From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Killer language is a dominant language learned subtractively (at the cost of the mother tongues) rather than additively (in addition to mother tongues). Being a killer language is not an intrinsic characteristic of a language. Most major languages could be identified as “killers”. The process of killing a language by another one is sometimes called glottophagy, linguistic cannibalism, or language cannibalism.
World's killer languages
Today, English is the world’s most important killer language, but many others (such as Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, French, Hindi, Swedish, and Hausa) function as killer languages in relation to smaller or less powerful languages and cultures. There is a nested hierarchy of languages and glottophagy. For example, in Finland, Finnish functions as a killer language in relation to both immigrant minority languages in Finland, and to other, much smaller Finno-Ugric languages (e.g., Sami).
Spoken languages can function as killer languages in relation to sign languages, either through oralism (where deaf students are taught through speech and sign languages are excluded) or through the use of manually coded languages in deaf education. American Sign Language (ASL) has also threatened local sign languages (see Thai Sign Language).
Ways for language shifts
When speakers shift to another language and their native language falls to disuse, the new language functions as a killer language. Two theoretical paradigms explain this shift:
- In language death, languages just disappear naturally. Languages are seen as “committing suicide”; speakers are leaving them voluntarily for instrumental reasons and for their own good.
- In language murder, advocates of the killer language actively discourage use of other languages. Minority languages may be removed from the media and educational systems. Libraries may be set ablaze.
Social implications of language death
Even when a language shift occurs with what seems like the speakers’ consent, ideological factors behind this consent may be analyzed. In most cases, indigenous or minority parents who cease speaking their own language to their children, or who place their children in a dominant language school, have had no choice. A school with the minority language as the main medium of teaching might not exist, or the parents might not have enough research-based knowledge about what kind of education best supports their children's bilingual development. They also might not have enough knowledge of the long-term consequences of their choices. Many have been made to believe that the choice is between two extremes: either you speak your minority language to your child and enroll the child in a minority language school, so that the child learns your language and traditions but does not learn the dominant language, reducing her/his chances at getting a job, or you speak the dominant language and the dominant language is used as in schools, and then the child can more easily get a good job. Unfortunately, the implication is that you must sacrifice your own language and culture if you want to give your child the greatest social and economic advantage.