Talk:Language suicide

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Accuracy dispute[edit]

I don't know whether the stated definition of "language suicide" is correct. If it is, then (although it is often described as having "committed suicide"), Irish it does not meet the stated definition in the following ways:

  1. Irish, though endangered, is not dead.
  2. Irish has not become "virtually indistinguishable" from English.
  3. Irish and English are not "closely related": they belong to different Indo-European families and have very different syntax.

Basically, Irish weakened because people voluntarily started speaking English instead. If that is "language suicide" then change the definition; otherwise, change the example. Joestynes 09:07, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Fully concur. My take on this is that it isn't a useful term at all, even bordering on neologism. Regarding the latter: I've never come across the term in relevant recent literature (and I've been reading quite a lot about language shift and language death lately). I've been able to locate only two peer reviewed articles in which the term is used, both by the same author and in the same year: Denison, Norman (1977) 'Language Death or Language Suicide?' Linguistics, 191, May 24, 13-22 and Denison, Norman (1977) 'Language Death or Language Suicide?' International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 12, 13-22. Could even be roughly the same article. I don't think Wikipedia needs an article on a term invented in a 1977 article that apparently didn't catch on.
I feel that it is not a useful term because it is very subjective, and few linguists would agree with each other on whether to call a given situation language suicide. Besides, it is ill-defined, one-sided, and lacks sources. I think it would be best to redirect it to Language death. Note also that nothing links here (except a few See also's in related articles). — mark 09:33, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I went ahead and redirected it. Its use in Scots language seemed rather idiosyncratic; I would think that 'language suicide' is a definite misnomer when in fact talking about the influence of intensive language contact. — mark 09:42, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The definition "Language suicide is a process of language obsolescence whereby the speakers of the less prestigious language of two closely related languages, over generations, borrow so much lexis, pronunciation and syntax from the more prestigious language so that the less prestigious language becomes virtually indistinguishable from the prestigious one and can be considered to have become the same language." certainly makes sense in the case of Scots. Of course nonsense with Irish because English and Irish are not "two closely related languages".

Ony Moose 01.06.05

See Aitchinson, Jean (1991) Language Change: Progress or Decay? Cambridge, pp198ff

Does Jean Aitchinson use the term 'language suicide'? The point is, it is not even the right term for the situation you're describing above. The term suggests that the language is killing itself, in other words, that there are language-internal reasons for the linguistic interference at hand, whereas in fact most if not all situations of language shift, language decay and language abandonment are due at least in part to extra-linguistic factors like prestige or cultural and/or economic dominance. Calling phenomena like this 'language suicide' is misleading. — mark 17:31, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Jean Aitchinson does use the term 'language suicide'. I've seen it mentioned elsewhere but can't remember where. Google results seem only to mention the case of Irish as described in the previous version of this article - which I would consider language shift. I don't completely disagree with you since you are right mentioning the external factors at work. language shift is more a case of one generation abandoning the language of the previous although they may retain the original language or at least passive competence. The next generation then only speaks the new language. 'Language Suicide' occurs over many generations. This has certainly been the case with Scots over the last few hundred years. The speech of each generation becoming less Scots and more English until, in many areas in is essentially English with a Scottish accent. More recently the shift has been from Scots speaking parents to English speaking offspring in one generation - clearly language shift. Its not a case of the language killing itself but of the speakers killing it through successive generations adopting more and more English froms until it is essentially indistinguishable from English.

There seems to be two definitions of 'language suicide'.

The one which for example describes the shift from Irish to English. Which essentially occurs over one generation or perhaps with an intermediate bilingual generation - clearly language shift.

The other definition offered by Aitchinson describes incremental change in one of two closely related languages. Usually quoted in situations o decreolisation.

Ony Moose 01.06.05

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On topic: I don't see any merit in confining use of the term 'language shift' to refer to a one-generation shift and using the misleading term 'language suicide' to refer to shifts that take longer. I haven't seen anyone else doing that either — the influential Sasse (1992) 'Theory of language death' in Brenzinger (ed.) Language death just talks about a primary language shift followed by language decay. Wilhelm Möhlig (same volume) and Bernd Heine (same volume) don't hesitate to talk about language shifts that are not confined to one generation only, typically in the case of more or less mutually intelligible dialects. Sarah Thomason in her 2001 Language contact doesn't define language shift clearly but rather talks about contact-induced change and attrition.
Incidentally, I just more or less finished Terik, an article on a people that has been gradually shifting from their own Kalenjin language Terik to the mutually intelligible Nandi language over the past few decades. In some ways a near parallel to the Scots case, it seems — but it just escapes me why would one want to call what is happening there 'language suicide'. I guess I'm going to look up the Aitchinson book. — mark 21:57, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think you're right. language attrition would be a better term, since you have clearly shown the abiguity of the term language suicide. All the same language suicide deserves a mention in the article language death but should be expanded to comment its abiguity.

Ony Moose 02.06.05