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Article

Endangered Languages  

Chris Rogers and Lyle Campbell

The reduction of the world’s linguistic diversity has accelerated over the last century and correlates to a loss of knowledge, collective and individual identity, and social value. Often a language is pushed out of use before scholars and language communities have a chance to document or preserve this linguistic heritage. Many are concerned for this loss, believing it to be one of the most serious issues facing humanity today. To address the issues concomitant with an endangered language, we must know how to define “endangerment,” how different situations of endangerment can be compared, and how each language fits into the cultural practices of individuals. The discussion about endangered languages focuses on addressing the needs, causes, and consequences of this loss. Concern over endangered languages is not just an academic catch phrase. It involves real people and communities struggling with real social, political, and economic issues. To understand the causes and consequence of language endangerment for these individuals and communities requires a multifaceted perspective on the place of each language in the lives of their users. The loss of a language affects not only the world’s linguistic diversity but also an individual’s social identity, and a community’s sense of itself and its history.

Article

African (Urban) Youth Languages  

Ellen Hurst

A growing phenomena in urban centers on the African continent in the latter half of the 20th century and start of the 21st century has been what have been described as Urban Youth Languages,’ although the ‘urban’ moniker is increasingly being dropped as these phenomena spread out from cities to rural areas. The term tends to refer to language phenomena such as Sheng or Engsh in Kenya, Tsotsitaal in South Africa, Nouchi in Ivory Coast, Camfranglais in Cameroon, and many more, both named and unnamed. These language styles are used and innovated predominantly by young people, and in this way they are distinguished from the large urban vernaculars present in African urban centers such as urban Wolof. African (Urban) Youth Languages usually utilize a dominant urban language as the grammatical base, such as Swahili in Nairobi Sheng and Zulu or Sotho in Johannesburg Tsotsitaal, and they feature a great deal of lexical borrowing from other languages present in Africa’s highly multilingual urban contexts, such as the colonial languages and the local African languages common to a particular urban center. They also may utilize the dominant European language as the grammatical base, such as French in the case of Camfranglais, with borrowings from English and African languages. They strikingly draw on metaphor and pop culture in the innovation of new terms. These varieties are ‘languages relexicalised,’ in Halliday’s terms, and are used by young people for creativity and entertainment, to have fun with peers, to affirm in-group relations, and to indicate status.

Article

Contact Between Spanish and Portuguese in South America  

Ana M. Carvalho

Spanish and Portuguese are in contact along the extensive border of Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Transnational interactions in some border communities allow for ephemeral language accommodations that occur when speakers of both languages communicate during social interactions and business transactions, facilitated by the lack of border control and similarities between the languages. A different situation is found in northern Uruguay, where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in several border towns, presenting a case of stable and prolonged bilingualism that has allowed for the emergence of language contact phenomena such as lexical borrowings, code-switching, and structural convergence to a variable extent. However, due to urbanization and the presence of monolingual dialects in the surrounding communities, Portuguese and Spanish have not converged structurally in a single mixed code in urban areas and present instead clear continuities with the monolingual counterparts.

Article

Mixed Languages  

Felicity Meakins

Mixed languages are a rare category of contact language which has gone from being an oddity of contact linguistics to the subject of media excitement, at least for one mixed language—Light Warlpiri. They show considerable diversity in structure, social function, and historical origins; nonetheless, they all emerged in situations of bilingualism where a common language is already present. In this respect, they do not serve a communicative function, but rather are markers of an in-group identity. Mixed languages provide a unique opportunity to study the often observable birth, life, and death of languages both in terms of the sociohistorical context of language genesis and the structural evolution of language.

Article

Communicative Repertoires in African Languages  

Anne Storch

Even though the concept of multilingualism is well established in linguistics, it is problematic, especially in light of the actual ways in which repertoires are composed and used. The term “multilingualism” bears in itself the notion of several clearly discernable languages and suggests that regardless of the sociolinguistic setting, language ideologies, social history and context, a multilingual individual will be able to separate the various codes that constitute his or her communicative repertoire and use them deliberately in a reflected way. Such a perspective on language isn’t helpful in understanding any sociolinguistic setting and linguistic practice that is not a European one and that doesn’t correlate with ideologies and practices of a standardized, national language. This applies to the majority of people living on the planet and to most people who speak African languages. These speakers differ from the ideological concept of the “Western monolingual,” as they employ diverse practices and linguistic features on a daily basis and do so in a very flexible way. Which linguistic features a person uses thereby depends on factors such as socialization, placement, and personal interest, desires and preferences, which are all likely to change several times during a person’s life. Therefore, communicative repertoires are never stable, neither in their composition nor in the ways they are ideologically framed and evaluated. A more productive perspective on the phenomenon of complex communicative repertoires puts the concept of languaging in the center, which refers to communicative practices, dynamically operating between different practices and (multimodal) linguistic features. Individual speakers thereby perceive and evaluate ways of speaking according to the social meaning, emotional investment, and identity-constituting functions they can attribute to them. The fact that linguistic reflexivity to African speakers might almost always involve the negotiation of the self in a (post)colonial world invites us to consider a critical evaluation, based on approaches such as Southern Theory, of established concepts of “language” and “multilingualism”: languaging is also a postcolonial experience, and this experience often translates into how speakers single out specific ways of speaking as “more prestigious” or “more developed” than others. The inclusion of African metalinguistics and indigenuous knowledge consequently is an important task of linguists studying communicative repertoires in Africa or its diaspora.

Article

Multilingualism in Rural Africa  

Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba

The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as Africa’s “lingua franca.” Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated. Early work on language use in rural Africa tended to background the presence of multilingualism and was dominated by an approach that viewed each community (or “tribe”) as having its own language. Thanks to the progressive adoption of ethnographic methods of inquiry, facilitated by language documentation research especially since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been possible to more effectively study areas of high linguistic diversity in West and Central Africa which demonstrate that multilingualism plays an integral role in structuring social relations. Available case studies document the presence of individuals with linguistic repertoires that are primarily oriented around local languages, ideologies, and practices and that do not clearly fit with what is known from urban environments. The most important theme that emerges from this work is the extent to which rural multilingualism is linked to the specific dynamics holding among communities that are near to each other rather than being a reflection of a more general, externally imposed value system. While this result makes it difficult to characterize rural multilingualism as a single, coherent phenomenon, it does point to the utility of a shared toolkit of research strategies for exploring it in more detail. In particular, ethnographic methods are required in order to ascertain the major local social divisions which language choice both reflects and constructs in these areas, and it is additionally important to focus on how individual repertoires are tied to specific life histories rather than to assume that groupings that are salient to the outside researcher (e.g., “villages” or “compounds”) are the relevant units of analysis. Finally, investigation of multilingualism in rural Africa is not only valuable for what it reveals about social dynamics on the continent, but it also seems likely to yield important insights for the study of sociolinguistics more broadly.

Article

Spanish in Contact with South-American Languages, with Special Emphasis on Andean and Paraguayan Spanish  

Fernando Zúñiga

The effect of indigenous languages of South America on Spanish is strongest in the lexicon (especially with toponyms, zoonyms, and phytonyms) and identifiable, but much more modest, in phonetics/phonology (e.g., vowel variability and reduction and nasalization) and morphosyntax (e.g., the different use of selected verb forms and constituent order). The phenomena called Media Lengua and Yopará differ from this picture in that the former roughly consists of a Spanish lexicon combined with Quechua grammar, while the latter is a fluid Guaraní-based system with numerous borrowings from Spanish. The effects of contact are socially and areally variable, with low-prestige, typically rural, varieties of South American Spanish showing the most significant systemic impact, while high-prestige, typically urban, varieties (including the national standards) show little more than lexical borrowings in the semantic fields mentioned. This result is hardly surprising, due to historical/sociolinguistic factors (which often led to situations of dominance and language shift) and to the typological dissimilarities between Spanish and the indigenous languages (which typically hinders borrowing, especially of morphological elements).

Article

Linguistic Landscape of Ethiopia  

Elizabeth Lanza and Hirut Woldemariam

The linguistic landscape (henceforth LL) has proven to be a fruitful approach for investigating various societal dimensions of written language use in the public sphere. First introduced in the context of bilingual Canada as a gauge for measuring ethnolinguistic vitality, in the 21st century it is the focus of a thriving field of inquiry with its own conference series, an increasing number of publications, and an international journal dedicated exclusively to investigating language and other semiotic resources used in the public arena. The scholarship in this domain has centered on European and North American geographical sites; however, an increasingly voluminous share of studies addresses the LL of sites across the world through both books and articles. African contributions have added an important dimension to this knowledge base as southern multilingualisms bring into question the very concept of language in that speakers and writers draw on their rich linguistic repertoires, avoiding any compartmentalization or separation of what is traditionally conceived of as languages. The LL of Ethiopia has contributed to this growing base of empirical studies in the exploration of language policy issues, identity constructions, language contact, and the sociolinguistics of globalization. A new language policy of ethnic federalism was introduced to the country in the 1990s following a civil war and through a new constitution. This policy was set to recognize the various ethnolinguistic groups in the country and the official use of ethnic/regional languages to satisfy local political and educational needs. Through this, languages previously unwritten required a script in order for speakers to communicate in them in written texts. And many regions have chosen the Latin script above the Ethiopic script. Nonetheless, some languages remain invisible in the public sphere. These events create an exciting laboratory for studying the LL. Given the change of language policy since the late 20th century and the fast-growing economy of Ethiopia (one of the poorest countries on the continent) the manifest and increasingly visible display of languages in the LL provides an excellent lens for studying various sociolinguistic phenomena.

Article

Diglossia in North Africa  

Lotfi Sayahi

Diglossia refers to a situation where two linguistic varieties coexist within a given speech community. One variety, labeled the ‘high variety’, is used in formal domains including education, while the other variety, labeled the ‘low variety’, is used principally in instances of informal extemporaneous communication. The domains of use, however, are not strictly separate and especially so with the increase in electronic modes of communication. This results in what has been described as diglossic code-switching, and the gradual encroaching of, in the case under consideration here, vernacular Arabic upon the domains of use of Standard Arabic. While the genetic relationship between the two varieties is central in the definition of a classical diglossic situation as in the case of Arabic, the concept of diglossia has often been extended in the literature to cover situations of a functional distribution between languages that are genetically distant, such as with the situation of Spanish and Guaraní in Paraguay. In North Africa, vernacular Arabic is in a classical diglossic distribution with Standard Arabic, while the Berber languages are often described as existing in a situation of extended diglossia with Arabic. However, distinguishing between diglossia as it exists between the Arabic dialects and Standard Arabic and the situation of bilingualism that involves Arabic, Berber, and European languages provides the best framework for describing the linguistic situation in North Africa. Diglossia is a key element in understanding the mechanisms of the region’s language contact and change as it plays a central role in shaping language attitude, language policy, and language planning.

Article

Sociolinguistics  

Christine Mallinson

The study of sociolinguistics constitutes a vast and complex topic that has yielded an extensive and multifaceted body of scholarship. Language is fundamentally at work in how we operate as individuals, as members of various communities, and within cultures and societies. As speakers, we learn not only the structure of a given language; we also learn cultural and social norms about how to use language and what content to communicate. We use language to navigate expectations, to engage in interpersonal interaction, and to go along with or to speak out against social structures and systems. Sociolinguistics aims to study the effects of language use within and upon societies and the reciprocal effects of social organization and social contexts on language use. In contemporary theoretical perspectives, sociolinguists view language and society as being mutually constitutive: each influences the other in ways that are inseparable and complex. Language is imbued with and carries social, cultural, and personal meaning. Through the use of linguistic markers, speakers symbolically define self and society. Simply put, language is not merely content; rather, it is something that we do, and it affects how we act and interact as social beings in the world. Language is a social product with rich variation along individual, community, cultural, and societal lines. For this reason, context matters in sociolinguistic research. Social categories such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, nationality, etc., are socially constructed, with considerable variation within and among categories. Attributes such as “female” or “upper class” do not have universal effects on linguistic behavior, and sociolinguists cannot assume that the most interesting linguistic differences will be between groups of speakers in any simple, binary fashion. Sociolinguistic research thus aims to explore social and linguistic diversity in order to better understand how we, as speakers, use language to inhabit and negotiate our many personal, cultural, and social identities and roles.

Article

Language Crossing and the Global Southern Gaze  

Cristine Severo, Sinfree Makoni, and Ashraf Abdelhay

The notion of language crossing is discussed from the perspective of Southern language practices and epistemologies. The notion of language is expanded to include the voices and metalanguages of subjects who were historically invisibilized and silenced, with a focus on Southern contexts that underwent processes of colonization and liberation, specifically Africa. This also includes speaking across the human/nonhuman dimension. Language crossing not only is a contemporary and Northern practice but also includes a complex set of arrangements, alliances, and negotiations inscribed in the meaning-making process that cannot be reduced to the modern ideas of linguistic, national, or ethnic borders. By drawing on the decolonial sociolinguistic critique of language and linguistics, the concept of crossing is revised and elaborated in light of the insights from certain African sociolinguistic situations. Southern perspectives of language crossing should be able to include the role of objects, animals, nature, and humans in language practices. The following questions are addressed: (a) What does language crossing look like when viewed from the global South/s? (b) What can those who study language crossing learn from the perspective of a global Southern gaze? (c) What can African multilingualisms teach us about the situated dimensions of the notion of language crossing? The conclusion argues that language crossing in Southern contexts is connected to issues of legitimacy, authenticity, and belonging that characterize a sense of community, which is a complex and context-based notion. This means that different peoples, individuals, or groups may have different understandings of what counts as communication and language use. By crossing the disciplinary Northern boundaries toward an approach that dialogues with Southern voices and experiences, the political nature of the notion of boundary is problematized.

Article

English in the U.S. South  

Kirk Hazen

English in the U.S. South contains a wide range of variation, encompassing ethnic, social class, and subregional variations all within the umbrella term of Southern English. Although it has been a socially distinct variety since at least the mid-19th century, many of the modern features it is nationally known for developed only after 1875. Lexical variation has long distinguished the U.S. South, but new vocabulary has replaced the old, and subregional variation in the U.S. South is no longer important for lexical variation. Social class still plays an important role in grammatical variation, but the rise of compulsory education limited previously wider ranges of dialect features. Despite traditional scholarship’s primary focus on lexical and grammatical language variation in the U.S. South, phonological variation has been the main area of scholarship since 1990s. Within phonological variation, the production of vowels, the most socially salient features of the U.S. South, has been a heavily studied realm of scholarship. Prosodic, consonant, and perception studies have been on the rise and have provided numerous insights into this highly diverse dialect region.

Article

Pidgin Languages  

Mikael Parkvall

Pidgin languages sometimes form in contact situations where a means of communication is urgently needed between groups lacking a common code. They are typically less elaborate than any of the languages involved in their formation, and in comparison to those, reduction characterizes all linguistic levels. The process is relatively uncommon, and the life span of pidgins is usually short – most disappear when the contact situation changes, or when another medium of intergroup communication becomes available. In some rare cases, however, they expand (both socially and structurally), and may even nativize, i. e. become mother tongues to their speakers (when they may be re-labelled “creoles”). Pidgins are severely understudied, and while they are often mentioned as precursors to creoles, few linguists have shown a serious interest in them. As a result, many generalizations have been based on extremely limited amounts of data or even on intuition. Some frequently occurring ones is that pidginization is a case of second language acquisition, that power and prestige are important factors, and that most structures are derived from the input languages. My work with pidgins has led me to believe the opposite to be true in these cases: pidgins form through a trial-and-error process, where anything that is understood by the other party is sanctioned, this process is one of collaborative language creation (rather than one involving one group of teachers and one group of learners), and much of what finds its way in the resultant contact language do so independently of what the creators spoke prior to their encounter. As for theoretical implications, pidgins may shed light on which features in traditional languages are necessary for communication, and which are superfluous from the point of view of pure information transmission.

Article

World Englishes  

Edgar W. Schneider

English clearly is the world’s most widely used language in the early 21st century: the language of formal and other interactions in very many countries, the main tool of globalization, and the default choice for transnational communication. Initially, the expansion of the British Empire, beginning in the 17th century and driven by various motives for colonization, brought it to all continents: North America and the Caribbean, the southern hemisphere (including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other territories), and also Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. In contact with indigenous languages new, increasingly stable and localized varieties of English with properties and functions of their own have grown in many countries. These varieties have come to be summarily labeled as “World Englishes,” and a new subdiscipline in linguistics has emerged since the 1980s investigating their features and conditions of use. They have conventionally been classified according to their status in specific countries and territories, as native, second, or foreign languages, respectively, and several theoretical models have been proposed to account for their status, developments, and mutual relationships. Vibrant changes of the recent past, broadly associated with a sociolinguistics of globalization and increasing superdiversity, have continued to push the dissemination of English to new contexts, both socially and individually, and a “post-varieties approach” is now being envisaged. A wide range of facts and issues can be discussed and investigated when addressing World Englishes. The basic perspective, obviously, concerns the sociohistorical diffusion of the language: Who brought English to which territories, when, and why? And how has the language been transformed in different places? It has been argued convincingly (in the “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes) that despite all geographical, historical, and social differences, amazing similarities in the emergence of these new varieties, grounded in principles of sociolinguistic accommodation and identity transformations, can be identified. In all contexts and territories, contact with local and other languages has been determinative, usually via the process of second-language acquisition of English by indigenous people. Language policies and their implementation by means of strategies of language pedagogy have played a major role, and all of this is shaped decisively by linguistic attitudes—the question of what speakers and authorities believe about such emerging varieties and their relationship to norms of correctness. Also, specific structural patterns and types of linguistic phenomena can be observed in all these varieties on all levels of language organization. Consequently, the notion of “English” today needs to be retuned from thinking of it as a single, monolithic entity, a linguistic “standard” and a reference system, to understanding it as a set of related, structurally overlapping, but also distinct varieties, the products of a fundamental “glocalization” process with variable, context-dependent outcomes.

Article

Unsettling Imperial Science: Centering Convivial Scholarship in Sociolinguistics  

Finex Ndhlovu

The universalizing posture of claims made by colonial approaches and their regimes of representation continues to inform most mainstream sociolinguistics research agendas and project designs. Such claims reflect an imperial scientific tradition that overlooks and marginalizes other ways of knowing, particularly those from communities of the global South. Decolonizing sociolinguistics entails doing at least three things. First, we must decolonize ourselves through critical reflection on our own practices and how such practices contribute to the continuation of inequalities in knowledge production and in society. Second is the need to develop new narratives, new words, new grammars, and new vocabularies for eliciting empirical data to support the suppositions and arguments we advance in our anti-conventional and anti-colonial theoretical approaches to language and society research. Such alternative trajectories require a decentering of the dominant (colonial/imperial) voice and an increase in other voices speaking from other equally valid approaches that are currently being overlooked. Third, decolonizing sociolinguistics entails developing new models that draw on a rich collection of thought from a broad spectrum of traditions of knowing. This is about promoting convivial scholarship through mobilizing diverse resources to advance collaborative engagements that link our academic pursuits to public interests, including the interests of marginalized, minority, and global Indigenous communities. Convivial scholarship says the paths we follow in doing sociolinguistics research must be those that are committed to re-membering and rehumanizing Indigenous and other Southern peoples subjected to more than 500 years of coloniality. Decolonizing sociolinguistics must, therefore, mean freeing the field from the colonial tradition of knowing by bringing back to the center historically marginalized Indigenous and Southern knowledge systems. The premise is that a sociolinguistics that works for all must open pathways and avenues for epistemic access and cognitive justice through valuing diverse founts of knowledges as key contours.

Article

French Outside Europe  

André Thibault

The first French colonial era goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. It encompasses North American territories, the Antilles, and the Indian Ocean. The second colonial era started in the 19th century and ended in the 1960s. It first reached the Maghreb and Lebanon, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, where two colonial powers, France and Belgium, exported the use of French. The last territories affected by the expansion of the French language are to be found in the Pacific.

Article

Phonological Variation and Change in Italian  

Alessandro Vietti

The phonology of Italian is subject to considerable variability both at the segmental and at the prosodic level. Changes affect different features of the phonological system such as the composition of the inventory of phonemes and allophones, the phonotactic patterning of phonemes, and their lexical distribution. On the prosodic level, the variability takes the form of a composite collection of intonational patterns. In fact, the classification of intonational contours in geographical varieties appears fuzzier and less precise than the traditional division into geographical areas based on segmental features. The reasons for the high variability must be traced back, on the one hand, to the rapid and recent standardization and, on the other hand, to the prolonged contact with Romance dialects of Italy. Variation in Italian phonology can be traced back to two main dimensions: A geographic dimension, accounting for a large proportion of the total variability, and a social dimension that regulates variety-internal variation. The overall picture can be understood as a combination of vertical and horizontal sociolinguistic forces. Horizontal dynamics is responsible for the creation of a pluricentric standard, that is, a multiplicity of models of pronunciation that could be considered as geographical versions of the standard. Vertical dynamics brings about the formation of new norms at a local level and, most important, it generates a continuum of dialects ranging from the (regional) standard to the most local variety. Moving along this vertical continuum from the standard down to the local variety, there is an increasing of variability that represents a source for the emergence of social and stylistic values.

Article

Toward a Sociolinguistics of Modern Sub-Saharan African South–South Migrations  

Cécile B. Vigouroux

Despite their large demographic size, intra-continental African migrations have hardly been taken into account in the theorizing on migration in transnational studies and related fields. Research questions have been framed predominantly from a South-to-North perspective on population movements. This may be a consequence of the fact that the extent and complexity of modern population movements and contacts within Africa are hard to assess, owing mainly to lack of reliable data. For sociolinguists the challenge is even greater, partly because of the spotty knowledge of linguistic diversity in the continent and the scarcity of adequate sociolinguistic descriptions of the ways in which Africans manage their language repertoires. Despite these limitations, a sociolinguistics of intra-continental African migrations will contribute significantly to a better understanding of the conditions, nature, and periodicity of population contacts and interactional dynamics. It will help explain why geographic mobility entails reshaping sociocultural practices, including the language repertoires of both the migrants and the people they come in contact with. Moreover, the peculiarity of African economies, which rely heavily on informal non-institutionalized practices, prompts a rethinking of assumptions regarding the acquisition of the host country’s language(s) as the primary facilitator of the migrants’ socioeconomic inclusion. A sociolinguistic understanding of migrations within Africa can help to formulate new questions and enrich the complex pictures that the study of other parts of the world has already shaped.

Article

Enregisterment  

Asif Agha

Features of interpersonally perceivable communicative conduct, including speech, function as indexical signs insofar as they point to or delineate features of their contextual surround; they function as social indexicals when what they delineate are aspects of the social roles or relationships performed by interactants or the social practices in which interactants are engaged; and they function as stereotypic social indexicals when many persons construe them in comparable ways. Enregisterment is the sociohistorical process through which stereotypic social indexicals are differentiated from each other and organized into socially distributed registers of communication. A register is identified by attending to the metapragmatic behaviors of its users, behaviors that typify the pragmatic or indexical values of its signs. To identify a register is to characterize three variables—its exponents, its social range, and its social domain—and their values or attributes: The exponents of a register are the perceivable behaviors through which it is performed, whose semiotic range may include speech and non-speech signs arrayed into co-occurrence styles, where speech segments may involve discrete repertoires, and where performed exponents serve as diacritics that differentiate the register from others. The social range of a register is the range of social indexical effects performable through its use—whether usage is emblematic of social categories of speaker-actor (viz., class, gender, caste, profession, etc.), of relationships to interactants, or of the social practices such usage makes palpable or sustains. The social domain of a register is the group of persons acquainted with the register, those able to perform or construe the effects enactable through it. All speakers of a language do not acquire competence in all its speech registers during the normal course of language socialization. Asymmetries of socialization link contrasts among registers to features of social organization, such as facts of positional ranking within society, the ability to take part in specific social practices, opportunities within a division of labor, and the myriad forms of exclusion or belonging that emerge as outcomes of such processes.

Article

Frisian  

Christoph Winter

Frisian is a West Germanic language that is indigenous to the southern coastal region of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. In the early 21st century, it was spoken by around 400,000 inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland, by up to 1,000 speakers in the German municipality of the Saterland, and by an estimated 4,000 people in the German district of Nordfriesland. Corresponding to the geographical separation of these areas, which is the result of a complex historical process involving several migration events and language shifts, the Frisian language is traditionally divided into three dialect groups: West Frisian, East Frisian (Saterlandic), and North Frisian. They share common Frisian features, like the presence of two classes of weak verbs. Nevertheless, they are also characterized by individual innovations and various degrees of influence from different contact languages, which explains why they are no longer mutually intelligible. All three dialects are fully recognized as minority languages but differ in terms of their sociopolitical status. While West Frisian appears to occupy a moderately strong position in society—as it is not only recognized as the second official language of the Netherlands but also has access to higher domains and enjoys a considerable amount of constitutional support—the same does not apply to the other dialects. North Frisian and Saterlandic are mostly, if not entirely, confined to lower domains and attempts to extend their use have been only moderately successful. Considering the number of speakers, West Frisian is a relatively vital language as opposed to North Frisian and Saterlandic, which are both severely endangered.