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Language Attitudes

People have attitudes/feelings/beliefs about language in general, their language, and


the language of other people. They may feel that an unwritten language is not a 'real'
language. They may feel shame when other people hear their language. They may
believe that they can only know one language at a time. They may feel that the national
language is the best language for expressing patriotism, the best way to get a job, the
best chance at improving their children's future.
Attitudes cannot be observed directly but are demonstrated through actual behavior
for example, how people treat speakers of other languages (avoidance, approach), or in
their desire (or not) to learn another language. The convergence of ones speech to
conform to anothers speech suggests a positive attitude toward the others speech.
By the same token, divergence suggests an intention for the opposite outcome.
Attitudinal studies aid in identifying how people of one language group view the
personal character and social status of speakers of another language and how they form
associations about other languages. Therefore, the assessment of language attitudes
aids in grouping communities on the basis of their intergroup affinities and, in
combination with other methods, in estimating potential extensibility of materials.
Since attitudes cannot be studied directly, the assessment of language attitudes
requires asking such questions about other aspects of life. For example, a person can be
asked about their opinion of a person whose speech sample they just heard. The
responses reveal attitudes about both people and their language. Opinions and
attitudes are noted about how those being interviewed might be willing
to accommodate to the people and languages that they just heard on the recordings.
Language attitudes can be identified by simply asking why certain languages are in use
(or not). For example:

For what activities is the first language thought to be inadequate? Give reasons.

For what activities is the second or third language not thought to be adequate?
Give reasons.

Is it good to speak X language? Why?

Could someone who speaks only X language get a good job? Why?

What language do you think that God likes? Why?

Would you ever use (L2, trade language, national) forfuneral, singing, etc.

Can you think of a situation in which it is best not to use your mother tongue?
Why?

What is the most useful language to know around here? Give reasons.
Attitudes are personal beliefs, but there are patterns of attitudes throughout a
community. Similar people will have similar attitudes and a profile of the community can
be developed.

Language attitudes are opinions, ideas and prejudices that speakers have with respect to a language. For example, it is
often said that in order to learn a language, it often helps to have a positive attitude towards that language. Galician was
traditionally considered to be an unsuitable language for certain things, or that it should not be taught to children. Over
the years, attitudes have changed, and it is now harder to find openly hostile expressions towards Galician.

In general, Galicians have a positive attitude towards their language, especially the youth.
The vast majority (72%) thinks that children should be taught both languages and 21.4% think
that they should only be spoken to in Galician.
Some studies reveal that Galician, and language in general, plays a discrete role in the identity of
young people.

Measurement Techniques - What is a Language Attitude?

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of


Turku, Finland
Some language-attitudes studies are strictly limited to attitudes toward the language
itself. However, most often the concept of language attitudes includes attitudes
towards speakers of a particular language; if the definition is even further broadened,
it can allow all kinds of behavior concerning language to be treated (e.g. attitudes
toward language maintenance and planning efforts) (Fasold 1984: 148).
Attitudes are crucial in language growth or decay, restoration or destruction: the status
and importance of a language in society and within an individual derives largely from
adopted or learnt attitudes. An attitude is individual, but it has origins in collective
behaviour. Attitude is something an individual has which defines or promotes certain
behaviours. Although an attitude is a hypothetical psychological construct, it touches
the reality of language life. Baker stresses the importance of attitudes in the discussion
of bilingualism. Attitudes are learned predispositions, not inherited, and are likely to
be relatively stable; they have a tendency to persist. However, attitudes are affected by
experience; thus, attitude change is an important notion in bilingualism. Attitudes vary
from favourability to unfavourability. Attitudes are complex constructs; e.g. there may
be both positive and negative feelings attached to, e.g. a language situation (Baker
1988:112- 115).
According to Lambert (1967), attitudes consist of three components: the cognitive,
affective and conative components (Dittmar 1976: 181). The cognitive component
refers to an individual's belief structure, the affective to emotional reactions and the
conative component comprehends the tendency to behave in a certain way towards the
attitude (Gardner 1985: ).
The major dimensions along which views about languages can vary are social status
and group solidarity. The distinction of standard/nonstandard reflects the relative

social status or power of the groups of speakers, and the forces held responsible for
vitality of a language can be contributed to the solidarity value of it. Another
dimension, called ingroup solidarity or language loyalty, reflects the social pressures
to maintain languages/language varieties, even one without social prestige (Edwards
1982:20 .)
Fishman and Agheyisi (1970) have suggested that there is a mentalist and behaviourist
viewpoint to language attitudes. According to the mentalist view, attitudes are a
"mental and neutral state of readiness which cannot be observed directly, but must be
inferred from the subject's introspection". Difficulties arising from this viewpoint
include the question that from what data can attitudes be derived, and in what way are
they quantifiable. According to behaviourism, attitudes are a dependent variable that
can be statistically determined by observing actual behaviour in social situations. This
also causes problems; it can be questioned whether attitudes can be defined entirely in
terms of the observable data (Dittmar 1976: 181).
Fasold suggests that attitudes toward a language are often the reflection of attitudes
towards members of various ethnic groups (Fasold 1984: 148): people's reactions to
language varieties reveal much of their perception of the speakers of these varieties
(Edwards 1982: 20).
Many studies have demonstrated that judgements of the quality and prestige of
language varieties depend on a knowledge of the social connotations which they
possess. Thus, for instance, the use of dialects and accents would be expressions of
social preference, which reflect an awareness of the status and prestige accorded to the
speakers of these varieties. A prestige standard form of a language has no inherent
aesthetic or linguistic advantage over nonstandard varieties. The prestige is usually the
product of culture-bound stereotypes passed on from one generation to the other
(ibid., 21).
Le Page and Tabouret-Keller (1985) stress the importance of the nature of intergroup
relations in the discussion of language attitudes and uses: they vary as the nature of
intergroup relations changes. When relations change, status relationships, and
therefore perceptions, attitudes and uses, change. Speakers select their code from a
variety of socially marked models. Change takes place when the social values of the
models change and the behaviour of the speech community also changes (ibid, 172).

When studying language attitudes, the concept of motives is important. Two basic
motives are called instrumental and integrative motives. If L2 acquisition is
considered as instrumental, the knowledge in a language is considered as a "passport
to prestige and success". The speaker/learner considers the speaking/learning of
English as functional (Ellis 1991: 117). On the other hand, if a learner wishes to
identify with the target community; to learn the language and the culture of the
speakers of that language in order to perhaps be able to become a member of the
group, the motivation is called integrative. In generally, research has proved the
integrative motivation to have been more beneficial for the learning of another
language (Loveday 1982: 17-18). On the other hand, Gardner & Lambert, for
instance, have found out that where the L2 functions as a second language (i.e. it is
used widely in the society), instrumental motivation seems to be more effective.
Moreover, motivation derived from a sense of academic or communicative success is
more likely to motivate one to speak a foreign/second language (Ellis 1991: 118).