Modeling Language Endangerment Status with Geographic Predictors

Authors: Kirsten Helgeson*, University of Hawaii - Manoa
Topics: Quantitative Methods, Indigenous Peoples, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: language endangerment, language vitality, agriculture, R, statistical analysis, indigenous communities, elevation, big data, language modeling
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since Krauss’ seminal call-to-arms in 1992, linguists around the world have been paying more attention to the dire prediction that most of the world’s languages will be gone in the next century. Several measures of language endangerment have been developed (e.g. Fishman 1991; Lewis & Simons 2010; and Lee & Van Way 2016) based on factors considered to be indicative (but not predictive) of language maintenance or decline, such as speaker number trends, official status of the language, and domains of use. In a recent edition of Language (December 2017), Mufwene called for a new science of language vitality, arguing that we need such a theoretical underpinning to better contextualize current endangerment trends. Emerging research is also finding links between language vitality and measures of health in indigenous communities, indicating that there may be deeper connections between language endangerment and other social and environmental factors.
This paper contextualizes language endangerment more broadly by evaluating relationships between language endangerment and various geographic factors: elevation, distance from coast, geographic region, and agriculture type. This is done through quantitative analyses of large, open-access datasets in R (statistical analysis software). The results of a cumulative link model (CLM) suggest that hunter-gatherer societies are significantly more likely to have a higher level of language endangerment than average, and societies at higher elevations are significantly more likely to have a lower level of endangerment. Evaluating such factors as potential risks for or protective factors against language endangerment may contribute to the development of language vitality theory.

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