Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-vvt5l Total loading time: 0.593 Render date: 2022-07-01T01:46:37.817Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

8 - The Unequal Exchange of Texts in the World Language System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2020

Cécile B. Vigouroux
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
Salikoko S. Mufwene
University of Chicago
Get access


What kind of economic goods are languages? They are “hypercollective” goods: the more people use them, the greater their use value to all users. People prefer to learn languages with more speakers and will abandon languages which are losing speakers. Culture, defined as the sum total of all texts recorded in a given language, becomes inaccessible if that language goes extinct. The conservation of language and culture thus raises dilemmas of collective action. The world’s thousands of language groups are linked by multilingual speakers. These links constitute a global language system. Exchange of texts between the major and minor language groups in this system proceeds on highly unequal terms.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Achterberg, Peter. 2011. A cultural globalization of popular music? American, Dutch, French, and German popular music charts (1965 to 2006). American Behavioral Scientist 55: 589–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barré, Germain. 2010. La “mondialisation” de la culture et la question de la diversité culturelle: Étude des flux mondiaux de traductions entre 1979 et 2002. Revista Hispana para el Análisis de Redes Sociales 18(8): 183–217.Google Scholar
Calvet, Louis-Jean. 1999. Pour une écologie des langues du monde. Paris: Plon [Engl. Transl.: Calvet, Louis-Jean. 2006. Towards an Ecology of World Languages. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press].Google Scholar
Calvet, Louis-Jean. 2002. Le marché aux langues: Les effets linguistiques de la mondialisation. Paris: Plon.Google Scholar
De Swaan, Abram. 1993. The emerging world language system; introduction. International Political Science Review [special issue on the Political Sociology of Language Conflict], July, 14(3): 219–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Swaan, Abram. 2001. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
De Swaan, Abram. 2002. The sociological study of transnational society. In: Conflict in a Globalising World: Studies in Honour of Peter Kloos, ed. by Kooiman, Dick, Koster, Adrianus, Smeets, Peer & Venema, Bernhard, pp. 19–33. Assen, the Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
De Swaan, Abram. 2007. The language predicament of the EU since the enlargements. In: Sociolinguistica: International Yearbook of European Sociolinguistics, Linguistic Consequences of the EU-Enlargement, ed. by Ammon, U., Mattheier, K.J. & P.H. Nelde, , Vol. 21, pp. 1–21.Google Scholar
Ginsburgh, Victor & Weber, Shlomo. 2011. How Many Languages Do We Need? The Economics of Linguistic Diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Goudsblom, Johan. 1986. Dutch sociology in the 1950s: A view from behind the one-way mirror. In: Anti-Americanism in Europe, ed. by Kroes, Rob & van Rossum, Maarten, pp. 112–20. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Free University Press.Google Scholar
Grin, François & Vaillancourt, François. 1997. The economics of multilingualism: Overview and analytical framework. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 17: 43–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heilbron, Johan. 1995. Mondialsering en transnationaal cultureel verkeer. Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift 22(1): 162–80.Google Scholar
Heilbron, Johan. 1999. Toward a sociology of translation: Book translations as a cultural world-system. European Journal of Social Theory 2(4): 429–44.Google Scholar
Heilbron, Johan. 2010. Structure and Dynamics of the World System of Translation. International Symposium on Translation and Cultural Mediation. Paris: UNESCO. February 22–23.Google Scholar
Heilbron, Johan & Sapiro, Gisèle. 2016. Translation: Economic and sociological perspectives. In: The Palgrave Handbook of Economics and Language, ed. by Ginsburg, Victor & Weber, Shlomo. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Hofstede, Bart. 2000. Nederlandse cinema wereldwijd; De internationale positie van de Nederlandse film. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Boekman Studies.Google Scholar
Laitin, David. 1989. Linguistic revival: Politics and culture in Catalonia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31(3): 297–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Laitin, David. 1993. The game theory of language regimes. International Political Science Review 14(3): 227–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Laponce, Jean A. 1987. Languages and Their Territories. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
Mair, Christian. 2009. The world system of Englishes: Accounting for the transnational importance of mobile and mediated vernaculars. World Englishes 34: 253–78.Google Scholar
Mair, Christian. 2013. The world system of Englishes: Accounting for the transnational importance of mobile and mediated vernaculars. English World-Wide 34(4): 253–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morante, Daniel. 2009. Le champ gravitationnel linguistique; Avec un essai d’application au champ étatique – Mali. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
Mufwene, Salikoko S. & Vigouroux, Cécile B. (eds.). 2008. Colonization, globalization and language vitality in Africa: An introduction. In: Globalization and Language Vitality: Perspectives from Africa, ed. by Vigouroux, Cécile B. & Mufwene, Salikoko S. pp. 1–31. London: Continuum Press.Google Scholar
Piron, Claude. 1994. Le défi des langues: Du gachis au bon sens. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
Ronen, Shahar. 2014. Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, December 15, 111(52): E5616–22. doi:10.1073/pnas.1410931111. Supplementary online material and visualizations on ScholarPubMed
Sapiro, Gisèle. 2014. La sociologie de la littérature. Paris: La Découverte.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats