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A methodology for assessing language vitality and endangerment

In 2002 and 2003, UNESCO asked an international group of linguists to develop a framework for determining the vitality of a language in order to assist in policy development, identification of needs and appropriate safeguarding measures. This Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages elaborated a landmark concept paper entitled “Language Vitality and Endangerment”, which established the following nine criteria:

No single factor is sufficient to assess the state of a community’s language. However, taken together, these nine factors can determine the viability of a language, its function in society and the type of measures required for its maintenance or revitalization. Full document is available here (English|French|Spanish|Arabic|Chinese).

Language Vitality : nine factors.

Language Vitality and Endangerment, @UNESCO

Example of implementation of this methodology

The National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005, prepared by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at the request of the Australian Government, provides an analysis of the situation of Australian indigenous languages based on UNESCO’s nine Language Vitality factors. Among its most significant findings, the report determined that only 145 of Australia’s more than 250 known indigenous languages continue actually to be spoken. In addition, approximately 110 of them have been classified as severely or critically endangered. Only 18 indigenous languages are described as “strong” according to such a crucial factor as intergenerational transmission.

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