Morén-Duolljá Bruce Timothy bruce.moren at uit.no
Tue Oct 30 10:55:54 UTC 2012

I agree with Annika that distinguishing between L1 and L2 speakers is
artificial and misrepresentative when one is trying to assess the total
number of "speakers" of a language. The issue becomes even more confusing
when one realizes that many children who are regarded as "L1" learners by
the educational system (at least in Norway with respect to Lule Saami) get
most if not all of their language knowledge through the school system.
Their parents may not understand the language at all. These children are
clearly L2 speakers, but should they be included or excluded? On the other
hand, some people who are officially "L2" learners for administrative
reasons may actually be native L1 speakers who actively use the language
at home. Should they be included or excluded? I agree that
multilingualism, minority status, endangered status, etc. make the L1/L2
dichotomy highly problematic and thus should be avoided when assessing the
number of speakers. That said, I still think it is important to
distinguish between L1 and L2 (or whatever you want to call it in a more
nuanced way) when documenting and doing research on the languages
themselves. There are often important differences in the speech of
"native" and "non-native" speakers - even if they are all fluent. I guess
it all depends on what you are looking at and what your goal is.

I am not quite sure I understand what Annika means by "...there should be
strong evidence about diminishing speakers. There's no sense to replace
conjectured estimation with another..." Some of the previous numbers are
1) several decades old, 2) often claimed to be of mostly older
(middle-aged and elderly) speakers, 3) guesses made by people from outside
the language-speaking community, and 4) often proposed during a time of
less openness regarding minority language use. All of these factors
suggest that they may be terribly unreliable. Isn't it better to make use
of more recent estimates provided by the community itself - but taking
into account several possibly confounding factors if possible?


Bruce Morén-Duolljá, PhD
Senior Researcher
Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics
University of Tromsø
NO-9037 Tromsø
bruce.moren at uit.no
"I speak my favorite language because that's who I am.  We teach our
children our favorite language because we want them to know who they are."
- Christine Johnson, Tohono O'odham elder

On 30.10.12 10.35, "Annika Pasanen" <annika.pasanen at helsinki.fi> wrote:

>I've been discussing these numbers with Janne Saarikivi, but as far as
>I can see, it hasn't affected this list. Main points of my critics:
>-It's both impossible and unethic to ignore L2-speakers in such
>communities as most of the Saami groups and Livonians - communities,
>where there are stong revitalization efforts going on. As a researcher
>of revitalization I will not use any data based on this choice. All
>the concept of L1 speakers is simply oldfashioned and false in current
>context of most Uralic languages. Who are we to define, that a person,
>who has been learning the language of her/his own as an adult, would
>not be a speaker? And how could we even find out differences between
>L1 and L2 speakers, when we are facing the facts of endangerment of
>languages and bilingualism?
>-If numbers of speakers in this list are remarkably declined compared
>to earlier estimations, there should be strong evidence about
>diminishing speakers. There's no sense to replace conjectured
>estimation with another, although there would be some kind of "common
>feeling", that there are not so many speakers as it has been
>estimated. For example, number of speakers of Inari Sami has
>"traditionally" been 350. I personally have assumed some years ago,
>that it might be more likely 300 - but since I haven't studied the
>situation systematically, I have used the number 350. There are new L2
>speakers emerging to the community all the time - and yes, more than
>old mother tongue speakers are dying - so even if 350 speakers would
>have been too optimistic estimation 5 years ago, it might actually be
>now quite correct.
>At least in cases of Livonian, Inari Saami and Skolt Saami, these
>aspects mean a lot, and I really hope that they will have an effect on
>the list.
>Best wishes, Annika Pasanen, Inari-Aanaar
>Lainaus "Florian Siegl" <florian.siegl at gmx.net>:
>> Over the last month, the Department of Finno-Ugric studies in
>> Helsinki has collected and re-evaluated existing statistical data
>> concerning estimated numbers of speakers (!) of individual Uralic
>> languages. As this data is biased, we have decided to make our
>> estimations available on Ura-List in order to gather feedback and
>> suggestions. The overall intention is NOT to present an exact number
>> of speakers (see also principles in the attached file) which would
>> result in a sanctioned list, but to arrive at a reasonably realistic
>> estimation which can be used e. g. in teaching, research or PR work.
>> Although this should not need any further explanation, we wish to
>> exemplify this with two instances which demonstrate the urgency of
>> such an endeavor; the number of Lule Saami speakers has been
>> estimated as roughly 1500-2000, and this number has been around for
>> a longer period. Recent estimations from within the Lule Saami
>> community operate with roughly 700 speakers only ? the resulting
>> discrepancy is 50%. A similar case is to be expected for Forest
>> Nenets. The number of speakers has been reported exceeding 1000 for
>> quite a while now, but may actually not exceed 700 when taking
>> general demographic trends into consideration.
>> Further, several languages were once a while reported as extinct (e.
>> g. Livonian, Ume Saami and Pite Saami) though for all languages L1
>> speakers could still be found. Possibly Akkala Saami could also be
>> added to this list.
>> As Ura-List, unfortunately, does not stimulate much online
>> discussion, we encourage subscribers to comment this particular
>> matter online. Of course, we also welcome offline comments. These
>> should be sent to florian.siegl at helsinki.fi
>> <mailto:florian.siegl at helsinki.fi>. Please state on which kind of
>> evidence your assumptions rest and if possible provide links to
>> further online resources, own work etc. Please also state if we are
>> allowed to quote your data/assumption publicly as p. c. if this
>> would become necessary.
>> A summary will be posted on Ura-List. A more ?official? mode of
>> representation is currently also thought of perhaps resulting in an
>> updated version of the 1992 map /Geographical Distribution of the
>> Uralic Languages/ (then compiled by Grünthal & Salminen). A suitable
>> online forum is also currently debated on.
>> Last, but not least, please forward this message to colleagues and
>> language activists who are not subscribers of Ura-List.
>> Florian Siegl
>> PhD, researcher
>> Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies,
>> P.O.Box 24
>> FIN-00014 University of Helsinki
>> Finland
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