Niken Larasati Wening



  1. 1.  The definition of Language Maintenance


The term language maintenance is used to describe a situation in which a speaker, a group of speakers, or a speech community continue to use their language in some or all spheres of life despite competition with the dominant or majority language to become the main/sole language in these spheres.


  1. 2.    LM and LS in the Context of Language Contact


Both phenomena emerge in the context of language contact. Although language contact does not always involve linguistic competition in which only one language survives, there are many situations of language contact in which one language (gradually) loses ground in the face of another language. This “losing ground” can have several consequences for the language and the speech community in question. The most drastic effect is undoubtedly language death.

This occurs in situations where an entire speech community stops using the language for a variety of reasons. The language dies because it no longer has a community of users (including speakers) and all its functions or uses have been usurped by another language. More drastic reasons for language death include cases where an entire speech community is wiped out as a consequence of disease, of genocide, or other disaster. Examples include the death of American Indian and Australian Aboriginal languages as a result of invasion, colonization, and settlement by Europeans in those territories (e.g., Grenoble & Whaley, 1998; Robins & Uhlenbeck, 1991).    Language death is usually irreversible, especially for those languages of which no written and/or oral records exist. In some cases language revival or language revitalization are possible either because of existing records of the language or through reconstruction based on similarities with neighboring languages or dialects.


  1. 3.    LM and LS as Cross- and Interdisciplinary Fields of Research


The study of LM and LS is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary enterprise involving and/or bringing together (sub)disciplines such as sociology, sociology of language, anthropology (in particular anthropological linguistics), social psychology, sociolinguistics, contact linguistics, and applied linguistics as well as others such as (linguistic) demography and political science. Each (sub) discipline brings its own focus, goals, theories, and methods to the enterprise of studying language maintenance and language shift.

For the purpose of this chapter, which is embedded in a handbook of applied linguistics, the focus is on those aspects of the study of LM (and LS) which are of particular relevance to the field of applied linguistics and which highlight contributions applied linguists have made to the study of LM and LS. This comprises an overview of the main research methods and tools used and a discussion of research focusing on identifying factors and forces which may influence LM and/or LS patterns in speech communities, as well as a discussion of LM efforts.


  1. 4.    Researching LM and LS: Methods, Tools, and Data

Below the writer describes the main methods and data used to examine the issue of LM factors and to explore LM efforts.

4.1 The use of census and other large-scale surveys

Census surveys which include questions about language use, language proficiency, or language choice can provide useful data on LM and LS. Although census data on language use can be powerful tools in the study of LM and LS, they can also be fraught with problems reducing their value and validity (e.g., Clyne, 1991; Fasold, 1984; Lieberson, 1967; Nelde, 1989). Their main shortcomings include that they are almost always based on self-reports and self-assessments with people often over-estimating or under-estimating their usage patterns or practices. Furthermore, difficulties surrounding the interpretation of terms and words like “language,” “home language,” “mother tongue,” and “language use” can limit the usefulness of language questions in the census. Notwithstanding these weaknesses, analyses of language data from census and other large-scale surveys are helpful in studying the process and dynamics of language shift.

4.2 Questionnaires

The questionnaire (often administered via an interviewer) is another prominent tool in the study of LM and LS. Questionnaires have been used to document various features crucial to LM and LS. These include investigating the language use patterns of bi- or multilingual persons in specific context (domain analysis), their language proficiency, and their attitudes toward the languages and LM/LS. The documentation of language use is usually done through a domain analysis. Domain is a crucial concept in the study of LM as it allows for the identification of contexts in which the minority language or language under threat is best maintained and in which situations it is least maintained.

4.3 Participant observation

In-depth studies of LM and LS affecting specific communities or groups often rely heavily on participant observation and other forms of researcher participation in the community under investigation. Such studies focus on documenting the linguistic choices that individuals make in their community and on exploring the reasons why they make these choices or which factors/ forces shape their choice or usage patterns. Researchers frequently become “part” of the community by living and working there for a considerable period of time or by regular engagement with the group/community over an extended period of time. They observe and frequently audio-tape and/or video-record a variety of linguistic interactions which are then subjected to multiple analyses (e.g., domain analysis, analysis of discourse, linguistic analysis) which can shed light on the questions of LM or LS. Gal’s (1979) detailed study of LS in the bilingual village of Oberwart in Austria, Zentella’s (1997) longitudinal study of Spanish LM among the Puerto Rican community in New York, as well as Heller’s (1999) study of the language practices (French, English and other) in a school in Ontario, Canada are well-known examples of studies relying heavily on the participant observation/full participation methods to gather their data.

4.4 Integrative and multi-method approaches to LM and LS research

Not unlike practices in other fields of applied linguistics, scholars in the field of LM and LS also often prefer to combine methods or to adopt an integrative approach to research methods because of the perceived advantages of such a combination in examining and understanding the phenomena of LM and LS.

Besides the above mentioned methods, the following methods and procedures also frequently feature in LM and LS studies: collection of personal narratives (e.g., written and verbal stories, diaries), test procedures, archival methods, and focus groups.


  1. 5.     Factors and Forces Promoting LM or LS


 For applied linguists a key objective of studying LM and LS is to be able to address the questions: how can LS be halted or reversed (e.g., Fishman, 1991) and/or how can LM be effected? This objective is linked to what many applied linguists see as one of their crucial roles: advocacy. Making their expertise and knowledge available to inform and assist individuals, groups, communities, and indeed governments in relation to linguistic matters, including LM, is seen as pertinent to being an applied linguist. Addressing the question of LM efforts relies on the identification of factors and forces which operate to promote LM and those which tend to slow down or even halt the process of LS.

The multitude of studies investigating questions of LM and LS in a diverse range of situations has led to the development of some theories and frameworks which try to “predict” or explain factors and forces conducive to LM or LS. Unfortunately this chapter won’t be able to do justice to the depth and breadth of this enterprise and readers will be referred to other sources for a more in-depth discussion.


  1. 6.    LM Efforts: Community and Individual Strategies and Initiatives


Studies of LM and LS not only advance our insight into LM or LS factors but also reveal attempts, successful or not, at LM. The latter helps us to identify initiatives and strategies to maintain a language “under threat.” LM efforts can cover a very wide range of strategies and initiatives and can have variable goals and outcomes (e.g., Fishman, 2001; Grenoble & Whaley, 1998). The variability in goals and outcomes is often a result of the state in which the minority language finds itself as well as the social and political contexts within which the maintenance efforts take place. For example, a minority language with a sizeable number of “active” speakers and with access to a literary heritage may have a broader scope for LM than a minority language with few, if any remaining speakers. Similarly, the scope of LM efforts may go beyond the personal and private if the sociopolitical context is characterized by tolerance or support, whereas an oppressive environment may severely restrict the scope of LM.

A comprehensive and useful model within which to describe LM efforts is Fishman’s (1991) work on Reversing Language Shift. He proposes an eight-stage model to provide insights into the necessary steps which need to be taken by a community in order to reverse LS (see Figure 29.1). The number of stages is related to the “severity of intergenerational dislocation” (Fishman, 1991 p. 393) and is subdivided into two groupings. Stages 8 to 5 represent those which are needed to attain diglossia, that is, the continued use of the minority language as the low (L) variety, with the majority language representing the high (H) variety (Ferguson, 1959).



  1. What is meant by language death?

Answer: It occurs in situations where an entire speech community stops using the language for a variety of reasons. The language dies because it no longer has a community of users (including speakers) and all its functions or uses have been usurped by another language

  1. What are the main methods and data used to examine the issue of LM factors and to explore LM efforts?


  1. The use of census and other large-scale surveys
  2. Questionnaires
  3. Participant observation
  4. Integrative and multi-method approaches to LM and LS research




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