Language status

Print

In this edition of Ethnologue we introduce a new category of information to summarize the status of each language in each country where it is used. The Status element of a language entry includes two types of information. The first is an estimate of the overall development versus endangerment of the language using the EGIDS scale (Lewis and Simons 2010). The second is a categorization of the Official Recognition given to a language within the country. In the treatment below, we first enumerate both sets of categories. This is followed by more in depth discussion for those who want to go deeper.

Table 1 provides summary definitions of the 13 levels of the EGIDS:

Table 1. Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale

LevelLabelDescription
0 International The language is widely used between nations in trade, knowledge exchange, and international policy.
1 National The language is used in education, work, mass media, and government at the national level.
2 Provincial The language is used in education, work, mass media, and government within major administrative subdivisions of a nation.
3 Wider Communication The language is used in work and mass media without official status to transcend language differences across a region.
4 Educational The language is in vigorous use, with standardization and literature being sustained through a widespread system of institutionally supported education.
5 Developing The language is in vigorous use, with literature in a standardized form being used by some though this is not yet widespread or sustainable.
6a Vigorous The language is used for face-to-face communication by all generations and the situation is sustainable.
6b Threatened The language is used for face-to-face communication within all generations, but it is losing users.
7 Shifting The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children.
8a Moribund The only remaining active users of the language are members of the grandparent generation and older.
8b Nearly Extinct The only remaining users of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language.
9 Dormant The language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community, but no one has more than symbolic proficiency.
10 Extinct The language is no longer used and no one retains a sense of ethnic identity associated with the language.

The EGIDS recognizes that there is a growing number of languages at the weaker end of the scale that are in the process of being revived. The default labels used for levels 6b (Threatened) through 9 (Dormant) apply most appropriately when a language is losing vitality. Those labels are used as the default in order to emphasize the crisis of language endangerment. In those cases where language revival efforts are underway, the progress of that revival can be indicated by using an alternative set of labels with somewhat modified definitions as given in table 2.

Table 2. Alternative labels for rising vitality

LevelLabelDescription
6b Re-established Some members of a third generation of children are acquiring the language in the home with the result that an unbroken chain of intergenerational transmission has been re-established among all living generations.
7 Revitalized A second generation of children is acquiring the language from their parents who also acquired the language in the home. Language transmission takes place in the home and community.
8a Reawakened Children are acquiring the language in community and some home settings and are increasingly able to use the language for some face-to-face daily communicative needs.
8b Reintroduced Adults of the parent generation are reconstructing and reintroducing their language for everyday social interaction.
9 Rediscovered Adults are rediscovering their language for symbolic and identificational purposes.

There are some additional cases in which the default label for a level is not a good fit for the actual situation. Table 3 gives a listing of the alternative labels that are used in such cases.

Table 3. Alternative labels for other special situations

LevelLabelDescription
5 Dispersed The language is fully developed in its home country, so that the community of language users in a different country has access to a standardized form and literature, but these are not promoted in the country in focus via institutionally supported education.
9 Second language only The language was originally vehicular, but it is not the heritage language of an ethnic community and it no longer has enough users to have significant vehicular function.

See below for more details about The origins of EGIDS, How the EGIDS Works, and How we assigned the EGIDS levels.

Official Recognition

If a language has an official function within a country or it is specifically recognized in legislation, the EGIDS level is followed by a description of the nature of its recognition. When that recognition is by statute, the specific law is also cited. Table 4 lists and defines (with examples) the fourteen language recognition categories that are used.

Table 4. Official recognition categories and definitions

FunctionDefinitionExample
Statutory national language This is the language in which the business of the national government is conducted and this is mandated by law. It is also the language of national identity for the citizens of the country. Bengali [ben] in Bangladesh
Indonesian [ind] in Indonesia
Spanish [spa] in Spain
Statutory national working language This is a language in which the business of the national government is conducted and this is mandated by law. However it is not the language of national identity for the citizens of the country. Amharic [amh] in Ethiopia
Bislama [bis] in Vanuatu
English [eng] in India
Statutory language of national identity This is the language of national identity and this is mandated by law. However, it is not developed enough to function as the language of government business. Kituba [mkw] in Congo
Maori [mri] in New Zealand
Rarotongan [rar] in Cook Islands
De facto national language This is the language in which the business of the national government is conducted but this is not mandated by law. It is also the language of national identity for the citizens of the country. Standard German [deu] in Germany
Japanese [jpn] in Japan
Tswana [tsn] in Botswana
De facto national working language This is a language in which the business of the national government is conducted, but this is not mandated by law. Neither is it the language of national identity for the citizens of the country. Brunei [kxd] in Brunei
Tagalog [tgl] in Philippines
Shona [sna] in Zimbabwe
De facto language of national identity This is the language of national identity but this is not mandated by law. Neither is it developed enough or known enough to function as the language of government business. Algerian Arabic [arq] in Algeria
Jamaican Creole English [jam] in Jamaica
Tokelauan [tkl] in Tokelau
Statutory provincial language This is the language in which the business of provincial government is conducted and this is mandated by law. It is also the language of identity for the citizens of the province. Assamese [asm] in India
Slovene [slv] in Italy
Uyghur [uig] in China
Statutory provincial working language This is a language in which the business of the provincial government is conducted and this is mandated by law. However, it is not the language of identity for the citizens of the province. Afar [aar] in Ethiopia
Corsican [cos] in France
[khb] in China
Statutory language of provincial identity This is the language of identity for the citizens of the province and this is mandated by law. However, it is not developed enough or known enough to function as the language of government business. Maithili [mai] in India
Rotokas [roo] in Papua New Guinea
Walloon [win] in Belgium
De facto provincial language This is the language in which the business of the provincial government is conducted, but this is not mandated by law. It is also the language of identity for the citizens of the province. Chinese, Yue [yue] in China
Faroese [fao] in Denmark
Hausa [hau] in Nigeria
De facto provincial working language This is a language in which the business of provincial government is conducted, but this is not mandated by law. Neither is it the language of identity for the citizens of the province. Greek [ell] in Albania
Kurdish, Central [ckb] in Iran
De facto language of provincial identity This is the language of identity for citizens of the province, but this is not mandated by law. Neither is it developed enough or known enough to function as the language of government business. Fulfulde, Adamawa [fub] in Nigeria
Khinalugh [kjj] in Azerbaijan
Thai, Northeastern [tts] in Thailand
Recognized language There is a law that names this language and recognizes its right to be used and developed for some purposes. New Zealand Sign Language [nzs] in New Zealand
Sénoufo, Mamara [myk] in Mali
Tharu, Rana [thr] in Nepal
Language of recognized nationality There is a law that names the ethnic group that uses this language and recognizes their right to use and develop their identity. Candoshi-Shapra [cbu] in Peru
Mangareva [mrv] in French Polynesia
Puma [pum] in Nepal

See below for More about the official recognition categories.

The origins of EGIDS

The EGIDS consists of 13 levels with each higher number on the scale representing a greater level of disruption to the intergenerational transmission of the language. The EGIDS levels are designed to largely coincide with Fishman's Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale, or GIDS (Fishman 1991). We refer users to Fishman's work on the GIDS for an orientation to this approach to evaluating endangerment and to the published EGIDS description (Lewis and Simons 2010) for an explanation of the motivation and rationale behind the development of the expanded framework. Like the GIDS, the EGIDS at its core measures the level of disruption of intergenerational transmission. Therefore, stronger, more vital languages will have lower numbers on the scale and weaker, more endangered languages will have higher numbers.

In comparison to GIDS, the EGIDS includes some additional factors at both the stronger and weaker levels of the scale and thus adds some levels not included in the original scale. As a result, the EGIDS can be applied to all of the languages of the world. In addition, two of the levels in the GIDS (6 and 8) have been split (6a, 6b, 8a, 8b) in the EGIDS in order to allow for a finer-grained description of the state of intergenerational transmission in the presence of language shift. We have used letters to distinguish these divided levels in order to maintain numbering alignment with Fishman's better-known GIDS. Each number on the EGIDS has also been assigned a one or two word label that summarizes the state of development or vitality of the language. The labels are intended to provide mnemonics for those who prefer to use words rather than numbers. In a few cases, two different labels are assigned to a level in order to distinguish significantly different situations that are associated with the same level on the scale (for instance, the difference between an endangered language that is on the decline versus one that is being revitalized).

How the EGIDS Works

The EGIDS is a multi-dimensional scale which focuses on different aspects of vitality at different levels. Like Fishman's GIDS, the EGIDS, at its core, measures disruption in use. At the weakest levels of vitality, EGIDS 9 (Dormant) and EGIDS 10 (Extinct) the primary factor in focus is the function of the language as a marker of identity. If no one still associates the language with their identity, the language can be considered to be Extinct. If there is an ethnic group that associates its identity with the language but uses the language only for symbolic purposes to remind themselves of that identity, the language can be categorized as Dormant (EGIDS 9).

At EGIDS levels 6a (Vigorous), 6b (Threatened), 7 (Shifting), 8a (Moribund), and 8b (Nearly Extinct) the primary factor in focus is the state of daily face-to-face use and intergenerational transmission of the language. Each successively weaker level on the scale represents the loss of use, generation by generation.

EGIDS 4 (Educational) and EGIDS 5 (Developing) bring into focus the degree to which the ongoing use of the language is supported and reinforced by the use of the language in education. This largely focuses around issues of standardization and literacy acquisition and the degree to which those are institutionally supported and have been adopted by the community of language users.

EGIDS 3 (Wider Communication) focuses primarily on the notion of vehicularity. If a language (whether written or not) is widely used by others as a second language and as a means of intergroup communication, it has greater vitality than a language with a smaller number of users and which is seen as being less useful by outsiders.

EGIDS 2 (Provincial) and EGIDS 1 (National) focus on the level of recognition and use given to the language by government. Beyond purely official use, however, the focus includes the widespread use of the language in media and the workplace at either the provincial (sub-national) or national levels. EGIDS 0 (International) is a category reserved for those few languages that are used as the means of communication in many countries for the purposes of diplomacy and international commerce. Because the Ethnologue organizes the language entries by country, EGIDS 1 (National) is the strongest vitality level that we report.

The EGIDS levels are hierarchical in nature. With only one exception, the scale assumes that each stronger level of vitality entails the characteristics of the levels below it. Thus, for example, a language cannot be characterized as EGIDS 5 (Developing) if it cannot also be characterized as being at EGIDS 6a (Vigorous). A language with written materials which is not used for day-to-day communication by all generations and which is not being passed on to all children cannot be categorized as EGIDS 5 (Developing). The one exception to this principle is EGIDS 3 (Wider Communication) where the vehicularity of languages of wider communication is counted as being weightier than the existence of an orthography and the use of the language in education. Some languages that are widely used for intergroup communication are not used in formal education and have no written materials. Were these languages to lose that vehicularity, they would drop directly to EGIDS 6a (Vigorous).

How we assigned the EGIDS levels

The EGIDS levels reported in this edition of the Ethnologue were initially arrived at by inspecting our database and analyzing the factors that we categorized as indicators of vitality. In many cases, we had sufficient data to allow an initial EGIDS evaluation. Where the data were not sufficient, we set the EGIDS default value at EGIDS 6a. The initial estimates were then distributed to a large number of correspondents who were asked to review the data and make corrections based on their knowledge of specific countries, regions, language families and individual languages. This review process resulted in a large number of corrections and revisions. Any remaining unreviewed or uncertain estimates have been more closely scrutinized by the editors and, after soliciting additional commentary from knowledgeable sources, decisions made as to how best to evaluate the EGIDS level in each case. In a few cases, there is some doubt as to whether the language actually exists as a distinct variety. Although an ISO 639-3 code is assigned, the data on the language variety is either very old or in doubt. In such cases, we do not report an EGIDS level but identify the status of the language as "Unattested". These estimates, though based on the best information available to us, are preliminary. We encourage users of the Ethnologue to provide us with comments and corrections that will lead to a more accurate assessment for inclusion in future editions.

The existence of an EGIDS estimate for every known language in every country provides a useful new resource for the assessment of language vitality globally, regionally, and country-by-country. For instance, this site includes histograms that use this information to plot summary profiles of the language situation in each of the major geographic areas, UN regions, and countries of the world. The existence of such data opens up the possibility for other kinds of analysis, such as the evaluation of the vitality of language families (see, for example, Whalen and Simons 2012 ).

More about the official recognition categories

In addition to an EGIDS level, the Status section of each language entry includes a descriptor of the official function of the language within the country where it is spoken. For these categorizations, we have adapted the general framework described by Cooper (1989:99-103). Following Stewart's (1968) identification of the official function of languages in a country, Cooper further distinguishes between statutory, working, and symbolic official languages. To that we have added a further distinction between those same functions at either the national or the provincial level. This descriptive framework identifies the legal foundation (if any) for the recognition, the nature of the official use of the language, and the geopolitical scope of that use and recognition. The combination of these three parameters (legal status, nature of use, and scope of application) results in the first twelve function categories that are listed in table 4. The final two categories represent any other kind of statutory recognition for a language.

The distinction between statutory and de facto functions is relatively straightforward. When a language function is described as statutory, it means that there is a legal document such as the constitution of the country, language or diversity policy legislation, and the like, that specifies the functions for which the language will be used. Whenever a language is assigned a function that is statutory, we provide the name of the relevant statute. We are unable at this time to distinguish in all cases between legislation that is in force and legislation which may not be enforced though still legally viable. In many countries, languages are commonly used for governance functions but there is no formal legislative mandate for that use. In those cases, we identify the function as de facto.

The nature of the use of a language in governmental operations is specified using the term "working" or "identity" or the absence of these terms. When a language is identified as a working language, it means that the operations of the government (debate in parliament, the language of the laws, the language used in government offices, on official forms,) may be carried out in the language, but the language is not the language of identity of the majority of the citizens. There are many countries where, for very practical reasons, an international language or the language of a colonial power is used for day-to-day operations of the government, but national (or provincial) identity is linked to a different language. On the other hand, when a language is identified as a language of identity, the reverse is true. The majority of citizens identify that language as being closely associated with their identity but for practical reasons the language is not generally used for governmental operations. In these cases, the language often has a very strong symbolic use to reinforce a common identity and to build national or provincial unity. In the final case, in which the language functions both as the working language of the government and as the language of identity for the majority of the citizens, the label for the category is simply “national language” or “provincial language”, implying both the working function and the identify function.

In terms of geopolitical scope, we distinguish between the national and provincial levels of recognition and use. When a language is identified as performing a particular function at the provincial level, we describe the geopolitical regions involved. If there are many, that description may be reduced to a summary statement.

Some languages are not used or recognized for all of the functions of governance as described above, but may instead be granted only partial or limited recognitions by law. Those languages have been identified more generically as a “recognized language”. Though our data is admittedly incomplete, we attempt to describe the nature of the recognition and its geopolitical scope in as many cases as possible. In addition, in some countries, ethnic groups or nationalities are given official recognition rather than their languages. In some cases these recognized nationalities speak multiple languages. We attempt to identify the languages of such officially recognized nationalities using the label “language of recognized nationality”.

The recognition category for each language is based on the best research available to us. As with all Ethnologue information, we welcome corrections and updates from informed users.