Reversing Language Shift

The notion of Reversing Language Shift (RLS) was introduced by Fishman (1991; see also his later edited volume, Fishman 2001) as a result of his earlier research on heritage language maintenance by immigrant communities (Fishman 1991: xi-xiii). The languages discussed by Fishman were endangered to widely differing degrees.

To measure the level of threat they faced, or the success of RLS, he introduced the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) (Fishman 1991: 87-109), an impli- cational scale consisting of eight levels. Fishman also used it to indicate possible policies to promote RLS and to compare the situations of different language communities. His conclusion was that, among the speech communities discussed in his book, many languages had serious problems, while three emerge as “success stories”, namely Modern Hebrew, Quebec French, and (behind these two) Catalan.

Fishman’s concept focuses primarily on language survival in family contexts and other rather intimate settings; he describes situations in which all members of a linguistic minority require knowledge of the majority language to operate in wider society in positive terms (Fishman 1991: 84-86). Somewhat paradoxically, however, the “success stories of Reversing Language Shift”, like Quebec or Catalonia, are communities which attempt to resist this obligatory bilingualism, aiming instead at the creation of a monolingual society (Myhill 1999: 39). Societal bilingualism was definitely rejected by many in Quebec as early as the 1960s (Corbeil 1980: 35-36), and Fishman’s acceptance of it was also criticized by the Catalan authors Boix i Fuster and Vila i Moreno (1998: 314). The GIDS would, for example, have been unable to indicate the status problems of French in Quebec because the intergenerational passing on of French was not in danger, even though French speakers had reasons to feel disadvantaged (Bourhis 2001: 111). In fact, Quebec language policy was based on the framework of “group vitality” or “ethnolinguistic vitality” (Bourhis 2012: 26) as first set out in Giles, Bourhis and Taylor (1977). This model takes into account different factors (demography, institutional support and control, and status). It was originally designed with regard to Quebec language policy problems (Bourhis 2001: 111) and is still applied in that setting (e.g., Bourhis 2012).

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