Language shift occurs when a community of users replaces one language by another, or “shifts” to that other language. Although language shift can and does occur at the level of the individual speaker, it is shift at the level of an entire community that is associated with widespread language replacement and loss. Shift is a particular kind of language loss, and differs from language attrition, which involves the loss of a language over an individual’s lifetime, often the result of aging or of language replacement (as in shift). Both language shift and attrition are in contrast to language maintenance, the continuing use of a language. Language maintenance and revitalization programs are responses to language shift, and are undertaken by communites who perceive that their language is threatened by a decrease in usage and under threat of loss. Language shift is widespread and can be found with majority- or minority-language populations. It is often associated with immigrant groups who take up the majority language of their new territory, leaving behind the language of their homeland. For minority-language speaker communities, language shift is generally the result of a combination of factors, in particular colonization. A nexus of factors—historical, political, social, and economic—often provides the impetus for a community to ceasing speaking their ancestral language, replacing it with the language of the majority, and usually politically dominant, group. Language shift is thus a social issue, and often coupled with other indicators of social distress. Language endangerment is the result of language shift, and in fact shift is its most widespread cause.Since the 1960s there has been ever-increasing interest across speaker communities and linguists to work to provide opportunities to learn and use minority languages to offset shift, and to document speakers in communities under the threat of shift.
Lenore A. Grenoble
The varieties of Canadian French are the result of both conservatism and innovation. The conservatism is manifested in the retention of archaic structures, which derive on the one hand from the dialects of northern and western France, the areas of origin of the Quebecker and Acadian settlers, and on the other hand from the common vernacular of the Ile-de-France area, the français populaire. Innovation has occurred independently of France because of the political rupture between France and New France in 1763, which also severed emotional ties: France had to cede territories to Great Britain due to its defeat in the Seven Years’ War and chose to separate from its North American colony while holding onto more profitable colonies, such as Guadeloupe. All normative influence on the development of Canadian French stopped. Since the French-speaking territories in North America have never been united administratively, and English has been the dominant language for the majority of citizens in Canada, no common institution providing prescriptive guidelines as to language use (such as the Académie Française in France) has been established. The varieties of Quebec and Acadian French spoken in Canada—and subsequently in the United States—developed freely. This resulted in an almost indescribable amount of linguistic variants in all fields. Whereas the phonological systems of Canadian and standard French (i.e., the hexagonal norm), in other words the inventory of sounds, barely differ, there is considerable variation in phonetics (i.e., pronunciation). The traditional areas of settlement for speakers of predominantly northern French dialects (Quebec) and predominantly western French dialects (Acadia and Maritime Provinces) have stayed administratively separate, resulting in considerable variation among the varieties of Canadian French.