Evaluating Endangerment and Development

In the first posting to this blog, I mentioned that one of the new features of this edition of the Ethnologue (17th) is the addition of a status category for each language. The full description of what we report under the rubric of Status can be found by clicking on the Language Status link (http://www.ethnologue.com/about/language-status) under the About tab at the top of the homepage.

In this post, I want to give a brief overview of how we are determining the status of each language using the EGIDS (Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale). The EGIDS provides both an estimate of the level of endangerment of languages which are losing ground and an estimate of the state of development of those languages which are gaining functions in the communities where they are used.

I won't go into the history of the development of the EGIDS (there's plenty of that to be had by following the links from the Language Status page) but the debt we owe to Joshua Fishman who proposed the original GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale) is clear.  Where the GIDS focuses on endangerment (the disruption of intergenerational transmission), the EGIDS is an attempt to expand the scope of the categorizations to include all of the 7,105 languages reported on in this edition, not just those which are losing users and uses.

In order to make that broader application possible, some expansion of the levels and some modification of the descriptions of those levels have been necessary.  And that expansion has made it possible for us to use the scale not only to evaluate the degree to which a language is endangered, but also the level of development that has been achieved as standardization and modernization (language planning) activities have been implemented in an increasing number of languages. Again, you can read about the nature of the scale itself, how we evaluated the languages reported on in the Ethnologue in terms of the scale, and a great deal more, by going to the Language Status page and following the links for greater and greater detail.

We recognize that the EGIDS "numbers"--both the scale itself and the evaluations of the languages using the scale - are a new wrinkle.  There are bound to be some cases where we have just plain gotten it wrong.  There will be other cases where the situation is unclear.  And there will be additional cases where the reality on the ground will cause us to re-examine the scale itself, undoubtedly leading to some modifications as we learn from this first-ever application on the global dataset.  We welcome your comments and corrections and we are committed to working with communities, scholars, and other interested parties to both describe the scale itself as best we can (so it can be applied consistently) and to make the needed corrections and updates (so that it can be useful to those making decisions about language preservation and development efforts). Look at the Contact Us page to see how to submit feedback on the content of the Ethnologue.

We also are excited about the potential of this global analysis and are looking for good, clear, and compelling ways to represent the data.  Our first attempt at this consists of those little "scatter plot" diagrams which show up most obviously in the Language of the Day presentations. You can also find the scatter plots on the homepage and by clicking through to a specific language entry and following the "More Information" link.  The plot shows the language in focus as a colored dot positioned on a "cloud" of gray dots which represent all of the other languages of the world. The two scales of the plot represent the EGIDS level of the language on the horizontal axis and the population of the language community on the vertical scale.  The overall spread of the cloud of dots shows the general correlation between population size and language development (rather obviously, languages with more speakers tend to be more developed).  The position of the colored dot on the scatter diagram gives a visual sense of the relative strength or weakness of the language in focus with respect to all of the other languages of the world.   One striking feature of the scatter plot is the clear concentration of languages at the EGIDS 6a level.

In addition, from the country page (click through from World Languages - either on the map or on the region and country links), if you select the Status tab, you can find summary lists of all of the languages in that country that are at the various EGIDS levels.

There's a lot more that can be done both in displaying the data and in using it for analysis and decision-making.  Our hope is that this new tool will be useful in its present form and grow to be an even richer source of information and guidance.