PhD thesis, 'Reversing Babel - Declining linguistic diversity and the flawed attempts to protect it'

Dave Sayers dave.sayers at CANTAB.NET
Tue Nov 10 21:08:43 UTC 2009

(Apologies for cross-posting)

Dear all,

I recently completed my PhD thesis at the University of Essex, UK, and I
think it could be of interest to some readers.The thesis is downloadable
from here:

Please do pass this on to anyone you think may be interested; I'd be
thrilled to hear from anyone with any thoughts, comments or questions,
however short or long.

The abstract is as follows, for reference:

This is an investigation about linguistic diversity, examining its decline
in different societal conditions over the last century, and interrogating
claims in language policy and planning to be ‘protecting linguistic
diversity’, using the UK as its main example.

Chapter 1 comprises a review of variationist sociolinguistics, showing how
it has never fully defined linguistic diversity. Adjustments are suggested,
and a working definition of linguistic diversity offered.

Chapter 2 presents data from two major nationwide dialect surveys, in 1889
and 1962, showing how local dialects were weakening in this period. The main
focus is declining diversity, but information is presented about possible
conditioning factors, primarily increases in literacy.

In the absence of such nationwide reports after 1962, Chapter 3 collates
individual dialect studies from two regions of England, the northeast and
southeast, describing dialect convergence across these large geographical
areas. These changes are contrasted to those reported in Chapter 2. Again
the main theme is declining diversity, but information is reviewed to help
explain these contrasts, primarily increases in geographical mobility in the
latter half of the 20th century, concentrated around these regions.

Chapter 4 examines dialect weakening that some researchers have attributed,
at least in part, to the media. This also represents a change in societal
conditions undergirding declining diversity. Some theoretical work is done
to distinguish such changes from those observed in Chapter 3.

Chapter 5 reviews the rhetoric of minority language policy and planning, and
its frequent and explicit claims to be ‘protecting linguistic diversity’.
The insights developed in Chapters 1-4 are applied to two modern UK language
revivals, Cornish and Welsh, to see how diversity overall is faring here.

The conclusion sums up the gaps in our thinking about linguistic diversity,
and clarifies the limitations of planned interventions upon language.

Thanks everyone,

Dr. Dave Sayers
Honorary Research Fellow
School of the Environment and Society
Swansea University
dave.sayers at
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