Topic 6: Language shift and
language death
 Holmes Chapter 3:
 Key concepts:
 Language shift
 Language death
 Language revival
 Language vitality
 Language maintenance
Language shift
 A community shifts from using one
language for most purposes to using a
different one
 One language replaces the roles and
functions of another language in a
 A strong language becomes weak; a weak
language becomes strong in a community
Direction of language shifts
Whose language would be stronger?
 seller ------------- buyer
 minority ------------- majority
 poor --------------- wealthy
 low social status ---------high social status
 ruled -------------- ruler
Factors contributing to language shift
Economic factor
 Seller ------------- buyer
Demographic factor
 Minority ------------- majority
Social factor
 Poor --------------- wealthy
 Low social status ---------high social status
Political factor
 Ruled -------------- ruler
What factor(s) account(s) for the following
movements of languages in HK?
 1) PTH has become more important in HK after 1997
(political factor)
 2) PTH has become a more important language than
English for people working in the retailing industry
(economic factor)
 3) Cantonese has replaced some major functions of
English in HK in the past decades e.g. a) the
language of the government; b) the language of HK
Legislative Council; c) the medium of instruction in
secondary schools.
(political and demographic factors)
 4) The Filipinos are the biggest group of foreign
population in HK (2.1%) but their language is
not as popular as that of the British which make
up only 0.3% of the HK population in 2001.
(social factor)
 5) The HK population using other Chinese
dialects as a usual language has decreased
from 7% in 1991 to 5.5% in 2001. (social and
demographic factors)
Language Death
 How can a language die?
 1) when all the people who speak that
language die;
 2) when the domains in which a language is
used are totally replaced by another
 3) when a language is suppressed by a
political power
 Which is more likely to die, a standard
language or a dialect?
Language revival/ revitalization
What brings dead/dying languages back
to life?
1) New Zealand: Maori (cultural crisis)
2) Israel: Hebrew (nationalism)
3) Taiwan: Taiwanese (political independence)
4) Wales: Welsh (cultural identity)
Who brings dead/dying languages back to life?
1) Acceptance by Institutions (i.e. government, university,
church, media etc.)
2) Acceptance by people
Ethnolinguistic Vitality
 Ethno – different ethnic groups
 Ethnolinguistic – different ethnic groups
speaking different languages
 Vitality – strength
Three factors to assess
ethnolinguistic vitality
Howard Giles:
 Social status of the speakers
 Demographic strength
 Institutional support
Ethnolinguistic Vitality
 Giles et al (1977:309) suggest three main factors in
assessing the vitality of different ethnolinguistic groups
viz. Status, Demographic Strength and Institutional
Support. The Status variable is about the prestige of the
target linguistic group. The Demographic variables are
related to the number of members in a linguistic group
and their distribution in the territory. Lastly, Institutional
Support refers to the degree to which a language is
used in various institutions e.g. the government, church,
schools, media. Giles’s theory was devised to examine
the interrelationship between different ethnolinguistic
groups in a multi-racial society.
Language vitality
A language will last long and remain strong
in a community if:
 The social status of the target language
speakers remains high;
 The number of people using the target
language remains large;
 Institutional support to the target language
remains high.
How can a minority language be
 If a language is an important identity
 If a minority group is cohesive (e.g. China
 If a minority group keeps close contact
with the homeland;
 If a minority language gets institutional

Topic 6 Powerpoint