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LanguageBy John Darngawn (February 6th, 2011) 

There are many different social reasons for choosing a particular code or variety in a multilingual community. But what choice is there for those who speak lesser-used languages in a community where the people in power use a world language or an official language of that area? How do economic and political factors influence language choices? The various constraints on language choice faced by different communities are explored in this paper, as well as the potential longer-term effects of these choices- language shift or language death. In the final part of this paper, attempts to reverse these consequences through language revival efforts are described.

LANGUAGE SHIFT IN DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES

Migrant minorities

Example 1

Maniben is young British Hindu woman who lives in Coventry. Her family moved to Britain from Uganda in 1970, when she was 5 years old. She started working on the shop floor in a bicycle factory when she was 16. At home Maniben speaks Gujarati with her parents and grandparents. Although she had learned English at school, she found she didn’t need much at work. Many of the girls working with her also spoke Gujarati, so when it wasn’t too noisy they would talk to each other in their home language. Maniben was good at her job and she got promoted to floor supervisor. In that job she needed to use English more of the time, though she could still use some Gujarati with her old workmates. She went to evening classes and learned to type. Then, because she was interested, she went on to learn how to operate a word-processor. Now she works in the main office and she uses English all the time at work.

Maniben’s pattern of language use at work has gradually shifted over a period of ten years. At one stage she used mainly Gujarati; now she uses English almost exclusively. Maniben’s experience is typical for those who use a minority language in a predominantly monolingual culture and society. The order of domains in which language shift occurs may differ for different individuals and different groups, but gradually over time the language of the wider society displaces the minority language mother tongue. There are many different social factors which can lead a community to shift from using one language for most purposes to using a different language, or from using two distinct codes in different domains, to using different varieties of just one language for their communicative needs. Migrant families provide an obvious example of this process of language shift.

In countries like England, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, one of the first domains in which children of migrant families meet English is the school. They may have watched English TV channel and heard English used in shops before starting school, but at school they are expected to interact in English. They have to use English language because it is the only means of communication with the teacher and other children. For many children of migrants, English soon becomes the normal language for talking to other children- including their brothers and sisters. Because her grandparents knew little English, Maniben continued to use mainly Gujarati at home, even though she had learned English at school and used it more and more at work. In many families, however, English gradually infiltrates the home through the children. Children discuss school and friends in English with each other, and gradually their parents begin to use English to them too, especially if they are working in jobs where they use English.

There is pressure from the wider society too. Immigrants who look and sound ‘different’ are often regarded as threatening by majority group members. There is pressure to conform in all kinds of ways. Language shift to English, for instance, has often been expected of migrants in predominantly monolingual countries such as England, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Speaking good English has been regarded as a sign of successful assimilation, and it was widely assumed that meant abandoning the minority language. So most migrant families gradually shift from using Gujarati, or Italian, or Vietnamese to each other most of the time, to using English. This may take three or four generations, but sometimes language shift is completed in just two generations. Typically migrants are virtually monolingual in their mother tongue, their children are bilingual, and their grandchildren are often monolingual in the language of the ‘host’ country. We can observe the shift by noting the change in people’s patterns of language use in different domains over time.

NON-MIGRANT COMMUNITIES

Language shift is not always the result of migration. Political, economic and social changes can occur within a community, and this may result in linguistic changes too. In Oberwart, an Austrian town on the border of Hungary, the community has been gradually shifting from Hungarian to German for some time.

Example 2

Before World War 1 the town of Oberwart (known then by its Hungarian name, Felsoor) was part of Hungary, and most of the townspeople used Hungarian most of the time. However, because the town has been surrounded by German speaking villages for over 400 years, many people also knew some German. At the end of the war, Oberwart became a part of Austria, and German became the official language. Hungarian was banned in schools. This marked the beginning of a period of language shift.

In the 1920s Oberwart was a small place and the peasants used Hungarian for communication and German with outsiders. As Oberwart grew and industry replaced farming as the main source of jobs, the functions of German expanded. German was the language of the school, official transactions and economic advancement. It expressed formality and social distance. Hungarian was the low language, used in most homes and for friendly interaction between townspeople. Hungarian was the language of solidarity, used for social and affective functions. Soon it became clear that to ‘get on’ meant learning German, and so knowledge of German became associated with social and economic progress. Speaking Hungarian was increasingly associated with ‘peasantry’ and was considered old-fashioned. Young people began to use German to their friends in the pub. Parents began to use German instead of Hungarian to their children. In other words the domains in which German was appropriate continued to expand and those where Hungarian was used contracted. Soon God was one of the few addressees to whom people still used Hungarian when they said their prayers or went to church.

The patterns of language use for any individual in Oberwart depend on their social networks. Who do they interact with? Interactions between older people and ‘peasants’ (those working in jobs associated with the land) tend still to be in Hungarian which is shown in the table as under.

Table: Choice of language in Oberwart:

Speaker

Age of Speaker

1 to God

2 to older peasants (grandparent’s generation)

3 to parents

4 to friends and workmates of same age

5 to children

6 to doctor and government officials

A

63

Hu

Hu

Hu

GHu

GHu

G

B

61

Hu

Hu

Hu

GHu

GHu

G

C

58

Hu    

Hu

Hu

GHu

GHu

G

D

52

Hu

Hu

Hu

GHu

GHu

G

E

27

Hu

Hu

GHu

G

G

G

F

25

Hu

Hu

GHu

G

G

G

G

22

Hu

Hu

G

G

G

G

Source: Adapted from Gal 1979

Towards the right and bottom of the table are interactions between younger people and those working in jobs associated with the new industries or in professional jobs. Here German pre-dominates. The pattern in the table suggests that gradually German will completely displace Hungarian in Oberwart, unless something unexpected happens.

MIGRANT MINORITIES

The examples discussed so far in this paper have illustrated that language shift often reflects the influence of political factors and economic factors, such as the need for work. People may shift both location and language for this reason. Over the last couple of centuries, many speakers of Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, for instance, have shifted to England, and consequently to English, primarily in order to get work. They need English both for their job success and for their social well-being – to make friends. But we find the outcome is the same when it is the majority group who do the physical moving.

When Colonial powers invade other countries their languages often become dominant. Countries such as Portugal, Spain, France and England have generally imposed their languages along with their rule. This has not always resulted in linguistic subjugation and language shift.

Multilingualism was too well-established as normal in countries like India and Papua New Guinea, and in many African countries. It was not possible for a single alien and imported language to displace and eradicate hundreds of indigenous vernacular languages. But when multilingualism was not widespread in an area, or where just one indigenous language had been used before the colonizers arrived, languages were often under threat. In this context English has been described as a ‘killer language’. Where one group arrogates political power and imposes its language along with its institutions – government administration, law courts, education, and religion – it is likely that minority groups will find themselves under increasing pressure to adopt the language of the dominant group.

Example 3
Lur lives in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. He is 10 years old and he speaks and understands only Mizo (Lushai language), though he knows a few Hmar phrases. None of his mates know any Hmar either. His grandparent’s speaks Hmar (mother tongue), however. Lur’s mother and father understand Hmar, but they are not fluent speakers. They can manage a short simple conversation, but that’s about it. Lur’s litter sister who is in Churachandpur, Manipur where Hmar is used and she can speaks Hmar very fluently.

In Aizawl, Hmar people have overwhelmingly moved from monolingualism to Lushai. There are very few domains in which it is possible to use the language eventhough there are lots of Hmars. Most Aboriginal people in Mizoram and many Hmar people lost their languages over four or five generations. The indigenous people were swamped by Lushai, the language of the dominant group. The result of economic and political control was not diglossia with varying degrees of bilingualism, as found in Mizoram state of India, but the more or less complete eradication of the indigenous language. Over time the communities shifted to the domain language, Lushai, and their own languages died out in the capital.

When language shift occurs, it is almost always shift towards the language of the dominant powerful group. A dominant group has little incentive to adopt the language of a minority. The dominant language is associated with status, prestige, and social success. It is used in the ‘glamour’ contexts in the wider society – for formal speeches on ceremonial occasions, by newsreaders on television and radio, and by those whom young people admire – pop stars, fashion models and disc jockeys. It is scarcely surprising that many young minority group speakers should see its advantages and abandon their own language.

LANGUAGE DEATH AND LANGUAGE LOSS

When all the people who speak a language die, the language dies with them. Sometimes this fact is crystal clear. Many has now completely died out in the Isle of Man – the last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974. Despite recent attempts to revive it, most people agree that Cornish effectively disappeared from Cornwall in the eighteenth century when Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole died in 1777. Less than half of the 250-300 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia when the European arrived have survived, and fewer than two dozen are being actively passed to younger generations. Many disappeared as a direct result of the massacre of the Aboriginal people, or their death from diseases introduced by Europeans. In Tasamia, for instance, the whole indigenous population of between 3000 and 4000 people was exterminated within 75 years. Their languages died with them. There are cases of language death rather than language shift. These languages are not spoken anywhere.

A community, such as the Turkish community in England, may shift to English voluntarily over a couple of generations. This involves the loss of the language for the individuals concerned, and even for the community in Britain. But Turkish is not under threat of disappearing because of this shift. It will continue to thrive in Turkey. But when the last native speaker ( a male ) of Martuthunira dies, this Australian Aboriginal language will die with him. Indeed it was predicted that almost all Australian Aboriginal language would be extinct by the year 2000, a prediction which fortunately has not been completely fulfilled.

When a language dies gradually, as opposed to all its speakers being wiped out by a massacre or epidemic, the process is similar to that of language shift. The functions of the language are taken over in one after another by another language. As the domains in which speakers use the language shrink, the speakers of the dying language become gradually less proficient in it.

Example 4
Joseph at 20 is a young speaker of
hiek the sub-dialect of Hmar language. hiek speakers are scattered around and widely spread living among Hmar community. They do not have a particular dominant area. He speaks Hmar among friends, siblings, parents and at the marketplace. Joseph speaks hiek only to his grandparents and sometime to his parents and siblings. In Church the worship service is conducted in Hmar language. So he is steadily becoming less proficient in it. There is no written hiek material for Joseph to read, and there are fewer and fewer contexts in which he can appropriately hear and speak the language.

Joseph is experiencing language loss. This is the reflection, in the individual’s experience, of wide-scale language death. Because he uses Hmar for most purposes, his vocabulary in hiek has shrunk and shrunk. When he is talking to his grandparents and parents he keeps finding substituting Hmar words in his hiek, because he can’t remember the hiek word. It is clear that Joseph’s hiek is very different from traditional hiek.Because Hmar is now so widely used in his community, it seems unlikely that hiek will survive in a new form based on the variety Joseph speaks. It is on its way to extinction. When Jospeh’s generation die it is pretty certain that hiek will die with them. The process of language death for the language comes about through this kind of gradual loss of fluency and competency by its speakers. Competence in the language does not disappear overnight. It gradually erodes over time.

With the spread of a majority group language into more and more domains, the number of contexts in which individuals use the ethnic language diminishes. The language usually retreats till it is used only in the home, and finally it is restricted to such personal activities as counting, praying, and dreaming. The stylistic range that people acquire when they use a language in a wider range of domains disappears. Even in the contexts where the language is still used, there is a gradual reduction in the complexity and diversity of structural features of the language – speaker’s sound rules get simplified, their grammatical patterns become less complex, and their vocabulary in the language gets smaller and smaller.

In the wider community the language may survive for ritual or ceremonial occasions, but those who use it in these contexts will be few in number and their fluency is often restricted to prayers and set speeches. In many Maori communities in New Zealand, for instance, the amount of Maori used in communities is entirely dependent on the availability of respected elders who still retain some knowledge of the appropriate discourse. Maori is now used in some communities only for formal ceremonial speeches, prayers for the sick, and perhaps for a prayer to open a meeting.

In most of the examples given above, a dominant language, which initially serves only high variety functions for a community, has gradually displaced the minority language in the domains where it served low variety functions. So English, the high variety language for many immigrant communities, tends to displace their ethnic language. In Oberwart too, it is the high variety German, which is displacing the low variety Hungarian.

It is possible, however, for a vigorous low variety to gradually expand its functions upwards into high domains and take over the functions of high status in literature, administration, the law and so on. Indonesian is a well-known example of a language which began as a language of the market-place, but which expanded into all domains, and is now the national language of Indonesia. In this context we can mention about Nagamese, the official language of the state Nagaland in India. Nagamese language is a mixture of Naga and Assam languages. Before, Nagamese was use as a language of the market-place. It was use between traders of Nagaland and Assam for exchanging and buying goods. Now it expanded into all domains of Nagaland where there are more than 20 dialects becoming the official language of the state.

The story of Hebrew shows that it is also possible, through a hard work, to take a highly codified high variety which is not used for everyday conversation anywhere else and expand its linguistic resources so that it can be used in low domains too. Hebrew expanded from a narrow range of religious (high) functions to become the national language of Israel, and it is now used for all functions by native speakers.

The reasons for different directions that language shifted may take involve more than just economic factors, such as where the jobs are. The number of speakers of a language, or the extent of a group’s political power influence or power, may be crucial. Attitudes and values are important too. Factors such as the status of a language and its importance as an identity marker may be crucial, as the Hebrew example suggests.

FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO LANGUAGE SHIFT

What factors lead a community to shift from using one language to using another? Initially, the most obvious factor is that the community sees an important reason for learning the second language. The reasons are often economic, but they may also be political – as in the case of Israel. Obtaining work is the most obvious economic reason for learning another language. In English dominated countries, for instance, people learn English in order to get good jobs. This results in bilingualism. Bilingualism is always a necessary precursor of language shift, although, as stable diglossic communities demonstrate, it does not always result in shift.

The second important factor, then, seems to be that the community sees no reason to take active steps to maintain their ethnic language. They may not see it as offering any advantages to their children, for example, or they may not realize that it is in any danger of disappearing. Without active language maintenance, shift is almost inevitable in many contexts. For example, where a minority group moves to a predominantly monolingual society dominated by one majority group language in all the major institutional domains – schools, TV, radio, newspapers, government administration, courts, works – language shift will be unavoidable unless the community takes active steps to prevent it. Very often, without consciously deciding to abandon their ethnic language, a community will lose it because they did not perceive any threat. At first it appears very important to learn the majority language in order to achieve social and economic success. The minority language seems safe because ‘we all speak it’. Yet, without conscious maintenance it can and probably will disappear in as few as three generations.

The social and economic goals of individuals in a community are very important in accounting for the speed of shift. Rapid shift occurs when people are anxious to ‘get on’ in a society where knowledge of the second language is a prerequisite for success. Young upwardly mobile people are likely to shift fastest. It has also been noticed that the shift to another language may be led by women or by men depending on where the new jobs lie and the gender roles in the society. Young women in Oberwart, for example, are leading the shift to German there, because they are the ones taking most advantage of the new jobs offered by the industrial changes. Newly arrived immigrant women in New Zealand, on the other hand, often have less education than their husbands. They tend to stay home, at least initially, maintaining the minority language. When they get work it is often in low-paid jobs such as night-cleaning or in bakeries. There they work with others from their own ethnic group and so they can use their ethnic language in the work domain too.

DEMOGRAPHIC FACTORS

Demographic factors are also relevant in accounting for the speed of language shift. Resistance to language shift tends to last longer in rural than in urban areas. This is partly a reflection of the fact that rural groups tend to be isolated from the centre of political power for longer, and they can meet most of their social needs in the ethnic or minority language. So, for example, because of their relative social isolation, Ukranians in Canada who live out of town on farms have maintained their ethnic language better than those in the towns.

Although some younger people now speak Maori as a second language, the communities in New Zealand where Maori survives as a language of everyday communication are relatively inaccessible rural areas, populated almost entirely by Maori people. In these communities there are older native speakers who still use the language to talk to each other in their homes and in the streets, as well as for formal Maori speech events. In fact, before television became widespread, the school was the only domain where English was regularly used in these communities. Everyday interactions between Maori people were in Maori. Maori was used at church, in the shops, for community meetings and in the pub. Due to Improved roads, bus services, television in every home – and even in the pub – has changed all that. Richard Benton, a sociolinguist who has surveyed the use of Maori in New Zealand, sums up the situation by saying that even in these isolated communities Maori is now a language which can only be used between consenting adults.

Example 5

In 1991 our family went to live in Thanga, Bishenpur District, Manipur. Thanga is purely a Meitei village where only Meitei language (Manipuri) is used. There was no opportunity at all to use our mother tongue Hmar except at home. My younger sister, Jennet, who is 4-year old, quickly realized that her knowledge of Hmar made her seem odd to her school friends and she rapidly refused to use Hmar even at home. She retained some understanding of Hmar (i.e. some passive knowledge) but she refused to speak it under any circumstances. The worship service in church is conducted in Meitei since all the Christians are Meitei. Language shift from Hmar to Meitei for my sister is almost completed by the age of 13. My parents realized that it is unwise to abandon the mother tongue. They try to convince her and gave her a Hmar Bible, short stories, and some books to read besides communicating her in Hmar language and from that onwards she started speaking in Hmar and can maintain Hmar language in our family.

Shift tends to occur faster in some groups than in others. The size of the group is sometimes a critical factor. In Australia, the areas with the largest groups of Maltese speakers (Victoria and New South Wales) had the lowest rates of shift towards English. Spanish has survived well in the United States due partly to the large numbers of speakers. On the other hand, an isolated migrant family will have few opportunities to use their mother tongue, and language maintenance will be much more difficult. Isolation is no advantage when it is as extreme as this.

My grandfather’s brother’s grandchildren who live in Mizoram completely forget the language of Hmar becoming Bilingual in Mizo and English. My Grandfather’s family in Mizoram had nowhere they could use Hmar except in the home to some extent and no one they could talk to in Hmar. Mizo languages are used in everywhere and as a result, my grandfather’s sons are not fluent in Hmar language for being born and brought up in Mizo society unlike their parents. They were both isolated and ‘odd’ in the eyes of others. Maintaining a language is near impossible under these conditions. The only solution to their integration problem is to marry a monolingual Hmar lady. Here one question arises – What would you predict as the effect of intermarriage on language maintenance and shift? If, in Hmar, a Hmar-speaking woman marriage a Mizo-speaking man, for instance, which language will they use to their children? The answer to this question is: When marries partners use different languages, the majority group language almost always displaces the minority language. Most often in such families, parents use the majority language to their children. When the minority language is the mother’s language it may survive longer, but in the end shift to the majority language seems inevitable.

Intermarriage between groups can accelerate language shift. Unless multilingualism is normal in a community, one language tends to predominate in the home. German immigrants in Australia are typical. Despite its multicultural composition, Australia is predominantly a monolingual society. When a German-speaking man marries an English-speaking Australian woman, English is usually the dominant language of the home, and the main language used to the children. The same pattern has been observed in many communities. When a Hmar-speaking woman or any tribal woman marries a Manipuri-speaking man, Manipuri become the dominant language at home and the main language used to the children. In Oklahoma in America, for instance, in every family where a Cherokee speaker has married outside the Cherokee community, the children speak only English.

A mother whose English is not strong, or who consciously wants to pass on the minority language to her children, may slow down the process of shift to English by using the language to the children. And there are some strongly patriarchal groups where the father’s support for the use of the minority language in the home proves effective – Greek and Italian fathers in Australia, for example, and Samoan fathers in New Zealand, actively encourage the use of their languages in the home. Maori men have also expressed concern that their sons should learn Maori, since they will need it to speak formally on the in later life. But once the children of mixed marriages stat school, it takes a very determined parent to succeed in maintaining the minority language in the home – especially if the other parent doesn’t speak the minority language well – or at all.

ATTUTUDES AND VALUES

Example 6
My family and I have been staying among Meitei people since from my childhood while I was doing my class II.I am very proud of my Hmar identity and culture since from childhood and I take every opportunity to do things the Hmar way. I am a part of an active individual where the language is used regularly at least at home. I insist to my family that everyone speaks Hmar in the house and in communicating between family members even outside the house. For me, being Hmar means knowing how to speak Hmar.

Language shift tends to be slower among communities where the minority language is highly valued. When the language is seen as an important symbol of ethnic identity, it is generally maintained longer. Positive attitudes support efforts to use the minority language in a variety of domains, and helps people resist the pressure from the majority group to switch to their language.

The status of a language internationally can contribute to these positive attitudes. Maintaining French in Canada and the United States is easier because French is a language with international status. It is obvious to French-Americans in Maine, for instance, that French is a good language to know. It has international prestige. Immigrant Greeks are proud of the contribution of Greek to Western philosophy and culture, and this awareness of the importance of their language with the international status of Spanish to have a better chance of resisting shift than languages with few speakers such as Maori or Dyirbal. But even this high status of Spanish as a world language could not offset the attitudes of the local community to my grandfather’s brother’s family’s ‘oddness’ described in example 5. Pride in their ethnic identity and their language can be important factors which contribute to language maintenance, provided there is a strong community to support and encourage these attitudes.

HOW CAN A MINORITY LANGUAGE CAN BE MAINTAINED

Example 7
There are certain social factors which seem to retard wholesale language shift for a minority language group, at least for a time. Where language is considered as an important symbol of a minority group’s identity, for example, the language is likely to be maintained longer. Polish people have regarded language a very important for preserving their identity in the many countries they have migrated to, and they have consequently maintained Polish for three to four generations. The same is true for Greek migrants in places like Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

If families from a minority group live near each other and see each other frequently, this also helps them maintain their language. Members of the Greek community in Wellington, New Zealand, for instance, belong to a common church, the Greek Orthodox Church, where Greek is used. They have established shops where they sell foodstuffs imported from Greece and where they use Greek to each other. There are Indian and Pakistani communities in Britain who have established the same kind of communities within cities. Chinese people who live in the Chinatown areas of big cities are much more likely to maintain a Chinese dialect as their mother tongue through to the third generation than those who move outside the Chinatown area.

Another factor which may contribute to language maintenance for those who emigrate is the degree and frequency of contact with the homeland. A regular stream of new migrants or even visitors will keep for using the language alive. Polynesian migrants from the islands of Niue, Tokelau, Tonga and Samoa arrive in New Zealand regularly. New Zealand Polynesians provide them with hospitality, and the new arrivals provide new linguistic input for the New Zealand communities. The prospect of regular trips back ‘home’ provides a similar motivation to maintain fluency for many groups.
Although the pressures to shift are strong, members of a minority community can take active steps to protect its language. Groups which discourage intermarriage, such as the Muslim, Greek and the Chinese communities, contribute to language maintenance in this way. Marriage to majority group member is the quickest way to ensuring shift to the majority group language for the children.

Obviously a group who manage to ensure their language is used in settings such as school or their place of worship will increase the chances of language maintenance.

Institutional support generally makes the difference between success and failure in maintaining a minority group language. Education, law and administration, religion and the media are crucial domains from this point of view.

Many of the factors discussed in this paper as relevant to language maintenance have been integrated by Howard Giles and his colleagues, using the concept of ‘ethnolinguistic vitality’. These social psychologists suggest that we can predict the likelihood that a language will be maintained by measuring its ethnolinguistic vitality. Three components are involved:

Firstly, the status of the language as reflected in attitudes towards it.

Secondly, the size of the group who uses the language and their distribution (e.g. concentrated or scattered) and

Thirdly, the extent to which the language enjoys institutional supported.

The concept of ethnolinguistic vitality is clearly very useful in studying language maintenance and shift, though devising satisfactory ways to measure the components is proving a challenge. The concept of ethnolinguistic vitality also provides some ideas for those interested in slowing down or reversing language shift.

LANGUAGE REVIVAL

Sometimes a community becomes aware that its language is in danger of disappearing and takes deliberate steps to revitalize it. Attempts have been made in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, for example, to preserve the indigenous languages, and in New Zealand steps are being taken to attempt to reverse language shift and revitalize Maori. It is sometimes argued that the success of such efforts will depend on how far language loss has occurred – that there is a point of no return. But it seems very likely that more important are attitudinal factors such as how strongly people want to revive the language, and their reasons for doing so. Hebrew was revived in Israel after being effectively dead for nearly 1700 years. It had survived only for prayers and reading sacred texts (much as Latin was used in Catholic services until the 1960s) and that was all. Yet strong feelings of nationalism led to determined efforts by Israeli adults to use it to children, and as a result it has been successfully revived.

There is clearly no magic formula for guaranteeing language maintenance or for predicting language shift or death. Different factors combine in different ways in each social context, and the results are rarely predictable. Similar factors apparently result in a stable bilingual situation in some communities but language shift in others. This account has stressed the importance of economic, social, demographic and attitudinal factors. Economic factors are very influential and rarely work in favour of maintaining small minority group languages. Globalisation also contributes to this trend. Along with the global spread of concepts, artifacts and ways of doing things, comes the global language which labels them. Successful resistance requires a conscious and determined effort to maintain the minority language. ‘Wishing will not make it so’.

Though economic and political imperatives tend to eliminate minority languages, it is important to remember examples like Hebrew which demonstrate that languages can be maintained, and even revived, when a group values their distinct identity highly and regards language as an important symbol of that identity. Finally, it is also important to realize that pressures towards language shift occur mainly in countries where monolingualism is regarded as normal and bilingualism is considered as unusual. For most of the world it is bilingualism and multilingualism which is normal. In countries like Zaire or India, the idea we should stop speaking one language when we start learning another is inconceivable. I hope that my paper will benefit in some way or the other to the speakers of my beloved Hmar communities.

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  1. I think we should produce more articles like this. Keep it up.

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