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A psycholinguistic tool for the assessment of language loss

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Item Summary

Title:A psycholinguistic tool for the assessment of language loss
Authors:O’Grady, William
J.Schafer, Amy
Contributors:O’Grady, William (speaker)
J.Schafer, Amy (speaker)
Date Issued:14 Mar 2009
Description:From a socio-cultural perspective, language loss takes place at the level of a community, affecting virtually every aspect of its culture. Beneath this macro-phenomenon, however, is a much smaller-scale cognitive phenomenon that is manifested in individual speakers of the ill-fated language-a reduction in proficiency to the point where the language is no longer a viable tool for communication. The basic pattern is all too familiar: exposure to an external language leads first to bilingualism, then to language weakening, and finally to language loss. Even in those cases where a community wishes to act to preserve their indigenous language, there are serious challenges beyond the obvious social and political obstacles. One such challenge, which we wish to address, involves the question of how and whether language weakening can be measured so that (a) its presence can be diagnosed at an early point, and (b) the success of efforts to reverse it can be accurately assessed. A well known psycholinguistic correlate of limited linguistic proficiency is slow access to vocabulary and weak activation of the routines for forming and interpreting sentences. Our goal is to exploit this fact by developing an assessment package that will provide a reliable picture of a language's relative accessibility to its speaker-that is, a way of measuring the strength or weakness an indigenous language relative to a competitor language. As we will illustrate in our presentation, we are designing and pilot testing a series of psycholinguistic tasks that will allow us to measure a speaker's response time, both for lexical access and for phrase building. By comparing the scores on these tasks for the two (or more) languages used by individual speakers, we believe that inferences can be drawn about relative language strength in different vocabulary domains and for different types of linguistic performance. This information in turn will be useful for those interested in assessing the degree of language weakening in particular groups, regions, and communities. The assessment package that we will describe has a number of practical advantages as well: it is easily adaptable from language to language, it is inexpensive, it is easy to use, and it can be run on small portable devices, making it appropriate for most field circumstances. We anticipate opportunities for testing in a variety of field situations in the near future.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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