Any language must be used if it is to be passed onto future generations, this being especially true for co-official, endangered, indigenous, regional and minority languages (hereafter RMLs), that typically enjoy fewer opportunities of being spoken and used in everyday situations.
On many occasions RML speakers adopt self-censoring attitudes and switch to a majority language, thus avoiding using their own language. This switch to the majority language can happen even if their counterpart is perfectly able to understand the minority one, for instance, when the minority language is officially recognized, or when the language is understood in the surrounding context. It may also be the case that they continue to speak the majority language simply as a matter of habit, because this is what they are used to, even if they are both speakers of the minority language.
Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. It is a learnable skill and mode of communication. When applied to languages, it implies training people to express themselves in their own language whilst feeling calm and self-assured, as well as when people are uncertain if their counterparts are speakers of the same language.
The purpose of the LISTEN project is to give speakers of RMLs the means to act on their behaviour and to modify it by adopting strategies of linguistic assertiveness.
Co-official, endangered, indigenous, regional and minority languages, usually referred to as RMLs, have one thing in common: their speakers tend to switch to the dominant language in certain contexts and situations. They do so when there is a speaker of the dominant language around, or when they approach a stranger, or when they go to the shops or to work. Where the minority language is not officially supported the switch can be faster and more frequent. Why do people switch to the dominant or majority language so quickly in certain situations?
Psychologists have a name for this behaviour: submissiveness. Submissiveness is a spontaneous, self-induced suppression of a certain behaviour in favour of another one by virtue of habit, or of fear of punishment. Linguistic submissiveness happens when somebody stops speaking her or his minority language and switches to the other one, even when no-one has asked for this.
If someone is a speaker of Welsh and when entering a local shop in a Welsh-speaking area where they know that the staff speak Welsh yet they start to speak English, then that person is being linguistically submissive. If two speakers of Irish are having a conversation and then a stranger approaches them and they switch to English before being told anything, then they are being linguistically submissive.
There are many forms of linguistic submissiveness. All of them can create anxiety in the speaker and they often help to induce a sense of failure and helplessness. The good news is that it is a behaviour, and as such, it can be changed.
The LISTEN project is developing a methodology to train speakers of RMLs to modify their behaviour, reduce anxiety, and become confident speakers of their minority language. With time, practice, and goodwill, anyone can change his or her attitude and increase the frequency of social use of the language.