[lg policy] Forwarded from Paul Lewis at SIL

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 12 17:23:23 UTC 2011

> From: Paul Lewis <paul_lewis at sil.org>
> Date: April 11, 2011 9:16:29 PM EDT
> To: Christina Paulston <paulston at pitt.edu>, Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
> Subject: RE: [lg policy] A request
> Dear Christina and all on the Lg Policy List:
> Thank you for the nice words about the Ethnologue!
> The data we have on populations of language speakers are probably the most contested and oft-questioned of all that we report. At the country level, we generally rely on national census data.  In the case of Pakistan, the date we have for that information is the year 2000. Christina suggested she might comment on census data - and I'm sure she'll point out that national census protocols for collecting language data are rife with problems and notoriously inconsistent both internally and across national boundaries.
> For individual languages, especially larger and more widespread languages, the population of L1 speakers is often also derived from census reports or (perhaps worse) from a variety of different sources which are aggregated. The 16th edition of the Ethnologue (2009) reports 60,600,000 L1 speakers of Punjabi [pnb] in Pakistan and about another 1.5 million elsewhere. Clearly with such a large population it is difficult to imagine that the language as a whole is seriously or imminently endangered, but that doesn't mean that language shift might not be incipient.
> Without having gone to our sources to look at the details (mainly for technical reasons just now), I'd suggest that the growth in Punjabi L1 speaker population seems consistent with normal biological growth generally.  The statistic that we don't have--which would be particularly helpful in this discussion--is the ethnic population number, i.e., how many people identify themselves as being associated with the Punjabi language and identity.  That number compared over time with the number of L1 speakers would be a better indicator of language maintenance or shift than simply reporting the raw number of speakers. If an increasing number of self-identifying Punjabis are not speakers, then there is cause to be concerned.
> Apart from that, what further complicates the majority/minority question being raised is the fact that from all that has been reported, Punjabi is a Low language in the language ecology of Pakistan.  Even though it has been developed, it seems to share many of the features of what Ferguson described as "Low" and as a result might appear in more recent terms to be "minoritized" (even by its own speakers) in spite of their large numbers and its widespread use. That, in itself, is not sufficient evidence to declare that Punjabi is on the decline. As is well known, languages in such a High/Low relationship have been maintained for very long periods of time. So the fact that even speakers of the language think poorly of it, is not sufficient evidence of language shift either.
> The most central factor in evaluating language maintenance and shift is intergenerational transmission.  If adults are not transmitting the language to children (in the home, neighborhood, community), then the number of L1 speakers will inevitably decline.
> All the best,
> M. Paul Lewis, PhD.
> Editor, Ethnologue: Languages of the World (www.ethnologue.com)
> Sociolinguistics Consultant, SIL International / SIL Asia Area (www.sil.org)

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