Language Maintenance and Shift

Kim Potowski

in The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199744084
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Language Maintenance and Shift


Language shift is the replacement of one language by another as the primary means of communication and socialization within a community. In an effort to understand the factors that contribute to language shift and those which seem to militate against it, this chapter explores several immigrant and non-immigrant contexts around the world, with particular focus on the United States. The principal factors—divided into individual, family, community, and broader societal factors—are often interdependent. The discussion also notes the basic tenet emphasized by Fishman (1991) that language maintenance must involve intergenerational transmission of the language. If intergenerational transmission of a language ceases, it can be said that the speakers have shifted to another language. Many of the world’s 6000 to 7000 languages are being lost—by some estimates, up to half of them—mostly due to the spread of a few dominant languages, which many speakers are shifting to.

Keywords: language shift; language transmission; US immigration; intergenerational transmission; Fishman; minority languages

Article.  8273 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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