Global predictors of language endangerment and the future of linguistic diversity.


Language diversity is under threat. While each language is subject to specific social, demographic and political pressures, there may also be common threatening processes. We use an analysis of 6,511 spoken languages with 51 predictor variables spanning aspects of population, documentation, legal recognition, education policy, socioeconomic indicators and environmental features to show that, counter to common perception, contact with other languages per se is not a driver of language loss. However, greater road density, which may encourage population movement, is associated with increased endangerment. Higher average years of schooling is also associated with greater endangerment, evidence that formal education can contribute to loss of language diversity. Without intervention, language loss could triple within 40 years, with at least one language lost per month. To avoid the loss of over 1,500 languages by the end of the century, urgent investment is needed in language documentation, bilingual education programmes and other community-based programmes.