Language Maintenance and Language Shift among Keralites in Oman

Author: Dr Binu PM

Keywords: code-mixing, code shifting, Keralites in Oman, language maintenance, language shift, the local language, multilingual, multicultural, and sociolinguistics.


This study explores the current status of language maintenance (LM) and language shift (LS) among Keralites, popularly known as ‘Malayalees,’ living in Oman. It analyses the leading factors that affect language maintenance and language shift: a particular focus is given to identifying the various domains in which language maintenance is facilitated; the attitudes held by the Keralite parents and their children towards their first language (L1), the initiatives taken by parents, religious and cultural organizations; and the role of educational institutions in promoting language maintenance. Data for this study have been gathered from semi-structured interviews and participant observation of Keralites who have lived in Oman for more than ten years. Analysis of the data indicates that while parents value their mother tongue as their first language and take various measures to maintain it, second-generation children are not keenly attached to L1. Instead, their first language oracy is strikingly marked with code-switching and code shifting, and their writing skills in L1 are diminishing. Refuting the previous findings, the present study reveals that language shift is a temporary phenomenon, and it does not take place at the cost of L1. On the contrary, various factors contribute to the maintenance of their heritage language. Also, the migrant Keralites, as a result of their living abroad, acquire two or three more new languages: English, Hindi, and Arabic depending on their study and work domains, thereby making them a multilingual society. Language shift can gradually result in linguicide, which can have various effects such as alienation from and the loss of culture and cultural values. It is expected that this study will unveil if there is a language shift of a severe nature among the Keratitis in Oman.