Are the World’s Languages Consolidating? The Dynamics and Distribution of Language Populations

Are the World’s Languages Consolidating? The Dynamics and Distribution of Language Populations

Authors

Published

The Economic Journal, October (4th Quarter/Autumn) 2015

Website

http:// onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ecoj.12257/abstract

Abstract

Scholars have long conjectured that the return to knowing a language increases with the number of speakers. Recent work argues that long-run economic and political integration accentuate this advantage, leading larger languages to increase their population share. I show that, to the contrary, language size and growth are uncorrelated for languages with 35,000 speakers. I incorporate this finding into an evolutionary model of language population dynamics. The model’s steady-state follows a power law and precisely fits the size distribution of the 1,900 languages with 35,000 speakers. Simulations suggest the extinction of 40% of languages with <35,000 speakers within 100 years.