Associate 2010-11

Rakesh Mohan Bhatt


Understanding Language Obsolescence: Kashmiri in a Comparative Context

The many languages of India appear to be insulated from the global linguistic phenomenon where “weaker” languages are expected gradually to disappear. So far the multiplicity of languages has resulted in communicative creativity, accommodation, language maintenance, and fierce language loyalty. Yet within the overall healthy context of Indian multilingualism, the Kashmiri language appears to be an exception.

Professor Bhatt is undertaking a close study of Kashmiri to examine several areas: (a) questions of language choices, as they present epistemological tension between past cultural memory and present economic advantage; (b) questions of identity and difference, and the ways in which new identities are shaped and negotiated; and (c) questions of how speakers understand their own historical-linguistic identity.

The goal of Professor Bhatt’s research is to provide cross-linguistic generalizations of the phenomenon of language obsolescence, focusing on languages that are spoken by majority populations but are nonetheless marginalized. He will thus compare the Kashmiri situation with communities of the South Asian diaspora in the British Isles, rapid language shift and recent language-revitalization efforts among Corsican and Breton speakers, the language shift to Greek among Arvanitika speakers in Greece, and patterns of language shift and loss among Tamils in Singapore and Malaysia.

This comparative perspective will yield a common set of sociolinguistic features and a framework of variables that allows predictions about language obsolescence. The framework might also serve as a guide to what is desirable, what is possible, and what is likely in the context of language maintenance, language revitalization, and reversing language shift/loss among marginalized language populations worldwide. Cambridge University Press has contracted to publish the resulting book manuscript.