”
• Insiders experience the link between
language and ethnicity positively, as
something romantic and essential
• This energy can also be genocidal
• The language and ethnicity link is
strongest when
– there are collective grievances
– It rewards competitive late modernizers
– It is fostered by language policies that pursue
status or corpus planning
• Cf. ethnic revivals in 1960s-70s in W.
Europe and US
Conclusions, cont’d.
• Two seemingly contradictory trends:
– A few mega-languages are spreading
– Small local languages are gaining status
• Why isn’t this a contradiction?
Conclusions, cont’d.
• Two seemingly contradictory trends:
– A few mega-languages are spreading
– Small local languages are gaining status
• Why isn’t this a contradiction?
– Because bi- and multi-lingualism make it
advantageous for many people to promote a
local language and at the same time use
another language for economic and political

Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity, ch. 11