The Endangered Language and Cultures blog (“about linguistics, language documentation, research technology, and generally everything to do with endangered languages and cultures… predominantly written by linguists Jane Simpson and Peter Austin”) recently had a post called “Small and strong” that begins:

Alongside all the talk about Last Speakers and loss of particular endangered languages, it is important to remember that not all the world’s minority languages are endangered. Languages can be small (having relatively few speakers) and yet be strong, in the sense that they are spoken by everyone in the community and show no signs of language shift or replacement by some other language.

A reminder of this came last month when Steven Bird sent a message to RNLD email discussion list asking:

Can anyone suggest the names of languages having small speaker populations that still have a good level of intergenerational transfer and good survival prospects?

elicited a number of responses that identified small and strong languages in Africa, Brazil, and the Australia-Pacific region (probably reflecting more the readership of the RNLD list rather than anything particular about these regions). The full details are here (scroll down to topic 13), but I thought a short summary might be of interest to readers of this blog.

It’s nice to see a description of languages that aren’t actually in the process of dying out, which can get depressing to read about, and there’s a brief but interesting discussion in the comment thread (including Claire Bowern, who helped pick the Australian languages for the list). Thanks, Paul!


  1. ToussianMuso says

    I couldn’t get at the list; is (Northern/Southern) Toussian among the African languages named? It rarely gets a public mention, but Northern Toussian is the minority language I’ve studied, and it definitely has strong intergenerational transfer, as well as strong bilingualism among its speakers. And Southern Toussian also has an orthrography.

  2. The “full details” are no longer available, and the Wayback Machine has no record of that particular listserv entry, but for what it’s worth, here’s the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity page.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    There are plenty of minority West African languages which are going strong and give no impression of giving up any time soon, but the criterion for “small” here seems pretty stringent: the examples are all of a few thousand speakers at most.

    My own favourite, Kusaal, has hundreds of thousands of speakers (and increasing), so I guess it just doesn’t make the cut. Happily.

    “Stable polyglossia” seems relatively common in Africa, though.

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