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Understanding Language Choices: A Guide to Sociolinguistic Assessment

(August 2012) What are the deciding factors that influence individuals and communities to choose one language over another? Co-authors Ken Decker and John Grummitt explore this topic in a new book entitled Understanding Language Choices, recently released by SIL International Publications. Decker serves as SIL’s International Coordinator for Language Assessment and Grummitt is a language surveyor working in Papua New Guinea.

Many of the previous studies on this topic have dealt with major urban centers and widely-spoken world languages. However, the context of language choice differs vastly for a mother-tongue French speaker in Brussels and a mother-tongue Gao speaker in the Solomon Islands. Decker and Grummitt’s work may be unique in its focus on the sociolinguistics of language choice in less urban Third World communities, the context in which speakers of many of the world’s most endangered languages live their daily lives.

Furthermore, the environment in which the world’s smaller ethnolinguistic communities live has been radically altered over the course of the past five decades. In the preface to Understanding Language Choices, Decker and Grummitt note:

Fifty years ago there were still many speech communities throughout the world that existed in isolation. For them, language choice was just not an issue, nor was language vitality. Even communities that had some contact with other languages often limited their interaction. But today there are only a handful of isolated groups that are considered ‘uncontacted.’ Hundreds of languages are considered endangered and many are no longer spoken. There are a great many marginalized speech communities that are choosing to shift to the use of languages of wider communication. Every day, hundreds of millions of people must make choices as to which language they will use as they encounter people from other speech communities, or even people from their own. This prevalence of language choice is unprecedented in human history.

Topics covered in the book include:

Understanding Language Choices is available for purchase from SIL International Publications.

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