written form

Julia Sallabank julia at TORTEVAL.DEMON.CO.UK
Sun Dec 7 17:51:02 UTC 2003

Many thanks for this, very interesting.

I've also written an article on this topic, 'Writing in an unwritten
language', for Reading Working Papers in Linguistics 6: see

Best wishes


----- Original Message -----
From: "H. Russell Bernard" <ufruss at UFL.EDU>
Sent: Friday, December 05, 2003 10:45 PM
Subject: written form

> Michal Brody wrote, in response to Alsadair McCleod's query:
>  >> Fishman 1999 (Handbook of lg & ethnic identity) claims 25% of world
> now have writing. Don't know how he arrived at that number, though.
> this brings up an important distinction between having an orthography and
> having a tradition of printed literature. many languages of the world have
> writing, in the sense that at least one orthography has been proposed by a
> linguist, bilingual educator, missionary, or local language committee.
> few languages of the world, however, have printed literary traditions,
> continual production of affordable reading materials. of the 6129
> in the ethnologue for which data on the number of speakers is available,
> just 331 (around 5%) are spoken by at least one million people. those 331
> languages are spoken by a total of about 5.6 billion people out of about
> 6.3 billion people in the world. thus, about 89% of the world's people
> speak 5% of the world's languages. turn it around for a more dramatic
> outcome: 11% of the world's people speak about 95% of the world's
> taking this one step further, 1742 of the 6129 languages for which the
> number of speakers is estimated in the ethnologue (28% of all languages)
> are spoken by just 1000 or fewer speakers. the total number of speakers
> these 1742 languages is about 600,000. in other words, 0.0001 (one
> hundredth of one percent) of the world's people speak about 28% of the
> world's languages. it's a good bet that the vast majority of those
> languages have no literary tradition, even if someone has produced an
> orthography or a dictionary or a grammar or translations of the
> judeo-christian bible or other sacred texts.
> for more on the power of print for small language communities, please see:
> http://nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu/~ufruss/commodit.html
> russ bernard
> H. Russell Bernard
> Professor of Anthropology
> University of Florida

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