“We did what we thought was best for our children”. A Nexus Analysis of Language Shift.

Pia Lane

Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo, Norway

WS152: Scales of Multilingualism: Towards a multi-layered analysis of linguistic diversity

Language shift is common in many bilingual communities (Fishman 1991). The loss of intergenerational language transmission can be seen as a choice the parents make, but in reality they do not always have a choice. Their actions are influenced by large-scale social factors such as language policies and attitudes towards minority languages.

Thus, social factors on the macro level influence the maintenance and loss of minority languages, but analysing how this affects the individual’s choices is difficult. The analysis is further complicated because it sometimes takes time before policies have an impact on the actions of individuals. Therefore, the time dimension is crucial for investigating language shift.

These issues will be addressed by an analysis of language shift in a Kven community in Northern Norway. The Kven went through a period of oppression, and the official Norwegian goal was to Norwegianise the minorities in the North. Today, the majority of the Kven population has shifted to Norwegian, but there are a few villages where Kven still is spoken. One of these is Bugøynes where everybody over the age of 60 still use Kven as their main everyday language. However, they spoke Norwegian only to their children and therefore there is no intergenerational transmission of Kven. The data come from recordings of conversations and sociolinguistic interviews addressing language choice. 15 hours were recorded and transcribed. Most express regret that they did not pass their language on to their children, stating that they did what they thought was in their children’s best interest. When this intergenerational language transmission was disrupted in the 1960s, the Norwegianisation policies had been lifted. At this point in time, nobody was forced or coerced into giving up their mother tongue or speaking Norwegian to their children. Even so, many of those who were interviewed explicitly refer to the Norwegianisation policies or their encounter with the Norwegian school. Thus there is a time lag between the policy implementation on the macrolevel and the actions of the individuals on the micro-level.

In order to analyse this language shift a theoretical and methodological framework which allows for a historical perspective is essential. The framework used for the analysis of data is Nexus Analysis which emphasises that discourses and the individual social actors have a history and that these therefore cannot be analysed without reference to the past (Scollon and Scollon 2004). Thus, the historical perspective is crucial: people, objects, mediational means and discourses are seen as having a history and projecting a future (de Saint Georges

2005). The language shift in Bugøynes illustrates how large-scale discourses such as the language policies get internalised and later materialised in action through language choice.


de Saint Georges, I. (2005). From Anticipation to Performance: Sites of Engagement as Performance. In: In: Norris, S. and Jones, R. H. (eds.). Discourse in Action. Introducing Mediated Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge, 155-165

Fishman, J. (1991) Reversing Language Shift Clevedon:Multilingual Matters

Scollon, Ron and Suzie Wong Scollon (2004). Nexus Analysis: Discourse and the Emerging Internet London: Routledge.

Session: Workshop
Scales of Multilingualism: Towards a multi-layered analysis of linguistic diversity
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 17