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The Sociolinguistic Problem of Generations Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jan 8th, 2022


Linguists are in agreement that several aspects of language do change from one generation to the other. However, according to Suslak (2009), both linguists and other people in the society view this change as happening “across static generational grids” (p. 199). This means that the language is seen as changing, but the generations are the same- they do not change over time. Suslak (2009) is of the view that this observation is misleading and erroneous. To avoid such mistakes, scholars such as Irvine (2004) and Bucholtz (2002) argue that age should not be taken as a mere independent variable in linguistic change. Rather, it should be conceptualized as a dimension of identity that is as sophisticated as other identity factors such as gender, social status and ethnic identity. Furthermore, age as a factor in linguistic change is constructed just like the other factors.

Suslak (2009) is of the view that the above observation of age been more than just an independent variable holds especially in cases where language shift is evident.

It is against this background that Suslak (2009) conducted a study on linguistic shift within the context of generational change. In an essay published in the journal of Language & Communication in 2009, Suslak critically reviews the idea of inter-generational relations and youth identity (2009: p. 199). This is especially how linguists and linguistic anthropologists have used this idea. In this article, Suslak also gives recommendations on how to integrate linguistic dimensions on generational identity in the linguistic field, especially in the study of linguistic change.

In this paper, the author is going to critically review the article that Suslak (2009) wrote on this issue. The author will provide a summary of the article and offer comments on aspects arising from it. They will also explain how the study can be applied to various social settings, and try to relate it to the case of Saudi Arabia.

Summary of the Article

Suslak (2009) introduces the article by giving a Chickasaw story that was distributed by the Chickasaw Nation in the year 2005. The story was a comic series titled Chickasaw Adventures, which was an educational depiction of the history of this ethnic group. Copies of this story were distributed to every Chickasaw household, while other copies were distributed through other channels such as online and local stores’ sales (Suslak, 2009).

The book narrates the story of a teenager from this ethnic group who, by utilizing the powers of a sacred ritual object, is able to travel back over time and access the history of the community. The teenager has always been complaining that his grandfather is denying him the chance of being a boy and living like one. However, after traveling through the history of the community and experiencing what they had to go through in the past, he becomes appreciative of the stories that his grandfather is telling him (Suslak, 2009).

According to Suslak (2009), this story gives the scenario as it is today, where the youth and the older generation read from different scripts as far as language is concerned.

When writing this article, Suslak had several objectives in mind. The first was to analyze how age categories are identified and reproduced by the youth and other people in the society (Suslak, 2009). The second objective was to analyze how the use of language affects this process. Suslak also sought to find out how various ways of speaking are identified and associated with the youth. Finally, the author sought to find out when and how speaking youthfully becomes a concern to a community (Suslak, 2009).

Suslak (2009) is of the view that communities have various ways of reckoning age, and in extension the youth. The age is stretched, distorted or replaced all together, a fact that varies from one society to the other (Irvine, 2004). These changes, according to Bucholtz (2002), do affect other aspects of life. For example, these changes extend to the patterns of language use in the society (Suslak, 2009).

In order to comprehend processes like language shift and linguistic obsolescence, Suslak (2009) is of the view that scholars must pay attention to the way linguistic developments depict age identity and “generational group membership” (201).

The article goes ahead to argue that language use declines over various generations of speakers in the society (Suslak, 2009). The language shift is also accompanied by language loss, given the fact that the various generations use various forms of linguistic resources (Suslak, 2009). Various scholars attribute aspects of language shift to different dimensions in the society. This is for example failed inter-generational transfer of linguistic and other forms of cultural knowledge in the community (Suslak, 2009). For example, the lack of contact between children and parents leads to lack of transfer of knowledge from one generation to the other.

Sociologists concur with linguists as far as the loss of language is concerned. They are of the view that this arises from the “problem of generations” (Suslak, 2009: p. 202). There are generational gaps, and these arise when people from one generation regard themselves as different from others in different generation groups.

Suslak (2009) is of the view that the label “youth” or “teen” varies from one community to the other. For example, a teen in Mexico may be younger than a teen in Nepal. This different labeling of youth and age brackets in general reflects the different linguistic shifts that exist as far as generational gap is concerned.

According to Irvine (2004), youngsters who spend a lot of time with their grandparents are competent as far as using the endangered language is concerned. This is called “the grandparent effect”, and it enables the transfer of linguistic and cultural knowledge from one generation to the other.

Critical Reflections

The central theme in this article is linguistic changes that take place from one generation to the other. I agree with most of the arguments that are brought to fore in this article. This is given the fact that these generational gaps are evident in contemporary society, even in Saudi Arabia. For example, it is not uncommon in this country to encounter scenarios where the young generation lacks deep knowledge of their language. Some aspects of the language are lost to the young generation.

I also agree with the argument that contacts with grandparents increase the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the other. Even in this country, those youngsters who are in constant contact with their grandparents have a deeper knowledge of their community language than those who do not experience such contacts. This is a significant observation especially to those instructors who are teaching community languages to Arab youths.


Bucholtz, M. (2002). Youth and cultural practices. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 525–552.

Irvine, J. (2004). Say when: Temporalities in language ideology. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 14(1), 99–109.

Suslak, D. F. (2009). The sociolinguistic problem of generations. Language & Communication, 29, 199-209.

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