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Language Shift and Language Maintenance

Mini Research on Language Shift and Language Maintenance

1. Background of the Study

The existence of language cannot be separated from human life. According to Holmes (1992), every language represents the temple in which the speaker’s soul is his/her devotee. It seems that everything related to human life in the society involves language because it is through the language that interaction among tribes, ethnic groups, and religions can happen. However, language is not always able to maintain by the ethnic group especially in the multilingual societies. Sumarsono (1993) in Amrullah states that language shift and language maintenance is like two sides of a coin. One side of the coin is a language that cannot be shifted by another language because its users constantly use it to carry out their daily affairs. On the other side of the coin is a language that can be shifted by another language because the speakers are not likely to use it anymore. Hoffman (1991) in Amrullah states that a community that does not maintain its language by adopting another language gradually is referred to as language shift. He also observed that under certain cultural, social and political conditions, a community might opt to change one set of linguistic tools for another. Language shift, sometimes referred to as language transfer or language replacement or assimilation, is the progressive process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. The rate of assimilation is the percentage of individuals with a given mother tongue who speak another language more often in the home. When a linguistic community ceases to use their original language, language death or language extinction is said to occur.

Based on the data of UNESCO in the year of 2001, there are 6,900 languages in the world. 2,500 of them are extincting. UNESCO says that Indonesia, India, America, Brazil, and

Mexico are countries which have multi varieties of languages, but they are also facing a very big danger of language shift. Based on the data of UNESCO, almost 200 languages do not exist anylonger after three generations, because they lost their speakers; for example Urbykh language in Turkey which extincted in 1992, Aaasax language in Tanzania in 1976, Eyak in Alaska, and so on. 900 languages in the world are in danger of extinction nowadays. 199 languages in the world are mastered by less than a dozen of speakers; for example Lengilu language in East Borneo, Indonesia used by only 4 people, Karaim language in Ukraina used by only 6 people, Wichitha language in Oklahoma, USA used by 10 people only. There are other 178 languages in the world which are extincting, because they are used by 10 to 150 people only. Based on the record of UNESCO, India is at the first rank in facing language shift. There are 196 shifting languages in India now. America takes the second position with 192 shifting languages. And Indonesia takes the third position with 147 shifting languages. 169 ethnic languages of 742 in Indonesia are facing danger of extinction because their speakers are less than 500 people. One of the issues which is quite important in the study of language shift is the powerless minority group which tries to maintain its original language when communicating with the majority group whose language is dominant, and supraethnics which is economically and politically dominant in all sectors (Sumarsono, 1993 in Amrullah). As the consequence, the minority language will experience a shift to majority language or even it will dissapear. That process, according to Sumarsono (1993) in Amrullah, involves three generations, each of which has its own characteristics. The first generation will preserve that ethnical language as well as possible. In this case, the speakers always use this language in their daily life. Later, the second generation becomes bilingual and master the second language better than their mother tongue. Finally, the third generation refers to the ones who are unable to master their ethnical language anymore. The researchers saw that there is a phenomenon of gradual language shift occured in their society, especially in families. And there are some families taking efforts in maintaining their ethnic languages. This phenomenon makes the researchers feel that it is necessary to describe this phenomenon and to find out the factors influencing the language shift and language maintenance in society especially in the families. Thus, the researchers feel that it is important to

share the knowledge of language shift that happens in society so that the society can be aware of the steps to be taken in maintaining a language.

2. Research Methodology

This study was conducted by using qualitative descriptive research design. The researchers used interview and note-talking as the methods to collect the data and then analyzed the data based on the answers given by the respondents. The researchers used this design because the researchers want to describe the analyses and explain the process of language shift and language maintenance. The technique used for deciding the sample is random sampling. It is the technique in which samples are taken randomly (Ary:1979). The researchers took five families as the samples and interviewed them by using adapted research from Nurhalis (2003) and Agustin (2004) who had researched about language shift of Makassarese and Sumbawanese in Mataram.

3. Data and Data Analysis

Data The data of this study can be seen from the table below :


Language Shift

Language Maintenance











Data Analysis From the table above, the researchers know that different family experienced language shift and language maintenance. Language shift occured to five from the six families observed. The two families’ language shift was influenced by economic and social factors. Meanwhile, the other two cases were affected by demographical factor . And the rest was influenced by demographical and social factors. Language maintenance can be seen from the four families. The language maintenance in the four families were influenced by social and economy factors (for family 3 and 4). Demogrpahical factor on family 6 and attitude and values for family 5.

4. Findings


There are no absolute answers about the factors contributing to language maintenance since elsewhere some factors may have little effect on language maintenance or even associated to language shift. According to Holmes (1992), the following are some factors which could contribute to language shift and language maintenance. Economic, Political and Social Factors Obtaining work is the most obvious economic reason for learning another language. In English dominated countries, for instance, people learn English in order to get good jobs. This results in bilingualism. Bilingualism is always a necessary precursor of language shift, although, it does not always result in shift. The social and some economic goals of individuals in a community are very important in accounting for the speed of shift. Rapid shift occurs when people are anxious to “get on” in a society where knowledge of the second language is a requirement for success. Young upwardly mobile people are likely to shift fastest. The more domains in which the minority language can be used, the more chance there is of its being maintained. The possibilities will largely determined by socio-economic factors, such as where the jobs are. These factors can be seen from the cases for family 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.


Demographic Factors


Demographic factors are also relevant in accounting for the speed of language shift. Resistance to language shift tends to last longer in rural than in urban areas. This is partly a reflection of the fact that rural groups tend to be isolated from the centers of political power for longer, and they can meet most of their social needs in the ethnic or minority language. This factor can be seen from the cases for family 2, 4 and 6. Attitudes and Values Language shift tends to be slower among communities where a language is highly valued, especially if the language is seen as an important symbol of identity. Positives attitudes supports efforts to use minority language in a variety of domains, and this helps people resist the pressure from the majority group to switch to their language. Where it has a status in a community, it will help to maintain the language since the language will be regarded more with pride. These factors can be seen from the cases for family 4 and 5.

5. Conclusion

There are many different reasons for choosing a particular language or variety in a multilingual community. The various constraints on language choice faced by different families are described in this mini research. The factors which contribute to language shift also can be the factors contributing to language maintenance. The most dominant factors for language shift and maintenance is economy and social factors, meanwhile the least factor is attitude and value. Based on Holmes (1992:70), there are efforts that can be done in order to maintain a language. the use of minority language in education, e.g. bilingual education programmes, using or teaching the minority language in school, in pre-school, and in after-school programmes,

support by the law and administration, e.g. the right to use the language in court, the House of Assembly, in dealing with government officials, etc.,

the use of the language in places of worship, e.g. for services, sermons, hymns, chants,

use of and support for the language in the media, e.g. TV programmes, radio programmes, newspapers, magazines.

The Note-Talking between the Researchers and the Respondents :

Case 1 ample : Mrs. Ida Simamora, single parent, 44 years old, a mother of two children age 11 and 9 years old, Bataknese.


: Sunday, February 27, 2011

the community : Hokkien (80%) and Bahasa Batak and Indonesia (20%)


Bahasa apa yang Ibu gunakan sehari-hari di rumah? Answer: Bahasa Indonesia



Bahasa apa yang bapak dan ibu gunakan di luar rumah, seperti di lingkungan pekerjaan dan di masyarakat? Answer: Di kantor, bahasa Indonesia, di lingkungan bahasa Indonesia, ya kecuali ketemu sama

orang kita (Bataknese), pakai Bahasa batak la


di usia kek kakak sekarang ini sudah

harus lebih sering la berbahasa Batak sama yang tua-tua itu.


Berapa lama Ibu bertempat tinggal di daerah Ibu saat ini? Answer: Sudah lebih 30tahun lah kira-kira


Bahasa apa yang digunakan oleh orang tua Ibu?


Answer: Oh


sama mamak kakak pastilah bahasa Batak, orang kampungnya aja di

Silalahi sana.


Bahasa apa yang digunakan anak-anak Anda di dalam dan di luar rumah?

Answer: Orang itu Bahasa Indonesia lah kawannya.


sekolah juga Bahasa Indonesia sama kawan-

6) Menurut Anda, apakah yang menjadi penyebab jika bahasa yang digunakan oleh Bapak dan Ibu

berbeda dengan bahasa orang tua Bapak dan Ibu?

Answer: Ohh kan dari SD dah sekolah di kota, di sekolah belajar pakai bahasa

Indonesia, guru-gurunya meskipun orang Batak kan tetap juga pakai bahasa Indonesia. SMP

kakak dah merantau, yah makin seringlah pakai bahasa Indonesia.




Menurut Anda, apakah yang menjadi penyebab jika bahasa yang digunakan oleh anak-anak

Bapak dan Ibu berbeda dengan bahasa Bapak dan Ibu?

Answer: Kami di rumah pakai bahasa Indonesia yah karena itu bahasa yang mereka ngerti.

Orang ini kan pernah tinggal di Tarutung sama opungnya di 3 tahun gitu, jadi bisa lah Bahasa

Batak tapi sejak dah di Medan gak pernah lagi di pakai jadinya hilang, gak ngerti kali orang itu

kalau kakak bahasa Batak di rumah.


Adakah usaha pengajaran bahasa daerah yang orang tua Bapak dan Ibu kuasai kepada Bapak

dan Ibu?

Answer: Di ajari khusus gak pernah ya, tapi Bapak sama Mamak selalu Bahasa Batak sama

kami di rumah, misalnya kan nyuruh ngambil apa lah gitu. Kalau kami, yah balas bahasa Batak

sekali-sekali atau Bahasa Indonesia. Gak pernah lah di ajar-ajari atau di paksa gitu supaya bisa

Bahasa batak mekipun mereka itu jago Bahasa Bataknya.

9) Adakah usaha pengajaran bahasa daerah yang Bapak dan Ibu kuasai kepada anak-anak Bapak

dan Ibu?

Answer: Gak ada. Kakak sendiri karena usia dah 40an, dah ada tekanan lebih untuk bisa

berbahasa Batak, malu juga kan nanti di punguan gak bisa bahasa Batak. Usaha lebih sering

lah sekarang pakai bahasa Batak lah daripada bahasa Indonesia untuk bisa bicara sesama kita.

10) Apakah Anda nyaman dan bangga menggunakan bahasa yang Anda gunakan sehari-hari?

Answer: Jelaslah, dek. Di kerjaan kakak pakai bahasa Indonesia, di lingkungan sekalipun

mayoritas orang Cina, kakak juga pakai Bahasa Indonesia sama mereka. Kalau gak pakai

Bahasa Indonesia gak tau lagi kakak pakai bahasa apa untuk komunikasi. Bahasa Batak, gak semua tahu, Hokkien, kakak aja cuma bisa sedikit-sedikit. Bisalah gak nyambung nanti ngomong malah tersinggung pulak nanti. From the interview above, the result can be seen from this scheme :



Language Shift I


(Batak&Bahasa Indonesia)

Language Loss

Language Shift II


(Bahasa Indonesia)

Note :

A : Parents

B : Grandparents

C : Children


Amrullah. 2005. Language Shift Of Nggeto-Nggete Minority Urban Migrant Dialect In Mataram Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Unpublished.

Ary, Donald. 1979. Introduction to Research in Eductaion, Second Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.




Bahasa Lengilu, 2012.

Holmes, Janet. 1992. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Second Edition. London: Pearson.