Measurement Techniques - What is a Language Attitude?

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of Turku, Finland

Some language-attitudes studies are strictly limited to attitudes toward the language itself. However, most often the concept of language attitudes includes attitudes towards speakers of a particular language; if the definition is even further broadened, it can allow all kinds of behavior concerning language to be treated (e.g. attitudes toward language maintenance and planning efforts) (Fasold 1984: 148).

Attitudes are crucial in language growth or decay, restoration or destruction: the status and importance of a language in society and within an individual derives largely from adopted or learnt attitudes. An attitude is individual, but it has origins in collective behaviour. Attitude is something an individual has which defines or promotes certain behaviours. Although an attitude is a hypothetical psychological construct, it touches the reality of language life. Baker stresses the importance of attitudes in the discussion of bilingualism. Attitudes are learned predispositions, not inherited, and are likely to be relatively stable; they have a tendency to persist. However, attitudes are affected by experience; thus, attitude change is an important notion in bilingualism. Attitudes vary from favourability to unfavourability. Attitudes are complex constructs; e.g. there may be both positive and negative feelings attached to, e.g. a language situation (Baker 1988:112- 115).

According to Lambert (1967), attitudes consist of three components: the cognitive, affective and conative components (Dittmar 1976: 181). The cognitive component refers to an individual's belief structure, the affective to emotional reactions and the conative component comprehends the tendency to behave in a certain way towards the attitude (Gardner 1985: ).

The major dimensions along which views about languages can vary are social status and group solidarity. The distinction of standard/nonstandard reflects the relative social status or power of the groups of speakers, and the forces held responsible for vitality of a language can be contributed to the solidarity value of it. Another dimension, called ingroup solidarity or language loyalty, reflects the social pressures to maintain languages/language varieties, even one without social prestige (Edwards 1982:20 .)

Fishman and Agheyisi (1970) have suggested that there is a mentalist and behaviourist viewpoint to language attitudes. According to the mentalist view, attitudes are a "mental and neutral state of readiness which cannot be observed directly, but must be inferred from the subject's introspection". Difficulties arising from this viewpoint include the question that from what data can attitudes be derived, and in what way are they quantifiable. According to behaviourism, attitudes are a dependent variable that can be statistically determined by observing actual behaviour in social situations. This also causes problems; it can be questioned whether attitudes can be defined entirely in terms of the observable data (Dittmar 1976: 181).

Fasold suggests that attitudes toward a language are often the reflection of attitudes towards members of various ethnic groups (Fasold 1984: 148): people's reactions to language varieties reveal much of their perception of the speakers of these varieties (Edwards 1982: 20).

Many studies have demonstrated that judgements of the quality and prestige of language varieties depend on a knowledge of the social connotations which they possess. Thus, for instance, the use of dialects and accents would be expressions of social preference, which reflect an awareness of the status and prestige accorded to the speakers of these varieties. A prestige standard form of a language has no inherent aesthetic or linguistic advantage over nonstandard varieties. The prestige is usually the product of culture-bound stereotypes passed on from one generation to the other (ibid., 21).

Le Page and Tabouret-Keller (1985) stress the importance of the nature of intergroup relations in the discussion of language attitudes and uses: they vary as the nature of intergroup relations changes. When relations change, status relationships, and therefore perceptions, attitudes and uses, change. Speakers select their code from a variety of socially marked models. Change takes place when the social values of the models change and the behaviour of the speech community also changes (ibid, 172).

When studying language attitudes, the concept of motives is important. Two basic motives are called instrumental and integrative motives. If L2 acquisition is considered as instrumental, the knowledge in a language is considered as a "passport to prestige and success". The speaker/learner considers the speaking/learning of English as functional (Ellis 1991: 117). On the other hand, if a learner wishes to identify with the target community; to learn the language and the culture of the speakers of that language in order to perhaps be able to become a member of the group, the motivation is called integrative. In generally, research has proved the integrative motivation to have been more beneficial for the learning of another language (Loveday 1982: 17-18). On the other hand, Gardner & Lambert, for instance, have found out that where the L2 functions as a second language (i.e. it is used widely in the society), instrumental motivation seems to be more effective. Moreover, motivation derived from a sense of academic or communicative success is more likely to motivate one to speak a foreign/second language (Ellis 1991: 118).

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