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A global profile of language development versus language endangerment

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Title: A global profile of language development versus language endangerment
Authors: Simons, Gary
Lewis, Paul
Issue Date: 01 Mar 2013
Description: One of the lasting contributions of Fishman’s (1991) seminal book, Reversing Language Shift, is GIDS — the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale. He developed GIDS as a measuring rod for the level of threat to long-term language maintenance. The scale has eight levels (numbered 1 to 8) representing increasing levels of threat or disruption. At level 1, representing virtually no threat, is an official national language with a standardized written form that is used for the business of government and passed to the next generation through a national system of compulsory education. At level 8, representing virtually assured language death, is a language spoken only by the elderly. The six levels in between represent successively fewer functions for language in society as the level of disruption increases. The basic premise of GIDS is that language shift happens as languages lose functions in society. To reverse language shift, the community must engage in language development activities to bring those functions back and to even add new functions that further strengthen the position of the language (like writing and use in formal education).

GIDS is well elaborated on the safe end, but has only two levels on the endangered end. By contrast, the scale developed by the UNESCO Expert Meeting on Safeguarding Endangered Languages (Brenzinger and others 2003) identifies four levels of endangerment, but does not distinguish different levels on the safe end of the scale. We have developed an Extended GIDS (Authors 2010) by harmonizing GIDS, the UNESCO scale, and categories used in Ethnologue (Lewis 2009). The EGIDS is a 13-level scale which recognizes the following levels (from highest to lowest): International, National, Provincial, Wider Communication, Educational, Developing, Vigorous, Threatened, Shifting, Moribund, Nearly Extinct, Dormant, Extinct.

The paper will present the results of our efforts to assign an EGIDS level to every known language enumerated in the ISO 639-3 standard (ISO 2007). Since EGIDS differentiates levels of development as well as levels of endangerment, we can report not only on the extent of language endangerment worldwide, but also on the extent of language development. For instance, we find that of 7,065 known living languages, 12% are dying (8a and lower) and 21% are in trouble (6b and 7). By contrast, 10% have attained the relative safety of institutionalization (4 and higher) and 19% are vigorous with development taking place (5). This leaves 38% that are still vigorous, but not developing (6a).
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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