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“Who says we’re finished?”: Investigating community perceptions of language endangerment

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Title: “Who says we’re finished?”: Investigating community perceptions of language endangerment
Authors: Belew, Anna
Issue Date: 04 Mar 2017
Description: Traditional methods of assessing ethnolinguistic vitality, e.g. Fishman’s (1991) GIDS, the UNESCO (2003) Language Vitality Index, and the Language Endangerment Index (Lee and Van Way 2016), generally involve an outside researcher evaluating a speech community’s social context and linguistic practice in order to assign a language a degree of endangerment. While speakers’ own attitudes towards their language(s) are widely acknowledged to be a critical factor in language maintenance or loss, there is still relatively little work focused on community perceptions of, and attitudes towards, language shift and endangerment. However, in recent years, calls for “sociolinguistically-informed language documentation” (e.g. Childs, Good and Mitchell 2014) and a growing number of studies regarding attitudes towards endangered languages (e.g. Sallabank 2013, Ross 2015) have begun to re-foreground speakers’ own attitudes and perceptions in studies of language vitality. By examining what speakers themselves know about their language, how their community uses it, and the linguistic ecologies in which they live—in other words, seeking an endogenous view of language vitality—a more complete picture of the social and attitudinal factors in language shift may be obtained, and more effective language revitalization made possible. Iyasa (yko) is a Coastal Bantu language spoken by an estimated 2,000 people in southern Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The Catalogue of Endangered Languages (2016) assesses its status as “Threatened,” based on a 2004 report by an outside linguist. This paper presents the results of sociolinguistic interviews conducted in 2016 with 35 Iyasa speakers from 4 villages regarding their perceptions, attitudes, and opinions on their language, as well as an overview of self-reported linguistic repertoires and language use among Iyasa speakers. While the majority of participants noted that Iyasa speakers were not numerous today, perceptions of the language’s vitality and value varied widely between individuals. This study presents patterns across various demographics in attitudes towards the language, self-reported language use, perceptions of other languages in the area and the domains of use they fill; speakers’ own perceptions are examined alongside traditional assessments of language vitality and theories of language shift. In addition to refining our theoretical understanding of language shift and the attitudinal and perceptual factors in language endangerment, this study aims to foreground the experiences, opinions, and voices of those most impacted by language loss—the speakers of endangered languages themselves. References "Iyasa.” Catalogue of Endangered Languages. 2015. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Eastern Michigan University. Accessed 8/27/16 at http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/yko Childs, Tucker, Jeff Good, and Alice Mitchell. 2014. Beyond the Ancestral Code: Towards a Model for Sociolinguistic Language Documentation. Language Documentation and Conservation 8: 168-191. Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Lee, Nala and John Van Way. 2016. Assessing Levels of Endangerment in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) Using the Language Endangerment Index (LEI). Language in Society 45(2): 271-292. Ross, Melody Ann. 2015. Perceptions of Language in East Timor. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa: Working Papers in Linguistics 46(4). Sallabank, Julia. 2013. Attitudes to Endangered Languages: Identities and Policies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages. 2003. Language Vitality and Endangerment. Document submitted to the International Expert Meeting on UNESCO Programme Safeguarding of Endangered Languages, Paris, 10–12 March 2003.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/41997
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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