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The phenomena of language maintenance and language shift are dependent upon social mechanisms that substantiate a speaker’s choice to maintain his or her language repertoire intact or facilitate shift to another language or other languages. But at a deeper level, those social mechanisms themselves are founded in motivations endemic to the society in question.
In research on the mechanisms for language shift in Melanesia, I studied two ethnolinguistic groups, the Gabobora and Doga, speakers of the Anuki and Doga languages respectively. These two groups live adjacent to one another along the north coast of the Cape Vogel Peninsula, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. They share remarkable similarities in terms of external characteristics, not only location, but also missionization history, education, potential for trade, natural resources, and even profiles of conflict. Yet, in spite of these similarities, their languages occupy opposing ends of the viability spectrum. Anuki, the language of the Gabobora, appears to be viable, while the Doga language is not.
This paper proposes an internal mechanism that is contributing to the divergent language outcomes (differing patterns of marriage alliances) and suggests the motivation behind that mechanism (postulating a link between land security and language choice), concluding with a hierarchical template that may be used assess relative language viability.