Dominant Language Transfer in Minority Language Documentation Projects: Some Examples from Brunei

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ISSN: 1934-5275

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Clynes, Adrian
dominant language transfer, minority language documentation, Brunei languages
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Language documentation often takes place in contexts of heavy language contact, where there is a shift in progress from a minority language to another culturally dominant language. For many younger speakers, the language of their parents is increasingly acquired as a second language, and their communication in this second language shows classic transfer effects, where transfer is “[a] general cover term for a number of different kinds of influence from languages other than the target language” on a learner’s acquisition of that target language (Ellis 1994:341). However, transfer can also been seen as a more pervasive phenomenon, “a constraint imposed by previous knowledge on a more general process, that of inferencing” (Schachter 1992:44). Considered in this light, transfer can influence far more than a given learner’s interlanguage. Assumptions, attitudes, and conceptual models associated with a culturally dominant language can all unconsciously influence assumptions made about minority languages. These can, in turn, affect various strategic decisions made in the documentation of such languages, including whether a given variety should be documented, which speakers should be recorded, which text types to collect, what orthography to use, even what constitutes a genuine feature of the lexis, phonology, morphology, and so on. This paper aims primarily to illustrate this phenomenon, and to explore ways of dealing with it. Dominant language influence needs to be taken into account at each stage of the documentation process, minimizing it where it is intrusive, and taking advantage of it where it can be of use.

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