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

34 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2017

Date Written: February 2017

Abstract

Scholars have conjectured that the return to speaking a language increases with the number of speakers. Long‐run economic and political integration would accentuate this advantage, increasing the population share of the largest languages. I show that, to the contrary, language size and growth are uncorrelated except for very small languages (< 35,000 speakers). I develop a model of local language coordination over a network. The steady‐state distribution of language sizes follows a power law and precisely fits the empirical size distribution of languages with ≥ 35,000 speakers. Simulations suggest the extinction of 40% of languages with < 35,000 speakers within 100 years.

Suggested Citation

Clingingsmith, David Lawrence, Are the World's Languages Consolidating? The Dynamics and Distribution of Language Populations (February 2017). The Economic Journal, Vol. 127, Issue 599, pp. 143-176, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2910722 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ecoj.12257

David Lawrence Clingingsmith (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University ( email )

Cleveland, OH 44106
United States

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