Assessing Language Vitality and Endangerment of Minority Communities in Northeastern Thailand: A Necessity for Visualizing Dynamic Language Shift

Date
2017-03-04
Authors
Tomioka, Yutaka
Cavallaro, Francesco
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Despite the common image that Thailand is a very homogeneous society the truth is that Thailand is a multiethnic and multilingual country where approximately 70 languages are spoken. Over 90% of these languages belong to the Tai-Kadai family. This study focuses on two non-Tai ethnolinguistic minorities, Kuay and Bruu, in the northeastern region of Thailand (Isan), where Lao Isan, a Tai language, is predominant. Kuay and Bruu are Austroasiatic languages. This presentation discusses the results of a survey conducted from 2015 to 2016 in a Kuay (Ta Klang: TK) and a Bruu community (Woen Buek: WB). The foci of the survey were the language attitudes and linguistic practices of these communities. Approximately 150 participants were surveyed, and 25 participants were interviewed in each community. A preliminary analysis of the survey results reveal that WB is undergoing language shift (LS) (Author, 2016a), while TK seems to be maintaining Kuay (Author, 2016b). This paper will detail the features and factors at play in these communities that lead to one shifting away from its traditional language and the other to maintain it, and will propose some considerations regarding the assessment of ethnolinguistic vitality. The comparison of language choice across generations illustrates that WB’s LS has rapidly spread in the community over the last two to three decades. Bruu in WB is partly equivalent to “6b threatened” in EGIDS (Simons and Lewis, 2010). However, the situation is more serious and dynamic than EGIDS’ description: non-Bruu speakers are already the child-bearing generation; Bruu speakers are already a minority among the younger age group; and this group’s use of Bruu is limited. On the other hand, Kuay seems safe in TK, as most participants can speak, or understand, Kuay. Even non-Kuay community members speak Kuay for better communication within community members. At the same time, there are signs of LS in the community. Nevertheless, most community members are confident in Kuay’s ethnolinguistic vitality. The results of these surveys suggest that once LS begins, it spreads very rapidly in a community. It also seems that most people seem unaware of the LS in its early stage. To more precisely grasp the LS/LM situation, a scale that visualizes the speed of LS might be useful for linguists and community members in order to be able to prioritize communities with urgent maintenance needs and for community members to recognize the endangerment of their own language as early as possible. References Lewis, M Paul, & Simons, Gary F. (2010). Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman's GIDS. Revue roumaine de linguistique, 55(2), 103-120. Author. (2016a, July). Language Attitude and Language Choice of a Bruu Community in Thailand-Laos border area – The Situation 5 years after a Language and Culture Revitalization Project. Paper presented at the Cambridge Postgraduate Workshop on Endangered Languages and Cultures, Cambridge, the United Kingdom. Author. (2016b, July). The Language Shift and the Status of Lao in a Kuay Community in Northwestern Surin, Thailand. Paper presented at The Fifth International Conference on Lao Studies, Bangkok, Thailand.
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