Group vitality is a widely invoked construct in the study of minority language maintenance and interethnic relations. Per the original framework introduced 40 years ago, the more vitality an ethnolinguistic group perceives itself to have, the more likely that it will thrive as a collective entity in an intergroup context. Consequently, research adopting this paradigm—herein termed vitality theory—has studied ways in which objective and subjective group vitality has manifested itself in the endurance of ethnolinguistic groups. The notion of objective vitality includes the factors of demographics, institutional support, and status that characterize the strength of a group in comparison to others present in an intergroup setting. Contrastively, subjective vitality was introduced to highlight how groups may cognitively and affectively perceive these same factors. A large body of empirical research has been conducted within the vitality theory framework that has resulted in several stages of development. Evidence has shown that while the components of objective vitality (demographics, institutional support, status) do not typically manifest themselves as distinct components in the structure of subjective vitality, they do form a single component reflecting the perceived strength of the group. In addition, several other social psychological factors, such as perception of the legitimacy of intergroup relations, the level of ethnocentrism, and perception of intergroup distance, were incorporated into models of subjective vitality. Relatedly, these factors are shaped into group members’ discourse of vitality, which is a highly dialogical process of negotiation of subjective vitality of the groups engaged in intergroup contact. The vitality framework has been usefully invoked beyond ethnolinguistic groups, embracing several intergroup settings including age, gender, and sexual orientation. Vitality, which has provoked some controversy in the literature, has also been widely adopted by very different approaches as an umbrella term to denote the long-term sustainability of a group. Scholars in linguistics, sociology, psychology, education, anthropology, and beyond have contributed much to the concept, helping to educate and raise awareness as to why languages die out and the effects of such languages dying out.
Benjamin King Smith, Martin Ehala, and Howard Giles
Language attitudes are evaluative reactions to different language varieties. They reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use linguistic cues (e.g., accent) to infer speakers’ social group membership(s). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s). Language attitudes are organized along two evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant). Past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, whereas nonstandard varieties are those that depart from such norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluative reactions along the status and solidarity dimensions. Status attributions are based primarily on perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. Solidarity attributions tend to be based on in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity, and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community, especially when that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). As a result, nonstandard language varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige in the speech community in which they are the speech norms. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and sometimes much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to shifts in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked. Once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.
Tej K. Bhatia
How can one sustain a conversation, let alone maintain effective communication, in a country whose residents speak numerous languages? India defies the conventional wisdom of the monolithic model of communication—one language, one nation—which views linguistic pluralism as problematic and counterintuitive. The monolingual mindset equates multingualism with linguistic, societal, and political fragmentation and, consequently, a serious threat to national unity and economic prosperity. Based on an in-depth study of language and communication in India, it is argued that such a narrow and unnatural mindset is outmoded. In particular, a reconceptualization of multilingual realities in India provides ample evidence in support of communication accommodation theory. The approach adopted to capture the dynamics of Indian multilingualism centers on the tools and mechanism of natural pluralism, which hold a key to intergroup and intercultural communication. Four linguistic networks of communication are described, following both the top-down and bottom-up approaches to multilingual communication. Additionally, it is revealed that three giant languages, the linguistic pillars of India—Sanskrit, Persian, and English—played, and continue to play, a central role in determining the salient feature of Indian multilingualism—its vitality and sustainability is achieved through diffusion of diverse languages and sociocultural contexts of communication. Additionally, literature and other forces, such as globalization (precolonial and postcolonial trade), powerful media and entertainment (e.g., Bollywood films and regional film media), internal migration, and education policies, among other factors, further strengthened the foundation of multilingualism and language accommodation. Various manifestations of multiple identities are described in the context of language naming and language reporting in the census. Finally, the salient linguistic and social contexts of Indian multilingualism are identified, while focusing on speakers’ language choices and language use grounded in individual/family, social, and political multilingualism, which ensured an uninterrupted tradition of plurilingualism. The complex interplay between bilingual verbal behavior—including language shifting and language mixing—with language attitudes and language rivalry is instructive in gaining insights into both language maintenance and language death. In that process, it is revealed that one of the salient features of Indian multilingualism is its natural and sustainable character, rather than a transient trend leading to language death. What is even more remarkable is that it is not imposed by language ideology and rigorous language planning by the government. To best characterize the multifaceted dimensions of multilingual communication in India, this chapter focuses on the contemporary and historical study of Indian languages and their spread in diasporic contexts, both intranational (e.g., from North to South India) and international. An attempt has also been made to uncover dimensions of multilingualism that have been neglected in the communication landscape of India (e.g., empowering of rural varieties of speech). For comparison and contrast purposes, other countries are also referred to.
Intergroup communication concerns the verbal and nonverbal interaction between individuals from different groups. Since about the 1980s, the social identity perspective (including social identity, self-categorization, ethnolinguistic vitality, and communication accommodation theories) has provided much impetus to research on intergroup communication. One way to advance intergroup communication research, then, is to expand the social identity perspective. Evolutionary psychology, a research program firmly rooted in natural selection theory and its modern synthesis, can help achieve this goal. For example, a functional analysis of language acquisition suggests—and research confirms—that language (similar to sex and age but not race) is a dedicated dimension of social categorization. This is first of all because language is localized, with signal regularities (e.g., grammar, syntax) being meaningful only to in-group members. Second, there is a critical window of language acquisition that typically closes at late adolescence, and one can almost never reach native-level proficiency if the person tries to learn a language beyond that window. Thus, two people are very likely to have grown up in the same place if they speak the same language with similar high levels of proficiency. Conversely, the lack of proficiency in speaking a language suggests that one does not have the same childhood experience as others and is thus an out-group member. Because ancestral humans had recurrent exposure to people speaking different languages (or variants of the same language) even given their limited travel ability, language-based categorization appears to be an evolved part of human nature. Evolutionary theories can also help renovate research on ethnolinguistic vitality and (non)accommodation. For example, an analysis of host-parasite coevolution suggests that maintaining and using one’s own language can help reduce the risk of contracting foreign diseases in places with high parasite stress. This is because out-group members are more likely than in-group members to carry diseases that one’s physiological immune system cannot tackle. Intergroup differentiation is thus needed more in places with higher parasite stress, and language (as noted) reliably marks group membership. It thus benefits people living in parasite-laden environments to stick to their own language, which helps them remain close to in-group members and away from out-group members. Research also shows that increases in perceived parasitic threats cause people higher in pathogen disgust sensitivity to perceive speakers with foreign accents as being more dissimilar to self. This enhanced perceived dissimilarity may cause non-accommodation or divergence in intergroup communication, resulting in negative language attitudes and even intergroup conflicts. These and many other areas of research uniquely identified by evolutionary approaches to intergroup communication research await further empirical tests.