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The impact of religion on language maintenance and shift

  • Seong Lin Ding (a1) and Kim Leng Goh (a1)


This article explores religious impact on language maintenance and language shift in two Hakka communities in Malaysia. While research has shown a trend towards language shift in these communities, whether religious institutions can play a role in heritage language maintenance remained unclear. The key findings are as follows: (i) language use patterns differ among various religious groups; (ii) this difference is due mainly to religious practices, that is, whether a heritage language is used as the ‘language of religion’; and (iii) most religious institutions, except Taoist temples and Basel churches, seem to fuel shifting. However, the tendency to move towards the ‘bi-language of religion’ threatens even the efforts of Basel churches. The study indicates interesting possibilities regarding religious impact but also shows, paradoxically, that the priority of Hakka-based religious institutions is to promote their religions, not to sustain the threatened heritage language. (Language maintenance, language shift, religious impact, Hakka Chinese community)*


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Seong Lin Ding Faculty of Languages and Linguistics University of Malaya, Lembah Pantai 50603Kuala Lumpur,


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We owe much gratitude to Jenny Cheshire and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments to improve the earlier version of the article. We are grateful to Chee Beng Tan, Mark Sebba, Mohana Nambiar, and Kee Cheok Cheong for their very helpful advice. We would also like to express our sincere appreciation to Wan Hee Leong, Tsen Nyuk Vun, Stephen Then, Liew Vui Ket, Lee Swee Tin, Ku Tshin Yun, Yong Yin Loong, Ngian Seng Chue, Lee Say Hin, Chai Ten Boon, Lai Shey Hiong, Vong Fa Khin, Chin Chee Nam, Chin Siew Ket, Annie Voo, and all of the respondents for their support on this project. The research was funded by University Malaya Research Grant (Project number RP007B-14HNE).



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The impact of religion on language maintenance and shift

  • Seong Lin Ding (a1) and Kim Leng Goh (a1)


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