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Review of  The Changing Language Roles and Linguistic Identities of the Kashmiri Speech Community

Reviewer: Kelsey Elizabeth Harper
Book Title: The Changing Language Roles and Linguistic Identities of the Kashmiri Speech Community
Book Author: M. Ashraf Bhat
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Cognitive Science
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Kashmiri
Issue Number: 29.581

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Dr. M. Ashraf Bhat received his PhD from the Department of Humanities at IIT Kanpur, India, and later completed a postdoctorate from the Department of Social Sciences at IIT, Delhi, India. He is a member of the editorial board of the “American Journal of Linguistics,” the “American Journal of Educational Research,” and has authored various publications, including “Language: The Ultimate Tool of Social Control.” His research centers on cognitive linguistics, cyber-linguistics, conflict discourses, language attrition, and linguistic identity. The present work, “The Changing Language Roles and Linguistic Identities of the Kashmiri Speech Community” focuses on language attrition and identity among Kashmiri speakers in India.

Bhat contributes uniquely to current literature on linguistic identity through establishing a link between language contact, shift, attrition and identity in Kashmir, an area that has long been the center of sociopolitical and territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. While existing studies investigate different aspects of the Kashmiri speech community (Bhatt, 1989; Kachru, 1969), none have focused specifically on change and attrition in the Kashmiri language as has Bhat in his study of Kashmiri speakers. Moreover, existing studies on attrition focus on immigrant communities, not on changes within a speech community in its own homeland. This is the unique case in the Kashmiri speech community.

The present study investigates the multilingual context of the Kashmiri speech community through an emphasis on changing language roles and linguistic practices within this underrepresented community. It assesses these changing linguistic roles and practices, and examines the creation and maintenance of new linguistic identities. The study pinpoints both macro level factors (contexts of acquisition and usage, historical, cultural and socioeconomic factors) and micro level factors (social class, gender, attitudes and motivation) that trigger changes in the use of the Kashmiri language itself and in the attitudes of its speakers. In addition, the book elaborates on the impact of the shift in Kashmiri linguistic identity. Overall, Bhat provides a comprehensive and multifaceted account of language shift in the Kashmiri speech community through examining a variety of factors, including linguistic and functional perspectives, language preferences, attrition and linguistic identity.

The book is organized into six chapters, each one focusing on a different aspect of Kashmir and its people and languages. From its history to the linguistic attitudes of Kashmiri speakers, the author demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of this particular speech community. Through attention-grabbing anecdotes, the book’s preface situates the subject matter within the context of the author’s own experiences as a Kashmiri speaker. Through these real-life examples, the reader begins to understand the status of Kashmiri in India and how its speakers are denigrated as “illiterate villagers” by those outside of their speech community (Bhatt, 2017, p. xv). Such labels have caused Kashmiri speakers to reject their native language. In sum, the preface provides a vivid account of how language and identity are inseparable.

Bhat includes a strong bibliography in his first chapter, synthesizing the works of Sapir, Whorf, Labov, Gumperz, and other prominent research on language and identity. His incorporation of foundational works on linguistic identity sets the stage well for his own study of the Kashmiri speech community. Chapter two provides a linguistic perspective on Kashmiri by delving into the history of the language and its five regional varieties. It also discusses digraphia in Kashmiri and the political, cultural and religious factors that led to a disunified writing system. Overall, the second chapter provides background information on the position of Kashmiri in Indian society; it is the only state in India where a non-native language, Urdu, has been made the state’s official language. In a similar fashion to chapter two, chapter three provides a functional perspective on the changing linguistic practices in Kashmir. It discusses the hegemony of Urdu as it gradually replaces Kashmiri in several aspects of daily life, including education, communication with peer groups, and even involuntary operations such as thinking and dreaming. This social dominance of Urdu is an important point made in this chapter and explains by and large why Kashmiri as a language and culture is in a state of decline.

Chapters four and five turn away from linguistic and functional perspectives and begin to focus on the language preferences, attitudes and identity of the Kashmiri speech community. These chapters are of utmost importance toward accomplishing the author’s goal for the study as they provide a human perspective to the history and facts about the Kashmiri speech community previously discussed in the book. These final chapters explore the loss of motivation within the speech community for maintaining Kashmiri, focus on the negative perceptions toward Kashmiri and the positive feelings toward Urdu, and discuss the role of the media in the attrition of Kashmiri. It is the perceived prestige of Urdu in the speech community that causes attrition within the speech community; this attrition takes the focus of chapter five. Lexical accessibility was the factor that experienced the most attrition according to Bhat, a loss that affects not only a language, but a culture as well. The sixth and final chapter summarizes and discusses the study’s most salient points.


This book is a must-read for sociolinguists interested in language as it relates to identity. It is also useful for those studying language planning and policy, politics of language, minority languages and dialects, and language loss and attrition. It provides a comprehensive overview of the existing body of literature on language and identity and can be valuable as a reference for any work that examines identity within speech communities. The unique context of this study, attrition in a language within its own homeland, makes it an essential reference for any linguist researching language loss in a non-immigrant speech community.

On a more broad level, this book provides a detailed account of cultural and linguistic changes that occur in a minority language speech community when it is overshadowed by the majority language’s power and prestige. This theme makes the book suitable as a required reading or reference for graduate courses on bilingualism or language planning and policy.

The content of this book is concise and well organized. The figures and tables in the book are attractive, easy to interpret, and provide insight into the author’s methodology. Concerning methodology, however, the book does not offer an elaborate account of respondent recruitment nor the specific research instruments employed in the process of data collection. Perhaps such information would detract from the overall purpose of the manuscript; that being said, the book seems to leave readers curious about methodological details. Nonetheless, the book presents all data in an appealing way. In addition, the appendices support the book’s content and provide excellent visual examples of changes in the Kashmiri speech community.

In sum, the book provides a somber reminder of the influence social and political factors have on the usage and maintenance of any given language. Youth in the Kashmiri speech community increasingly consider Kashmir a “backward and useless language” (Bhat, 2017, p. 88) used by the rural and uneducated. These negative attitudes toward Kashmiri manifested themselves in quantitative data in this study that showed younger respondents had more lexical knowledge of Urdu than Kashmiri. Attrition, negative attitudes toward its speakers by outsiders, and the association of Kashmiri with “backwardness” are factors that indicate a bleak future ahead for the language.

As Bhat established in chapter one, language is tightly bound to culture, and linguistic identity is considered a major characteristic of language. A threat to a language is also a threat to the culture and identity of its speakers. The perceived prestige of Urdu in the Kashmiri speech community and the spread of English as a global language both pose a threat not only to Kashmiri as a language, but as a culture as well.

This study carries implications in the field of sociolinguistics. Minority language communities should be studied using a multifaceted approach that takes into account macrolevel and microlevel factors that contribute to language change and attrition. Studies of these unique speech communities must take into account linguistic and functional perspectives as well as attitudes held by the speakers themselves. These factors together provide a broader understanding of changes within a minority speech community such as that of Bhat’s study in the Kashmiri speech community.


Bhat, M. Ashraf. 2017. The changing roles and linguistic identities of the Kashmiri speech community. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Bhatt, Rakesh Mohan. 1989. Language planning and language conflict: The case of Kashmiri. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 75. 73-85.

Kachru, Braj B. 1969. A reference grammar of Kashmiri. Urbana: University of Illinois.
Kelsey Harper is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University. Her dissertation research focuses on Peruvian immigrants in the United States and how this speech community adapts to a new cultural and linguistic setting where their variety of Spanish comes into contact with others. Her research interests include language and identity, Spanish in the United States, and foreign language pedagogy.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781443879620
Pages: 240
Prices: U.K. £ 61.99
U.S. $ 105.95