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 one’s speech to conform to another’s speech suggests a “positive attitude” toward the other’s 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) for…funeral, 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.