Book Review: The Changing Language Roles and Linguistic Identities of the Kashmiri Speech Community

This book is a must-read for sociolinguists interested in language as it relates to identity. It is also useful for those studying language planning and policy, politics of language, minority languages and dialects, and language loss and attrition. It provides a comprehensive overview of the existing body of literature on language and identity and can be valuable as a reference for any work that examines identity within speech communities. The unique context of this study, attrition in a language within its own homeland, makes it an essential reference for any linguist researching language loss in a non-immigrant speech community.

On a more broad level, this book provides a detailed account of cultural and linguistic changes that occur in a minority language speech community when it is overshadowed by the majority language’s power and prestige. This theme makes the book suitable as a required reading or reference for graduate courses on bilingualism or language planning and policy.

The content of this book is concise and well organized. The figures and tables in the book are attractive, easy to interpret, and provide insight into the author’s methodology. Concerning methodology, however, the book does not offer an elaborate account of respondent recruitment nor the specific research instruments employed in the process of data collection. Perhaps such information would detract from the overall purpose of the manuscript; that being said, the book seems to leave readers curious about methodological details. Nonetheless, the book presents all data in an appealing way. In addition, the appendices support the book’s content and provide excellent visual examples of changes in the Kashmiri speech community.

9781443879620In sum, the book provides a somber reminder of the influence social and political factors have on the usage and maintenance of any given language. Youth in the Kashmiri speech community increasingly consider Kashmir a “backward and useless language” (Bhat, 2017, p. 88) used by the rural and uneducated. These negative attitudes toward Kashmiri manifested themselves in quantitative data in this study that showed younger respondents had more lexical knowledge of Urdu than Kashmiri. Attrition, negative attitudes toward its speakers by outsiders, and the association of Kashmiri with “backwardness” are factors that indicate a bleak future ahead for the language.

As Bhat established in chapter one, language is tightly bound to culture, and linguistic identity is considered a major characteristic of language. A threat to a language is also a threat to the culture and identity of its speakers. The perceived prestige of Urdu in the Kashmiri speech community and the spread of English as a global language both pose a threat not only to Kashmiri as a language, but as a culture as well.

This study carries implications in the field of sociolinguistics. Minority language communities should be studied using a multifaceted approach that takes into account macrolevel and microlevel factors that contribute to language change and attrition. Studies of these unique speech communities must take into account linguistic and functional perspectives as well as attitudes held by the speakers themselves. These factors together provide a broader understanding of changes within a minority speech community such as that of Bhat’s study in the Kashmiri speech community.

Kelsey Harper is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University. Her dissertation research focuses on Peruvian immigrants in the United States and how this speech community adapts to a new cultural and linguistic setting where their variety of Spanish comes into contact with others. Her research interests include language and identity, Spanish in the United States, and foreign language pedagogy.

To read the review in full, click here. To find out more about The Changing Language Roles and Linguistic Identities of the Kashmiri Speech Community and to purchase a copy, click here.

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