Written Form

Nicholas Ostler nostler at CHIBCHA.DEMON.CO.UK
Fri Dec 5 11:08:57 UTC 2003

At 1:19 pm +0000 1/12/03, Alasdair Macleod wrote:
>One claim I occasionally hear tossed at Scottish Gaelic is that Gaelic's
>high level of illiteracy (50$ of the 60,000 Gaelic speakers are unable to
>read and write proficiently in the language) makes it highly unusual, as
>well as primitive and unsustainable.
>I normally retort by stating that 'actually, over 80% of the world's
>languages do not exist in a written form' - but I must hold my hands up and
>admit that this statistic is completely made up (my only defence is that it
>sounds about right). Does anyone have a figure for this based on any sort of
>reliable/empirical evidence?
>Alasdair MacLeod

In 1999 Trond Trosterud did an informal survey on "How Many Written
Languages in the World?" in which he used availability of the gospel
in a language as a proxy for functioning literacy, and estimated that
two thirds of the world's languages do not have that level of written

Although his remarks originally appeared on the Endnagered Language
List, you can find them duly archived in an issue of the FEL
newsletter Ogmios.  If interested, have a look at:


I certainly find it one of the more useful factoids when discussing
endangerment in popular fora.

Regards to all

Nicholas Ostler
                        Nicholas  Ostler
              Foundation for Endangered Languages
		UK Registered Charity 1070616

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

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