Ferguson's schema for written & standardization categories

M. Paul Lewis Paul_Lewis at sil.org
Thu May 10 17:09:59 UTC 2007


Thanks for reminding us of the Ferguson article.

Some of my colleagues and I have been  looking at using Fishman's GIDS 
(Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale) as a means of categorizing the 
status of "development" of various language communities. Fishman, of 
course, intended it to be used as a measure of disruption, but taking his 
GIDS Stage 6 as the general norm (most of the world's languages that are 
being transmitted intergenerationally are there) we're looking at what 
kinds of language-based development activities would be required or 
indicated to help them move "up one stage" to Stage 5 (widespread use of 
literacy that language in the community). Similarly, following Fishman's 
RLS (Reversing Language Shift) agenda, what would it take for a language 
community that is at Stage 7 (incipient loss and shift) to be restored to 
full intergenerational oral transmission at Stage 6?

The W and S scales suggested by Ferguson might give a finer-grained way of 
describing what Stage 5 (and upward) would or could look like in each 
situation and so provide a blueprint or agenda for corpus planning 


M. Paul Lewis
SIL International
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Dallas, TX 75236

Voice: (972) 708-7521
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"Don Osborn" <dzo at bisharat.net> 
Sent by: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
05/09/2007 09:41 PM
Please respond to
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Ferguson's schema for written & standardization categories

I came across a 1962 article by Charles A. Ferguson entitled “The Language 
Factor in International Development” (Anthropological Linguistics 4(1): 
23-27) in which a simple schema for measuring relative language 
“development” (quotes are his) according to degree of use in writing and 
degree of standardization. Ferguson puts this forth as a “first 
I summarize his system below. I’m interested in knowing if anyone has 
tried to apply and/or develop this further. I realize that such a concept 
of hierarchies is problematic and even if one accepts the principle, its 
application is not easy (IOW the boundaries defining the categories are 
not so clear). However I am looking at it for two reasons:
1)      as a possible way of sketching the language situation for language 
planning purposes (straying here into ground that is not my 
specialization) – can it be useful to have sense of language use from 
application of such categories despite whatever shortcomings?
2)      in localization of ICT there is another kind of categorization 
happening, and that is the level of technical resource endowment for 
languages. Terms like “under-resourced” languages have emerged to describe 
the situation of minority languages without much in to facilitate their 
use in computing or the internet. In 2004 Vincent Berment completed a 
thesis on this subject in which he also proposed using Greek letter as 
neutral terms for the level of endowment: tau (well resourced), mu 
(moderately well resourced), and pi (poorly resourced). Such discussions 
focusing on technology however, and whatever terms are used, are difficult 
without reference to other basic measures. Berment seems to recognize 
this, but is it useful to separately analyze such basic (non technical) 
measures as writing and standardization. The object in this case is to 
provide richer information for localization strategies.
Anyway, it’s a current small area of interest that I’m trying to gather 
more information on.
The scales proposed by Ferguson for discussion are:
(level of writing of a language)
W.0 – not used for written purposes
W.1 – used for normal written purposes
W.2 – original research in physical sciences regularly published
W.3 – languages in which translations and resumés of scientific work in 
other languages are regularly published.
(level of standardization)
St.0 – a language in which there is no important amount of standardization
St.1 – (this category he recognizes to pose some challenges, but involves 
situations where there is more than one standard)
St.2 – a language which has a single, widely accepted norm which is felt 
to be appropriate with only minor modifications or variations for all 
purposes and for which the language is used.
Thanks in advance for any information or thoughts.
Don Osborn

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