LINGUIST List 28.4586

Thu Nov 02 2017

Review: Anthropological Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Pütz, Mundt (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 02-Feb-2017
From: Meagan Dailey <>
Subject: Vanishing Languages in Context
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Martin Pütz
EDITOR: Neele Mundt
TITLE: Vanishing Languages in Context
SUBTITLE: Ideological, Attitudinal and Social Identity Perspectives
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Meagan Dailey, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa


Vanishing Languages in Context: Ideological, Attitudinal and Social Identity Perspectives is an edited volume (eds. Martin Pütz and Neele Mundt) of papers from the 36th International Linguistic Agency, University of Duisberg (LAUD) Symposium. The volume is divided into three main sections: Section I Language planning, linguistic inequalities and human rights; Section II Language attitudes, discourse and ideology; and Section III Case studies of endangered minority languages.

Section I, Language planning, linguistic inequalities and human rights discusses language shift and loss in Botswana, Nepal and Kenya, explores the sociopolitical factors leading to linguistic inequality in these countries, and evaluates the effectiveness of macro and micro language planning activities. It collects three articles specifically looking at sociopolitical contexts of the regions studied.

In “Micro language planning, minority language and advocacy groups” Modupe M. Alimi compares the advocacy group model against several minority language advocacy coalitions (RETENG: The Multicultural Coalition of Botswana, Kuru Family of Organizations, and the Reformed Church). Alimi also discusses the policies leading to the marginalization of non-Swana languages, micro language planning initiatives undertaken by the minority language advocacy coalitions, and the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Contrastively, in “Linguistic rights and mother tongue education in post-civil war Nepal,” Dӧrte Borchers discusses the macro language planning activities in Nepal. After the civil war, which ended in 2006, the Nepalese government established a constitution which recognizes English and Nepali as official languages of the state, and all other languages as national languages. On paper, the Nepalese government supports minority language and culture education, but in practice, many indigenous people don’t know their linguistic rights and send their children to English or Nepali medium schools for socioeconomic reasons. In communities which would prefer education in their mother tongue, Borchers points out that there are caste issues whereby higher caste Nepali teachers are preferred over lower caste non-Nepali teachers. Borchers advocates for better outreach on the part of the Nepalese government in order to educate the general populace about their linguistic rights.

Finally, in “Devolution of governance and linguistic (in)equalities,” Hilda Kebeya-Omondi and Fridah Kanana-Erastus show that linguistic inequalities don’t just exist between majority and minority languages. Kebeya-Omondi and Kanana-Erastus also argue that in the case of Kenya, linguistic inequalities are exacerbated by the devolution of state power to district level administration. English and Swahili are the official languages named in the Kenyan Constitution, whereas all other languages are declared to have government support for promotion and protection. However, there are inequalities between English and Swahili as English is preferred in all branches of government, education, commerce, and science. This linguistic inequality devolves to the county levels where one local variety is preferred over all others and this can and does result in speakers shifting to the preferred variety. This is counter to language rights laid out in the Kenyan constitution, and has led to the effective death of several minority languages. Kebeya-Omondi and Kanana-Erastus propose that to counter linguistic inequality, promote language maintenance and revitalization, and to empower both minority languages and the people who speak them, several goals need to be accomplished : documentation and orthography development since written languages have more prestige; development of advocacy groups to reverse negative attitudes; and the implementation of literacy programs to grant speakers access to education without the need to become bilingual in the school system.

Section II, Language attitudes, identity and ideology explores the relationship between these three concepts, and their role in language development and maintenance in Italy, Cameroon, Australia, Germany, the Philippines, and Poland. This section collects five papers which empirically investigate specific languages with the goal of understanding influences and practical realizations of language attitudes and identity.

In “Ideologies and expressed attitudes in Internet: Comparing ethnic identities in two regional communities (Veneto and Sardinia),” Anna Ghimenton and Giovanni Depau look at how language attitudes are expressed in computer-mediated communication, specifically on Internet forums and in YouTube comments. Sardinian is officially recognized by the Italian government as a minority language and is granted an amount of prestige as it is an ‘archaic’ language due to its being a conservative offshoot of Latin. Ghimenton and Depau found that when people discuss Sardinian, they tended to discuss the value of different varieties of Sardinian in the arts. Commentary tended to objectify the Sardinian language as an object of discourse, and was often conducted in Italian. Veneto, on the other hand, is not recognized by the Italian government, and has a prestige linked to minority identity. Commentary on the language was mostly conducted in Venetan and served to promote a sense of unity among geographically dispersed Venetan speakers. Ghimenton and Depau attribute this dichotomy to Veneto having a more recent and accessible form of prestige, while Sardinian has a more historical prestige.

In “Endangering indigenous languages: An empirical study of language attitudes and identity in post-colonial Cameroon,” Neele Mundt presents the empirical findings of interviews conducted in Yadouné, Cameroon among 85 individuals training to be teachers. Mundt investigates the post-colonial influences of Cameroonian English and Cameroonian French on language attitudes towards the official languages and local languages. What emerge are strong ties and positive attitudes towards local languages on the basis of ethnic and cultural identity, but also a desire to continue to use the official languages to access personal socioeconomic benefits. This is due to Cameroonians having two levels of identity: ethnic identity linked to home village and mother tongue; and an anglophone/francophone identity that is the result of previous colonial administration. However, this contrasts with the Mundt’s data showing that while the grandparent generation still predominantly use their local language in most domains, the parent generation’s use of local languages is restricted largely to interaction with the grandparent generation, which, as Mundt points out, is an indicator of a larger language shift despite positive attitudes towards Cameroons indigenous languages.

In “Language ideologies beyond ethnicity - Observing popular music styles and their potential relevance for understanding processes of endangerment,” Britta Schneider looks at the transnationalizing power of Spanish language salsa music in Australian and German Salsa communities and the impact of Caribbean Creole English Dancehall music. Associations to the linguistic styles of these genres of music have led to adoption and use among individuals who do not associate themselves with the languages ethnically. Schneider argues that the transnationalizing power of music can help to raise attitudes and awareness for minority languages.

In “Rap and resistance in Chabacano,” Eeva Sippola uses sociolinguistic and ethnolinguistic methodologies to look at the use of rap in the endangered language Chabacano as spoken in Ternate, Indonesia. What Sippola found was that in increasingly globalizing contexts where Chabacano is being abandoned in favor Tagalog and English, rappers have adopted Chabacano for use in their music to express their linguistic identities and open discourse about the harsh realities of life in Ternate. They have appropriated aspects of American rap culture and technology, but transformed them to meet their own needs and to disseminate their music quickly. This has had the effect of increasing positive attitudes towards Chabacano, and positioning it as a covertly prestigious language among urbanized Ternate youth.

In “The Kashubian language at school: Facts and attitudes,” Danuta Stanulewicz and Malgorzata Smentek investigate how Kashubian language and culture classes at schools in Poland impact bilingual Kashubian-Polish students’ attitudes towards Kashubian. They compared two case studies of different classrooms in Poland. Study one focuses on students who have elected to take a Kashubian language/culture class. A survey administered to the class measured engagement in Kashubian language use, literature, and cultural activities. Study two is a survey of Kashubian language use and cultural engagement among students who elected not to take Kashubian classes. Stanulewicz and Smentek found that students who participated in the elective Kashubian course had greater engagement in Kashubian social activities than students who chose not to take the course.

Section III, “Case studies of endangered minority languages” presents a study of language contact and linguistic diversity within the language endangerment framework. Case studies come from Latvia, Ireland, Nigeria, and Malaysia. The three papers included in this section focus on the diversification of minority languages in contexts new to the speakers of the languages under investigation.

In “Latgalian in Latvia: How a minority language community gains voice during societal negotiations about the status of two major languages,” Heiko F. Marten and Sanita Lazdina look at Latgalian, a marginalized language in Latvia. During Soviet control of Latvia, Latgalian was suppressed in favor of Russian, leading to a decline in speaker numbers; but speaker numbers increased when Latvia became independent. However, the Latvian government refused to recognize Latgalian as a distinct language. Recent political alignment of Latgalians with Russophones forced Latvian officials to give more attention to Latgalian; this has led to Latgalian being used in more prestigious contexts, including education, politics, and media. But, since these developments are so recent, Marten and Lazdina point out that it is too soon to tell if the increased esteem and prestige towards Latgalian will last.

In “The case of Cant: The Irish Travellers and their linguistic repertoire in the context of a changing cultural identity,” Maria Rieder looks at the ongoing cultural change in Irish Travellers Cant, or Shelta, resulting from a move away from nomadic traditions. Using a framework of ethnology in communication, Rieder spent two years with Travellers at a now defunct Traveller center immersed in the culture. Older generations no longer consider Cant to be representative of secretive Traveller culture as Travellers become more settled and Cant words have spread to settled communities, while younger generations actively set themselves apart (in appearance) from non-Travellers and treat Cant as an identity marker, guarding it from outsiders. However, younger generations struggle to balance Traveller identity with a desire to adapt to mainstream culture and do not view code-switching into Cant to be a real use of it. Children no longer recognize Cant as being a secretive, contextual code, and instead lump it in with Irish slang. As Travellers become more settled, there is no longer a cultural need to distinguish themselves as Other, and thus Cant is not being passed on to new generations.

In “Non-native speaker mother, personal family efforts and language maintenance: The case of Ogu (Nigeria) in my family,” Esther Senayon discusses her experiences as a non-speaker of Ogu, an endangered language spoken in Nigeria, who has married into an Ogu family and is committed to raising her children to speak Ogu in a Yoruba speaking area. Senayon describes the difficulties of this endeavor as Yoruba and English are societally dominant languages, and there were pressures from speakers of these languages, including being asked to provide a Christian name for church, or teachers Yoruba-izing her children’s names. Despite this, Senayon has taught her children to be proud that they know Ogu, and this has had effects on the families around Senayon’s. She reports that several Ogu families have adapted her ideas to teach their own children, and non-Ogu friends and extended family members have learned Ogu in order to communicate with her children. This is significant, and Senayon shows that commitment to the ancestral language in just one family can have a ripple effect into the greater community.

In “Language endangerment in Northern Nigeria: the case of Igala,” Gideon Sunday Omachonu gives an overview of language endangerment in Northern Nigeria. Omachonu focuses specifically on Igala, but concludes for Northern Nigerian languages in general that for now the situation is relatively stable. However, the author gives several suggestions to maintain or improve the current situation including recommendations for community and government involvement.

In “Linguistic diversity and endangerment in Malaysia: The case of Papia Kristang,” Eileen Lee gives an overview of Papia Kristang, a Portuguese creole, in Malaysia, focusing on the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca, contact with other languages, and bilingualism trends in Malaysia in general. Lee gathered recorded data from the Portuguese Settlement in a variety of different contexts to assess the linguistic ecology of everyday language use. What Lee found was that Papia Kristang use is on the decline, but rather than it being a case of language shift to a more dominant language, speakers instead opt to code mix between Papia Kristang, English, and Malay.


Overall, “Vanishing Language in Context: Ideological, Attitudinal and Social Identity Perspectives” is an excellent introduction to sociolinguistic understanding of language endangerment in various globalizing and multilingual contexts, particularly in Europe and Africa. It logically opens with an assessment of language planning activities in Section I, moves on to empirical studies of language endangerment in specific languages in Section II. Several papers in Section III could have been logically incorporated into the previous section, but seem to be set apart in this section to highlight the theme of perspectives in cultural and linguistic adaptation to changing linguistic ecologies.

The introduction is essential in understanding the division of the included sections, and give a thematic link between each section and the volume as a whole. The editors set the goal of the volume as “an invitation to contribute to the promising avenues for future research into the many “Endangerment-of-languages” issues raised within” (16), and, given the big picture nature of the book, they have succeeded by collecting a variety of papers employing different methodologies to investigate language endangerment from a sociolinguistic perspective.

Methodologically speaking, the majority of the articles investigate topics through a combined discourse analysis and language endangerment theory framework. The other studies focused on quantitative surveys administered to speakers. Many of these studies looked at the connection between historical context and synchronic expression in politics, media, youth culture, computer mediated communication, and gender based contexts.

Given the accessible and broad nature of papers presented in “Vanishing Language in Context: Ideological, Attitudinal and Social Identity Perspectives”, this volume is quite approachable to students of language endangerment and minority language planners alike.


I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa interested in language endangerment, documentation, and contact in Mirconesia. My primary research focus is language contact and sociolinguistic issues in Micronesian migrant communities.

Page Updated: 02-Nov-2017