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Case report

Universals of Language Maintenance, Shift and Change

Wolfgang Wölck

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Since Greenberg the recognition of linguistic universals has been the backbone of
language typology. Earlier Garvin had already divided universals into absolute and potential
ones, the former uncontested cornerstones of linguistic theory, the latter commonly
accepted generalizations among experienced professionals. The 'universals' to be
discussed here are of the latter type: tried and tested principles of language maintenance
and of language change, whose applicability has been established in numerous
language contact and conflict situations in different communities. Among the principles
displayed and discussed are the following: Fishman's 'intergenerational dislocation' of
language reproduction; Haugen's 'dialect fragmentation' of languages vs. Garvin's
'unification' and standardization; Fishman's claim of the complementary distribution
of language functions as a guarantee of stable bilingualism; Wölck's disparate distribution
of minority language maintenance along the social scale. Evidence for those and
some other 'universals' of language maintenance and change will be provided from a
30-year longitudinal survey of Quechua-Spanish bilingualism in Peru; from Seneca-
English bilingualism in New York; from studies of diglossia in Scotland and North
Germany, of German-Hungarian bilingualism in Hungary from the Ladin survey in Italy
and the Sorbian Project in Germany, and from the EUROMOSAIC survey.


universals; language maintenance; language change; bilingualism

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