Welcome!‎ > ‎

Language and Social Changes

        Have you wondered what would happened to the society when languages meet each other? How the contact would change our society?

        Language contact is closely related to social change. Contact leads to a social change, or the other way round. It is often induced by the multiple languages in contact -Multilingualism. It may lead to change of languages for example creolization and further: recreolization and decreolization. Policy of government would also affect language use in education and certain languages’ life and death. Social attitude towards a language would also lead to language shift and death as well. Society would respond to such social changes with revitalization programs too.

        Here we have included a few topics which are the product of these language and social changes.  With real-life examples and case studies across the globe, you would learn a lot about these interesting social changes.

How do the social factors interplay and affect the language choice of Laotians?

posted Dec 15, 2013, 9:18 PM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated Dec 15, 2013, 9:23 PM ]


            This article aims at investigating how different social factors, i.e. historical, economic, political and cultural, affect the use of different languages in Laos and the language choice of Laotians. I will first introduce the basic information of Laos. Next, I will separate into different parts to analyze the different social factors which determine the language choice of the local people. At last, I will try to predict the future development of the languages in Laos.

 The basic information of Laos

            Have you heard of Laos? Where is this country? Laos is a landlocked country, which means that it is surrounded by other countries and cannot be reached by the sea, in South-East Asia (Fox, 1997). The neighbors of Laos are Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar. According to International Human Development Indicators suggested by The United Nations Development Program (2013), the population of Laos reaches over 6,400,000 but a lot of them receive little education (only 4.6 years of schooling on average) and poverty is serious in this country.

            Although the official language of Laos is Lao, merely half of the population can speak in Lao. Instead, a lot of people there communicate in ethnic minority languages such as Hmong, Khmu and Chinese dialects. We should explore the factors affecting the language choices of the local people now! 

YouTube Video


What is the History of Laos and how does it affect the languages of the country?

            Fox reported that the region around Laos and other south-east Asia was known starting from 13th Century. The Tai people first established their states by gathering different ethnic groups together in the same area. Therefore, Sagart (2005) predicted that since the 14th Century, the people living in that area mainly spoke in proto-Tai-Kadai language. However, Laos was added to the protectorate of French Indochina in the late 19th Century since France saved the King of Laos from Chinese invasion. It was not until 1953 that Laos finally gained independence from France. During the French colonial period, French was not only used among the government officials, but also acted as a second learning language for those kids who were lucky enough to go to school that time. This case was quite similar to English in Hong Kong.

            Even after the colonial period, Rehbein suggested that Laos is still influenced by French and the education policy of Laos will be studied later. 


How did the government try to establish national identity?

            John (2006) suggested that after Laos became an independent country, the government was struggling with the sense of belonging of the citizens. The reason behind was that the population of Laos has been combined from a wide variety of ethnic groups and different groups have different languages for their mother tongues. Therefore, the government urgently needed a common official language to establish national identity.

            Since Lao has been spoken by half of the population as Rehbein reported, the government thus chose it as the official language of Laos. However, the government did not set up an official standard for the official language although Lao has mainly five dialects. Simpson (2007) explained that this might cause regional conflicts within the country since different regions were speaking in different dialects of Lao. Hence, the government adopted a “soft” approach instead. After several decades, Vientiane Lao successfully became the unofficial standard of Lao because Vientiane has been the capital of Laos and it could impose the greatest influences on the people living in other regions due to its economic driving force in Laos.

            Nevertheless, the education policy of the government was viewed negatively by many citizens due to huge criticism of the medium of instruction at schools. As Liddicoast (2007) reported, Lao language was taught and used to communicate in the classroom environment in most of the schools in Laos after its independence. However, it soon found out that pupils whose native languages were not Lao were very difficult to learn and this lowered their motivation of learning and going to schools. This situation was accused of partly slowing the growth of literacy rate in Laos.       

YouTube Video



Has economic development played a main role in affecting the language choice of Laotians?

            Though the official language is Lao in Laos now, it is not as widely used as one may expect. Except the minority languages from different ethnic groups, French has always been playing an important role in Laos, especially in business environment. Amakawa (2010) reported that the economy in Laos has been rather primitive, and mainly focused on agriculture, which accounts for 80% of the total employment in the country. Nevertheless, due to lack of opportunities, there have been a lot of Laotians who have gone to neighboring countries such as Vietnam (also colonized by France before) and Thailand to find jobs. Thus, Sagart suggested that the Laotians have learnt Thai, French or even English in order to communicate with their bosses and colleagues working in transnational corporations and to raise their competitiveness.

            Besides, Amakawa said that some French still had their businesses in Laos after the colonial period in Indochina. Therefore, the local Laotians had to communicate with them in French to get the business opportunities since the French are in the predominant side in terms of trading and businesses. In short, French remains an important language in Laos. 


What do the Laotians think about their languages?

            One of the most important function of languages is to communicate with others in both written and verbal ways. After I have analyzed and explained different factors affecting the language choices of Laotians, we should now move to investigate how the Laotians think about their languages.

            Simpson found out that the government policies which tried to make Lao as the official language so as to build up the national pride among the citizens has not been very successful. First, people of ethnic groups such as Hmong and Khmu still mainly use their native dialects to communicate in daily conversations. Simpson predicted that these ethnic minority groups would like to preserve their native culture and languages rather than the Lao’s since they think that their culture and languages are unique and hence are worthwhile to preserve them.

            Moreover, Rehbein suggested that the more educated Laotians, though in a very limited numbers since the literacy rate in Laos is still comparatively low, would tend to speak in French or English because of their learning and working environment. Besides, speaking in French or English may help them establish a more prestigious status and positive image as Rehbein said.


What will be the future development of the languages in Laos?

            While Laos is still a very poor country in terms of economic development and life quality, especially when we compare it with its neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, it has begun to grow and develop in a faster pace in the last decade because of globalization and implementation of favorable policies by the government to attract investment around the world. Besides, with the rise and expansion of China, it is predictable that more Chinese companies may set up their branches in Laos to lower the labor cost and land rent. This will create more opportunities for the Laotians but the local workers will have to learn Chinese, mainly the predominant Mandarin, at the same time in order to communicate with their superiors. 

            Last but not least, as the most widely used language in the world, English will probably be more important and common in Laos in the near future. Except the economic factors that more foreign direct investment (FDI) will go to Laos, since more children can receive education and they may have more opportunities to have exchange programs around the world, English will be more important for them to learn and communicate in the future. Therefore, I will predict that more and more Laotians will become bilingual or trilingual in the future which are quite similar with the Malays and Singaporeans in the South-East Asia.



Amakawa, N. (2010). Industrialization in late-developing ASEAN countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Singapore: NUS Press ;.

Fox, M. (1997). A history of Laos. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

International Human Development Indicators - Lao People's Democratic Republic. (n.d.). International Human Development Indicators. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/LAO.html

John, R. B. (2006). Revolution, reform and regionalism in Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. London: Routledge.

Liddicoat, A. (2007). Language planning and policy issues in language planning and literacy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Rehbein, B. (2007). Globalization, culture and society in Laos. London: Routledge.

Sagart, L. (2005). The peopling of East Asia: putting together archaeology, linguistics and genetics. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Simpson, A. (2007). Language and national identity in Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spolsky, B. (2001). New perspectives and issues in educational language policy a festschrift for Bernard Dov Spolsky. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub. Co..

The Chinese in LaosRebirth of the Laotian Chinese Community as peace returns to Indochina. (n.d.). CEFC. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from http://www.cefc.com.hk/pccpa.php?aid=1438

By Lam Yui Him, Titus (2010071320)

Language Death of Australian Aboriginal Languages: Dyirbal

posted Dec 15, 2013, 7:54 AM by Welove Linguistics

Dyirbal is an Australian indigenous language that is spoken in Northeast Queensland. It is a member of the Pama-Nyungan language family. Languages in this family have a few common features, namely, agglutinative morphology, a sophisticated system of word classes, and a distinction between everyday and avoidance language, which is used in the communication with affinal relatives (Matthews, 2013). Dyirbal is on the verge of endangerment since three out of its six dialects are already extinct (Pereltsvaig, 2012, p. 178). The rest of the dialects are also undergoing different stages of change or even dying out. In the following, we will look into the changes in terms of the linguistic and grammatical features by analyzing the traditional Dyirbal and young Dyirbal, thus provide the reasons for the death of language.

YouTube 影片

Reclassification and Loss of Noun Classes

Dyirbal has a unique paradigm of noun classes. There are four classes in total and they are formed by some general governing principles, namely, the ‘domain-of-experience principle’, the ‘myth-and-belief principle’, and the ‘important-property principle’ (Lakoff, 1987, pp. 93-94). This makes the system of noun classes of Dyirbal very complex. Robert Malcolm Ward Dixon (1982), a linguistic professor who specializes in Dyirbal and other Australian languages, complied a list that describes the classification of objects in each and every class with great details (as cited in Pereltsvaig, 2012, p. 172).


(Traditional Dyirbal)

(1)       Banggun    ganibarra-gu  budin   bangun        gujarra.

            CL2.ERG  dingo-ERG      take     CL2.GEN    baby

            ‘The dingo took her baby.’


            (Young Dyirbal)

(2)       Bayi   ganibarra  budin  bangun        gujarra.

            CL1   dingo          take    CL2.GEN   baby

            ‘The dingo took her baby.’

(as cited in Matthews, 2013)


According to the list, gannibara ‘dingo’, which is a free-roaming dog that is mainly found in Australia, as in (1) and (2) should belong to class II. The examples, nevertheless, show a shift in word class of the same word from class II (banggun) in Traditional Dyirbal to class I (bayi) in young Dyirbal as indicated by the noun markers or classifiers that precede the nouns. The possible explanations are three-fold. Language interference is definitely crucial in resulting such change since semi-speakers are prone to be affected by the English pronominal system. Apart from that, as a moribund language, Dyirbal is no longer being learned as a native language (Matthews, 2013). Young speakers did not grow up with the aboriginal cultures and therefore have difficulty understanding the mythological aspect of the noun class classification. On top of that, young speakers are very likely to have learned the simplified noun class schema since Dixon (1982) proposed a basic version to enhance the generalizability as presented below.



            I.   Bayi: (human) males; animals

            II.  Balan: (human) females; water; fire; fighting       

            III. Balam: non-flesh food

            IV. Bala: everything not in the other classes   

                                                                                                                                                         (as cited in Lakoff, 1987, p. 93)


It can be seen that in the revised version of the schema animals are being generalized into class I. Further documentation by Annette Schmidt (1985, p. 150-166), who conducted a sophisticated study on young Dyirbal as a case of language death, serves to account for the change in noun class classification. It is stated that Dyirbal showed different stages of degeneration in categorization system among different groups of speakers. Similar to the case of (6), the study recorded that there were subjects who failed to recognize dogs and bandicoots as exceptional animals that belong to class II and put them into class I instead. The pattern of what links are retained and lost implies the collapse of the traditional system of case marking. It then results in a restructured schema as follows.



            I.   Bayi: human males and nonhuman animates

            II.  Balan: human females      

            IV. Bala: everything else                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (as cited in Lakoff, 1987, p. 98)


Obviously, the schema is further simplified with only the core elements being preserved. It also explains the change in noun class that occurred between traditional and young Dyirbal and manifests the dying of the aboriginal language.


Abandonment of Avoidance (Dyalnguy) Style


(Traditional Dyirbal)

(3)       Girimu-gu     jugumbil  bajan.

            snake-ERG   woman     bite

            ‘The snake bite the woman.’


(Young Dyirbal)

(4)       Gugar   bajan  ban    jugumbil.

            goanna  bite     CL2  woman

            ‘The goanna bit the woman.’

(as cited in Matthews, 2013)


Consider (3) and (4), the agent of the former girimu means ‘snake’, while that of the latter gugar means ‘goanna’. Girimu is a more generic term to refer to gugar, which is the Australian monitor lizard. In fact, Australian languages, including Dyirbal, are notable for their distinction between the everyday language and the avoidance language (or less formally, the ‘mother-in-law’ language) (Pereltsvaig, 2012, p. 172). In Dyirbal, the two styles of language are also known as Guwal and Dyalnguy respectively. In this particular example, girimu ‘snake’ obviously belongs to the Guwal variant, where gugar ‘goanna’ belongs to the Dyalnguy variant. The shift from the use of the generic term to the specific term can be seen as the elimination of the avoidance variant. Indeed, the Dyalnguy style began to decline since as early as the 1930s, when Dyirbal speakers started to replace the avoidance language with the everyday language progressively (Dixon, 1972, p. 36). This signifies the initial loss of the aboriginal language and cultures.


Change in Position of Adjectives

In (5), the example of traditional Dyirbal, it is shown that the modifying adjective follows rather than precedes the head noun. However, in (6), its counterpart in young Dyirbal, the position of the adjective differs with the traditional variant in which it precedes the head noun instead.


(Traditional Dyirbal)

(5)       Banggun     jugumbi-ru     marrgi-nggu  mirrany  babin.

            CL2.ERG   woman-ERG   thin-ERG       bean       slice

                               Head Noun    Adjective

            ‘The thin woman sliced the beans.’


(Young Dyirbal)

(6)       Banggun      marrgi    jugumbi-ru     babin  mirrany.

            CL2.ERG    thin        woman-ERG  slice    bean

                            Adjective   Head Noun

            ‘The thin woman sliced the beans.’

(as cited in Matthews, 2013)


According to the Greenberg’s Universal 5, it is said that ‘[i]f a language has dominant SOV order and the genitive follows the governing noun, then the adjective likewise follows the noun’ (Greenberg, 1966, p. 79). Though traditional Dyirbal does not show cases where the possessor follows the possessed, it has a basic word order of SOV. Therefore, the linguistic universal serves as a parameter and derives implication with a particular typological feature. In the case of young Dyirbal, the variety of word order is reduced to solely SVO. The linguistic universal therefore can no longer be applied. In fact, as discussed above, the aboriginal language and cultures are immensely penetrated by the western cultures. Due to the fact the position of adjectives of young Dyirbal resembles that of English, it is speculated that the semi-speakers adopt the syntactic property of English, which is the language that they grew up with, resulting in the change of the position of adjectives.


Introduction of Prepositions

It is said that ‘[m]ost Australian languages do not have adpositions’ (Dixon, 2002, p. 131) and Dyirbal is no exception. Rather, traditional Dyirbal relies on a variety of suffixes to indicate the function of a particular word or phrase. In (7), the verb, instead of the noun, is marked for the instrumental case with -ma to express the action that is performed on a particular object. Such marker is not found in young Dyirbal. Alternatively, a preposition assumes the case marker and functions independently by preceding the relevant noun phrase as in (8).


(Traditional Dyirbal)

(7)       bala   yugu   banggul     yara-Ngu   danay-ma-n

            CL4  wood  CL1-ERG  man-ERG  stand-INST-NON-FUT

            ‘The man stood on a piece of wood.’


(Young Dyirbal)

(8)        jugumbil  nyina-nyu         on   yugu

            woman     sit-NON-FUT   on   log

            ‘The woman sat on the log.’

(as cited in Matthews, 2013)

Even though the two sentences are not identical in terms of meanings, both express an agent performing a specific action on the object. The two sentences, however, differ in the syntactic construction in which the traditional variant employs morphological marking on the verb while the young variant form prepositional phrase. A reasonable explanation for the change is that the semi-speakers mimic the grammatical property of the language they are more familiar with, English, which does not have a complex case paradigm and relies on prepositional phrases.



Dixon, R. M. W. (1972). The Dyirbal language of North Queensland. Cambridge: CUP.

Dixon, R. M. W. (1982). Where have all the adjectives gone?: And other essays in semantics and syntax. Berlin: Walter de                     Gruyter.

Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian languages: Their nature and development. Cambridge: CUP. 

Greenberg, J. H. (1966). Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements, Universals                 of Language. Cambridge, Massachusets, and London: MIT Press.

Lakoff, G. (1987). Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago and London: The                     University of Chicago Press.

Matthews, S. J. (October 2013). Lecture on Morphological types. Personal Collection of S. J. Matthews, University of Hong                     Kong, Hong Kong.

Matthews, S. J. (November 2013). Lecture on Dyirbal and the aboriginal language of Australia. Personal Collection of S. J.                     Matthews, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Pereltsvaig, A. (2012). Languages of the world: An introduction. New York: CUP.


Choi Tik Steve (2012720755)

Language Death (G4)

posted May 23, 2013, 11:53 AM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated May 24, 2013, 9:16 AM by Petra Lam ]

 What is Language Death?                                                                    by Lam Ming Yee Petra

“A language dies when nobody speaks it anymore” (Crystal, 2000), in other words, it is no longer used as a living language by the speech community in their daily activities and lives (Wurm, 1991). Language is viewed as a tool for communication, if you are the last speaker of your language; your language is already dead. “For a language is really alive only as there is someone to speak it to” (Crystal, 2000).

Endangered Languages Project (boweryartsandscience 2012)

        It is estimated that approximately more than 7000 languages spoken around the world, which more than half of them may die out by 2100 while many of them have not yet been recorded (National Geographic).

    Enduring Voices Project initiated by National Geographic identifying language hotspots —the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages. More information can be found in the  National Geographic website.

Source: Living Tongues Institute For Endangered Languages

        According to Ethnologue, The largest single language by population is mandarin, followed by Spanish and English. It is estimated that 6% of the world’s languages are spoken by 94% of the world’s population. The remaining 94% of Languages are spoken by only 6% of the population and 133 languages are spoken by fewer than 10 people. So, why do languages die out? Why should we care? 

        A language die when all the people who speak it are dead, thus the well-being of its speakers is of importance. It may be due to natural catastrophe, conditions that is not ideal for surviving such as famine, and imported diseases and so on. The reasons for the endangerment of certain languages are also due to political factors such as the implementation of official languages policies and due to the higher prestige of speaking an imperial language. When the languages of powerful groups are dominant, the smaller groups cannot be sustained. Many children may give up their ancestral languages and grow up learning the dominant language (National Geographic). When the language community shrinks drastically, their languages will be moribund or even die out.

Why should we care? 

        A loss of a language may refer to a loss of the entire culture, especially when it is not documented. Many endangered languages are rich in cultures with knowledge, histories and stories. The disappearance of a language means we may lose an enormous indigenous cultural heritage and the knowledge about the nature; particularly most of the tribes have close interaction with the nature for thousands of years often have profound insights into local lands, plants and animals, and ecosystems that still not yet recorded by science (National Geographic). “Your knowledge of your language is like a repository, or archive, of your people’s spoken linguistic past. But, unlike the normal idea of an archive, which continues to exist long after the archivist is dead, the moment the last speaker of an unwritten or unrecorded language dies, the archive disappears forever. When a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been” (Crystal, 2000).

Indigenous Knowledge 


What people did to preserve the endangered languages?

            Many projects have been implemented in these recent decades to help preserve and record the moribund languages, such as the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, which strives to preserve the endangered languages (http://www.livingtongues.org/hotspots.html). Dr Mark Turin, director of the World Oral Literature Project, has worked closely at the remote corners of the Himalayas to study languages and cultures that are endangered and document them before they disappear. See the below video.

Cambridge University: World Oral Literature Project (CambridgeUniversity 2010)

YouTube Video

Mesoamerican Cultural Preservation: Documenting fading cultures (fotagra4 2009)

YouTube Video

To know more about Language documentation, please refers to:

 Anti-Survival Argument

       Some anti-survival supporters argue against the importance of language renewal. They stressed that languages have always died off. They are anti-revitalization campaigners and campaign for language homogenization. They argue that the world shares universal language enable communication and dynamic in cultures, opening new ways of thinking and doing. Kenan Malik, an Indian-born British scholar is one of the core campaigners (Černý, 2010).

       Examples for Languages revitalization/preservation projects:

(a) Hawaiian Language: 

Public Hawaiian-language immersion preschools and the promotion of Hawaiian cultural heritage

(Source: http://www.ksbe.edu/progressandpromise/archive/goal3.html)

International Night – Kauanoenuhea (mylaxheartsyerface 2009)

Keali'i Reichel and Halau Kealaokamaile at Ag Fest Maui 2011 - April 2, 2011 (mauitodaytv 2011)

(b)   Endangered Language Project
        It is an online resource to record, access, and share samples of and research on endangered languages as well as to share advice and best practices for those working to document or strengthen languages under threat.

Introducing the Endangered Languages Project


Černý, Miroslav. 2010. Language Death Versus Language Survival: A Global Perspective. In Beyond Globalisation: Exploring the Limits of Globalisation in the Regional Context, 51-56. Ostrava: University of Ostrava Czech Republic. Retrieved 20th May 2013 http://conference.osu.eu/globalization/publ/06-cerny.pdf

Crystal, David. 2000. Language Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

National Geographic. Disappearing Languages. Enduring VoicesDocumenting The Planet’s Endangered Languages. Retrieved 20th May 2013 from http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/enduring-voices/

Wurm, Stephen. 1991. Language Death and Disappearance: Causes and Circumstances. Diogenes. March 39: 1-18.

Recreolization and decreolization (G5)

posted May 23, 2013, 9:26 AM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated May 26, 2013, 1:30 AM by Lam Ka Lok ]

Language and Social Changes

What’s after creolization? 

by Lam Ka Lok

Huge amount of studies has been completed on language contact and language creation due to various social changes. Pidginization, creolization, koineization are particular aspect of interest of language contact researchers. Other articles also address the matter with different angles with different case examination. Yet, do you have a question like this: “well I’ve got to learn the product of language contact. But what now? What would happen after that?”


Researchers have hypothesized two scenarios with different contexts with some social evidence from linguistics area such as Jamaica and Hawai’i, and they are decreolization and recreolization.



In 1968 Mona conference decreolization was first suggested by Keith Whinnom:

    “… the standard and lexifier language of a creole-speaking society exerts a very powerful influence on the development of the creole at all stages.”     (Patrick, 2002)

Simply put, decreolization is the process of a creole undergoing a transformation towards the standard language. Reason for this could be the removal of superstrate language influence to the substrate languages.


Here are some case studies of such phenomenon.


Hawaiian Creole

Hawaiian Creole was developed in early 19th century with trade and plantation going on in Hawai’i. In this language, tense-aspect markers are observed and distinguish itself from standard English. Decreolization is identified with the disappearance of these markers.


stei is a “nonpunctual” marker used in Hawaiian creole. It has disappeared from Oahu, and is on the retreat in other islands. However there is a convergence of the use of the marker: people used to use I stei wok and I wok to tell in English: I work every day and I worked but now people tend to use I wok in general to tell the tense. It is the loss of a distinctive anterior which de-characterized the creole- rendering it no difference to Standard English.


Hawaii Pidgin The Voice of Hawaii

Hawaii Pidgin The Voice of Hawaii


African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered one of the typical examples demonstrating the process of decreolization. AAVE is arguably a creole spoken by many African Americans and non-African Americans in the United States.


Portuguese-based creole languages

Portuguese had huge language impact in 15th-16th century with the high colonization activity creating a string of Portuguese-based creole languages. However nowadays as Portuguese colonization is retreating, Portuguese language impact degenerate and lead to decreolization, identified in Macau, Daman and Cape Verde.



Recreolization (Sebba, 2002) is another fruit of creole put under continual contact with prestige Language. The term defines a context where a movement of language by speakers towards the more-creole end of the linguistics spectrum, suggested by Bickerton’s (1975) continuum model: The Post-Creole Continuum. Due to the continued presence and prestige of the standard language, the creole is forced to remodel its interior structure to distinguish itself from the standard or to improve mutual intelligibility for accessibility from other non-creole speaker stage by stage.


The Post-Creole Continuum

It refers to a situation where a creole language consists of a spectrum of varieties arranged according to level of formality and prestige. Acrolect is the most formal and prestigious form, than Mesolect, and finally Basilect- most colloquial and least prestigious. Typical examples are Jamaican Creole and Guyanese Creole English



Continuous variation: the case of TMA marking in Guyanese Creole English (Matthews, 2008)


I gave him

a geev im

a giv im

a giv ii

a did give ii

a di giv ii

mi di gi ii

mi bin gi ii

mi bin gii am

mi gii am

(Acrolect: morphological tense marking)




(Mesolect: optional tense marking with English auxiliary did)





(Basilect: optional marking with creole tense marker bin)

What’s happening in Britain? - Standard English and Caribbean

Caribbeans who grow up in London know how to speak Jamaican creole from their parents and London English. In one case demonstrated by Sebba(1997), the two boys’ conversation demonstrate a shocking resemblance to the phenomenon of recreolization. The two boys, one with local English background, another a black and of Caribbean parentage, speak a mixture of local London English and something similar to Jamaican Creole:

me no know if me a go down dere

me no know, ‘im just come back today.

This could be a recreolization of Jamaican creole changing from Basilect to an Acrolect direction.



Usain Bolt speaking Jamaican Patois - natural (Jamaican creole) accent

Usain Bolt speaking Jamaican Patois - natural (Jamaican creole) accent


Jamaican & British Accent

Jamaican & British Accent


Recreolization and Decreolization are part of the social induced change that happens after creolization. The language change induced by different social factors including the continual exposure to prestigious languages and retreat of language impact. Other social changes observed are language use in education and revitalization.




Bickerton, D. (1975) Dyanmics of a Creole System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Patrick, Peter, (2002) Modeling Diachronic Variation: Decreolization, Univ. of Essex, Retrieved from http://courses.essex.ac.uk/lg/lg449/Decreolization.pdf

Sebba, Mark (1997), Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles, MacMillan

Matthews, (2008), LING2040 Languages in Contact 11: the post-Creole continuum




Education (G5)

posted May 23, 2013, 9:25 AM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated May 26, 2013, 1:33 AM by Lam Ka Lok ]

Education in Context

by Chan Pik Chi Daphne

Language is a cultural asset which humans inherit from their ancestors; it is passed on generations by generations. However, a language may not be able to be passed on effectively; as a result, some languages are endangered or even extinct when some dominant languages are adopted from the outside. In the 21st century, a century when heritage conservation is treated seriously in all countries. Language, as an important cultural asset, there is a growing attention on language revitalization. As mentioned previously, there are many strategies to revive a language; and among all, like regular language learning, education is one of the most effective ways.


Hawaiian is a successful example of language revitalization, and it has adopted the Hawaiian-medium education within the public sector since the language reached the low point of fewer than 50 native speakers of Hawaiian under the age of 18 in early 1980s. “Pūnana Leo” are non-profit immersion preschools, in which Hawaiian is used as the medium of instruction. There are 11 public and private immersion schools in Hawaii, where all activities are conducted in Hawaiian language. The goal of these schools is to create a group of children for whom Hawaiian would be a native language. This is also the rationale behind reviving a language through education, which is to create more native speakers who have the ability to pass on the language.  Besides “Pūnana Leo”, there is also a program named “Kula Kaiapuni” (as a continuation of “Pūnana Leo”) which is for elementary to high schools; this is referred as elective language courses in other words. 

Language immersion 

Language immersion is an approach to language instruction in which the usual curriculum or curricular activities are conducted in that particular language. Through interactive activities, language related topics and communicative learning environment; it creates a better learning opportunity to the learners than normal language classes, which focus on grammar rules, pronunciation and sentence structure. For example, in Hong Kong context, many students are reluctant to English, as they do not think it is necessary and they are not attached to the language.  Language immersion is a reason for the huge success of Hawaiian revitalization.  The Hawaiian children have established a strong national identity and connection to the country through learning Hawaiian through different Hawaiian-related activities. They are initiated to acquire the language and to keep it as their primary language, which they will pass on to the next generation.


However, though the speakers are created, the big challenge is “when and where the learners can use that particular languages”. As the language is already endangered or even extinct, it’s not easy to have an occasion for the speakers to use the language. Regarding this obstacle, there is another interesting example from the New Mexico where several Pueblo tribes have recently initiated a number of community-based language immersion events. For example, two Pueblo Indian communities held an included community dinners where language learners participated in preparing and serving meals for elders and other members of the community. The events were co-hosted with the schools where the learners came from. Through the experiences outside classrooms, the language users are able to apply languages and reinforce what they have learnt. 



Facing the threats of globalization, dominant languages like English and Mandarin are swallowing up more ethnic languages; hence, by creating more native speakers through education, a language is more likely to be secured from extinction. The number of speakers is always crucial to the survival of a language, and education is an effective way to nurture native language users who have the ability to produce more of them. 




Revitaliation (G5)

posted May 23, 2013, 9:24 AM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated May 26, 2013, 1:36 AM by Lam Ka Lok ]

Social change and language revitalization

By Tsoi Sung Yan


We have introduced language death in a previous chapter. Language revitalization is the attempt to reverse language shift, including reversing the decline of an endangered language and reviving an extinct language.


Why do people begin language revitalization?

²  Linguistic view

In order to obtain the data needed for linguistics studies, linguists tend to initiate language revitalization. It helps to further investigate the linguistic theory on universal grammar. With more language data, the universal grammar proposed will be more accurate and closer to real situation. It also helps for language typology. When more language data are available, it is easier to classify which language family the language belongs to. The classification will be more convincing.

²  Social inducement

Other than linguistic reasons, language revitalization can also be led by social changes, such as speakers’ realization of dying of their language and the rise of prestige of that language. When the speakers realize that their language is declining, they may begin language revitalization to preserve their language, culture and identity. When an endangered language gains prestige, speakers stop language shift. The next generation tends to learn it because using that language gives them higher status.


How do people carry out language revitalization?

There are two streams of methods to undergo language revitalization.

²  Scientific manner

Scientific methods, which are done by linguists, include text recording during fieldwork and documentation. Bolivia is an example. Linguists go on fieldworks to talk to speakers of target endangered languages and record their speeches. Phonology inventories, vocabularies and grammar rules are observed and written down. These records can be used to write dictionaries for the languages, which allow people to learn those languages.


² Practical manner
Practical action is another stream. It means actions to support minority language use; examples are bilingual education in aboriginal Australia and language immersion in Hawaii. Bilingual education refers to the use of two languages of instruction at some point in the student’s school career. Language immersion is defined as that ‘language is taught not as a subject, but rather as the medium through which content material is instructed.’ Cultural activities are also organized, like promoting songs and dancing embedded heavily with their cultures. By this way, the knowledge which is encoded in language can be preserved. 

What affects the outcomes of language revitalization?

Language vitalization does not succeed in every case. There are several factors affecting the result, namely government support, documentation, existence of writing system and complexity of language.

²  Government support

Government support refers to the establishment of official policies which are favourable for that endangered language. Bilingual education and language immersion we just mentioned are examples. Education is explained in detail in a later entry. With government support, the chance that language can be successfully revitalized is higher. Hawaiian is an example showing the success of language revitalization.

²  Documentation

More documentation also gives a higher chance to succeed. Documentation includes dictionaries, grammar books, DVDs, mp3 learning materials, etc. These materials can help learners better acquire the language so revitalization is more likely to succeed.

²  Existence of writing system

Writing system is also a very important factor affecting whether a language can be preserved. Languages without writing system can hardly be recorded and thus preserved. Maiduan languages, which are spoken in California by the aboriginals, do not have writing systems. Some people have attempted to revitalize these languages but failed.

²  Complexity of language

At last, higher complexity of language leads to higher difficulty of revitalization due to learner’s inability to acquire that language. When new generations are not able to speak the language fluently, language revitalization can hardly succeed. For example, Mountain Maidu is a polysynthetic language, which expresses the meaning of a whole sentence in a single word containing a long string of suffixes. It is so difficult to learn Mountain Maidu that only two speakers of it are alive in world, although revitalization process has been attempted.


What is some interesting extra information about language revitalization? 

Language revitalization websites:

· Foundation for Endangered Languages


· Terralingua



Linguistic fieldwork for documentation in Ambrym:

Linguistic fieldwork for documentation in Ambrym:


Promotion of cultural activities in Hawaii:

· Hula dancing

Hula Dancing

· Hawaiian songs





Bernhardt, E. (1992). Life in Language Immersion Classrooms. USA: Multilingual Matters.


Cummins, J. & Corson, D. (1997) Encyclopedia of language and education 5: Bilingual Education. Dordrect: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Lewis, M. (2009). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16th edition). Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.


Matthews, S. (2012). Languages of the world: Endangered languages and linguistic diversity. [lecture notes]. The University of Hong Kong.


            Shipley, William (1964). Maidu grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Tasaku, T. (2005). Language Endangerment and Language Revitalization. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

Language Shift and death (G3)

posted Feb 1, 2011, 3:28 PM by Welove Linguistics   [ updated May 23, 2013, 8:55 PM by li cc ]

Language Shift and Death

When two languages are in contact, their relationship is either coordinate or superordinate. A coordinate relationship is when the speakers learn each other’s languages on equal grounds to interact with each other. A superodinate relationship is when the speakers of the weaker language learn the speech of the stronger or more prestigious language for wider communication or socio-economic gains.

Language shift happens when speakers abandon their language. This can happen willingly or under pressure, in favor of another language, which then takes over as their means of communication and socialization. (Mous, Loss of Linguistic Diversity in Africa)

Language death refers to the state of extinction. This means that the language is no longer used as a method of communication or socialization. There are many reasons for language death. Some of these would include but not limited to, the abandonment of the language by the speakers, the non-use of the language in any domain, and the disappearance of its speakers of the non-functioning of its structure.

Please refer to the below video for a better clarification

The main cause of language shift and death is from the pressure that the weaker languages get from the more dominant or prestigious language. A demographic pressure would result when a language with a large number of speaker comes into contact with a language with a fewer number of speakers. The usual results would be the tendency for the minority speaker to want to identify themselves with the dominant language. This is happening with many of the major dominant languages in Africa like Hause in West Africa, Kiswahili in East Africa and Setswana in South Africa.

The phenomena of language shift can be seen as normal social processes, happening naturally from the contact between people and different communities. This can however indicate a strong link between language shift and power relations between communities of speakers. May (2004) has argued that language loss has a great deal to do with issues of power and prejudice. (Trudell, Language Contact and Language dominance in Sub-Saharan Africa)

The African continent has large number of languages, roughly 2000. This is about one third of the world’s linguistic heritage. Below we will see a map illustrating the severity of endangered languages in Africa.


In Ethiopia, Amharic has been dominant for centuries and in the regions where the influence has come into contact has caused languages to disappear.  The spread of Swahili in pre-colonial times into the interior was linked to trade. Ethnic Swahili is replacing several local languages in Tanzania. The process of Swahili replacing minority Tanzanian languages involves several stages of bilingualism. This gradually falls to Swahili dominance and eventually restricts the competence of the original mother tongue.


Amharic, Somali, and Swahili are official languages and this would give them some extra prestige. These are not the only languages that are replacing other African languages. The larger replacing languages do not need the status of sole official language to persuade people to give up their mother tongue. The reason of settling into urban centers is a big enough consequence for the language shift and eventual language death of minority languages.  Bamana or Jula in Mali, Burkina Faso, Hausa in Northern Nigeria and Niger, Lingala in Congo, and Wolof in Senegal are replacing many languages. One of the most common threats to languages in Africa is the shift to a dominant regional language. The shift in language most often times will lead to the abandonment of the mother tongue and resulting in language death.


The video below will assist in illustrating the concept of language shift and language death in Africa.


1.       Batibo, Herman. "Language Decline And Death In Africa:." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. May 2013. <http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=yoZ_fU_B0KgC>.

2.       Mous, Maarten. "LOSS OF LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY IN AFRICA." Diss. Leiden University, n.d. LOSS OF LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY IN AFRICA. Web. <http://www.ddl.ish-lyon.cnrs.fr/projets/clhass/PageWeb/ressources/Classification/Mous%20LossLinguisticsDiversityAfrica.pdf>.

3.       Trudell, Barbara. The Making of a Killer (language): Language Contact and Language Dominance in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. SIL Africa Area. Web. <http://www.nai.uu.se/ecas-4/panels/141-156/panel-149/Barbara-Trudell-full-paper.pdf>.

4.       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXEM2ddvrUk

5.       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy-efxk-MSU

1-7 of 7