stats on speakers of dying languages

Nicholas D.M. Ostler nostler at
Mon Oct 21 11:28:39 UTC 1996

At  8:38 pm 20/10/96 -0400, Joanna Martin <Xunaan at> wrote:
>I wonder if any of you might have old copies of Ethnologue or similar sources
>of statistics on endangered languages, which I might acquire through
>inter-library loan or by some other means.  My need is not for current stats
>as these are easily come by, but for older statistics which would facilitate
>a diachronic study.  Can anyone direct me to these sources?
I cannot unfortunately offer any concrete help to Joanna, but I would like
to endorse the importance of what she is trying to do.

When we were writing the Manifesto for the Foundation for Endangered
Languages last year, we naturally wanted to base our call for action on
some hard factual evidence.  The problem, as we found it, is that although
there is plenty of evidence that many languages have extremely small
speaker populations, convincing (or indeed any) pre-modern census data for
languages (especially the 85% with less than 100,000 speakers) just isn't

So we are left with the paradox that although everyone with hands-on
experience of working with small languages believes that the majority of
them are in danger, we can't actually demonstrate quantitatively that there
is a general direction in which the juggernaut of world language
populations is moving.

Perhaps, however, I am missing something, and someone more sophisticated
than I (e.g. in demography) can point out plausible ways of deriving
proxies for actual time series data on populations.  If so, I'd like to
hear from them.

                           Nicholas Ostler
Managing Director                                               President
Linguacubun Ltd                       Foundation for Endangered Languages

                Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane
                Bath       BA1 7AA       England
                +44-1225-85-2865 fax +44-1225-85-9258
                nostler at

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