Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 4, No 1 (2010)

Counting the losses: numbers as the language of language endangerment

Robert E Moore, Sari Pietikäinen, Jan Blommaert
Issued Date: 6 Oct 2010


This paper provides a set of critical reflections on the use(s) of numbers to communicate facts about the changing dynamics of speech communities undergoing language shift. Such numerical representations are widespread, and they are of important in segments of language expertise. After a literature survey of counting practices, the paper focuses on three language-ideological decisions underpinning language counting: First, decisions need to be made as to who counts as a speaker. In discussions of language endangerment, speaker counts are the most important single index of the endangered character of the language. Secondly, in order to count the number of distinct languages in a region, country, or world area, decisions must be made which privilege a notion of languages as bounded, closed, and geographically fixed entities. Finally, decisions need to be made with respect to the domains in which “small,” endangered, or minority languages continue to be used. From the discussion of domains we develop an alternative vision that centers not on distinct, named, countable languages, but on speakers and repertoires, and on the actual resources that speakers deploy in actual contexts. The contemporary situation of speakers of indigenous Sami, African and Native American languages will be drawn upon for examples.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v4i1.1


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