Languages, like organic species can be classified into groups and subgroups… Dominant languages and dialects spread and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues.
The lure of English has not left us. And until it goes, our own languages will remain paupers.
Outline of the chapter
Some societies are characterized by relatively stable language arrangements; others are more volatile. This chapter addresses the questions of how and why language choices by individuals and groups bring about incremental change of sociolinguistic arrangements in language-contact settings. By way of conceptualizing the inequality of the world’s languages, it provides a brief review of their distribution and offers a five-tiered scheme as a general orientation. It then goes on to consider language-demographic statistics, explaining the difficulties of obtaining reliable data. The concepts of language loyalty, ethnolinguistic vitality, territories and domains, and utility are introduced as the most promising theoretical tools for analysing unstable language arrangements. By way of illustration, reference is made to the spread of languages on the Internet and to the ascent of English to the status of global language.