Saturday, May 23, 2009


Language shift occurs when a community who share similar mother tongue abandon it, and collectively shift to speaking another language. It is always preceded by multilingualism. Someone cannot shift to a new language unless he
or she learns to speak it. According to Hoffman, “when a community does not maintain its language, but gradually adopts another one, we talk about language shift” (186). As an example, there is a language shift among the second born Telugu immigrants in New Zealand. Their ability to use English enables them to integrate and settle in an English speaking country. However, the loss of the Telugu language is more in the written and writing skills than the listening and speaking skills (Kuncha and Bathula, 2004). This paper discusses language shift which are triggered by demographic, attitude, economic, social, and political factors.
Firstly, demographic factor plays the role in the process of language shift. When there is a community of speakers moving to a region or a country whose language is different from theirs, there is a tendency to shift to the new language. Every time an immigrant learns the native language of the new country and passes it down to children in place of the old country language. For example, I was born in Solo so my mother tongue is Javanese which was used as the language in my former neighborhood and the medium of instruction in my elementary school. I moved to Jakarta in 1979. Since then, I only use Javanese at home with my family and my Javanese neighbors. Because there is a high frequency of contact with people coming from different ethnic groups who use Bahasa Indonesia, I gradually shift from Javanese to Bahasa Indonesia. This is a clear evidence that demography is an influencing factor in language shift.
Secondly, the negative attitudes towards the language can also accelerate language shift. It occurs where the ethnic language is not highly valued and is not seen as a symbol of identity. As stated by Holmes, young people are the fastest to shift languages (60). Teenagers in some big cities of Central Java Province gradually abandon Javanese in daily communication. Having various levels of formality, Javanese is seen as a difficult medium of instruction. They are required to choose different variety when talking to different people. In addition, they feel more prestigious when using Bahasa Indonesia or English than when using Javanese. (Samadi SP, Suara Karya). Teenagers nowadays want to be a part of a global community. Therefore, they do not have the need to show their identity by using Javanese. If this continues, they will eventually lose their ability to speak Javanese.
Thirdly, language shift is caused by economic reason. Holmes says that job seekers see the importance of learning a new language which is widely used in business (60). The high demand from industries for employees with fluent English has successfully encouraged job seekers to equip themselves with English. In fact, being competent in English leads to well-paid jobs.
Finally, political factor imposes on language shift. In a multilingual country, the authority usually chooses one language as the lingua franca to unify various kinds of ethnic groups. Consequently, the number of ethnic language speakers decreases. As an example, the political situation in 1947 led to the partition of India. Sindhi Hindus fled from the Sind. They spoke Sindhi at home but had to adopt the local languages. This process has led to language displacement leading to language loss among the Sindhis (Bayer, 2005). Another example, the official languages of many African countries were determined by their former colonialists. Those languages replace African tribal languages. Both examples show how they experience language shift.
To sum up, language shift is an interesting and inevitable linguistic phenomenon.The factors which trigger the shift vary from one language community to another. Some of them are demographic, attitude, economic, social, and political factors.

Bayer, Jennifer Marie. (2005). Sociolinguistic Perspectives of Cultures in Transition Indian Tribal Situation. Language in India. 5(March)

Hoffman, C. (1991). An Introduction to Bilingualism. London: Longman

Holmes, Janet. (2008). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. London: Longman

Kuncha, Rekha. M and Hanoku Bathula. (2006). The Role of Attitude in Language Shift
and Language Maintenance in a New Immigrant Community: A Case Study.
Working Paper 1(April): 6.

Samadi. SP. Pelestarian Bahasa Jawa Melalui Sekolah. Suara Karya. 20 March 2007.


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