UNESCO Survey: linguistic vitality and diversity

Author : UNESCO

Publication date : 2003

Bibliographical references :

UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages 2003. Language Vitality and Endangerment.


"Our objective is to collect a large and representative sample of comparable data on the world’s languages, particularly endangered and indigenous languages, with two specific purposes in mind. First, these data will be used to prepare the third revised print edition of UNESCO’s landmark publication, the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing (see: http://www.unesco.org/culture/en/endangeredlanguages/atlas), and to create an interactive on-line Digital Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. Second, the data will serve to develop a methodology for an “Indicator on the Status and Trends of Linguistic Diversity and Numbers of Speakers of Indigenous Languages”, as requested by the States Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (for information please see: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?pg=00144). We hope that this questionnaire, if used on an ongoing basis into the future, will offer a basis for verifiable claims about trends in numbers of speakers, language endangerment and linguistic diversity.
[...] Our hope is that with the accumulation of fine-grained reports on specific communities, we will be able over time to assemble reliable and generalizable data" (UNESCO survey, 2003:1-2)

Protocol summary

Linguists are required to fill up 24 small tables, ticking boxes that match with the features met in the investigated language. For each answered question, linguists also have to give the reliability index of the information, from a 0 to 3 points scale.

Questions are as follows:

  • Section : Language Vitality and Endangerment within the reference community:

1. Overall vitality / endangerment score:
2. Generational language use
3. Number of speakers
4. Proportion of speakers within the reference community
5. Domains of language use
6. New domains, i. e. new media, including broadcast media and the Internet.
7. Domain of traditional knowledge (TK)
8. Materials for language education and literacy
9. Governmental and institutional language attitudes and policies, including official status and use
10. Reference community members’ attitudes towards their own language
11. Type and quality of documentation
12. Status of language programs

  • Section 2: Linguistic Diversity:

13. In everyday life, how many languages would a typical member of this community encounter:
14. In how many languages is a typical member of this community fully fluent?
15. In how many languages is a typical member of this community at least partially fluent? 
16. How many languages are represented in the local schools?
17. How many languages are represented in the local media?
18. How is TV presence (broadcast time) distributed across the various languages?
19. Would you say this language is characterized by high internal (dialectal) diversity?
20. In everyday life, how many dialects would a typical member of this reference community encounter?
21. In how many dialects is a typical member of this community fully or partially fluent?
22. How equal are the dialects in speaker numbers?
23. How equal are the dialects in symbolic status and prestige?
24. Would you say this language is characterized by high stylistic diversity, i.e., a variety of different registers and styles are commonly used in interaction?


Development context

"We are interested in gathering as many independent reports covering as many languages as possible, including multiple reports on the same language, which would enhance the reliability of the data and also would allow us to validate the pertinence of the questions we are asking. We are also interested to begin to create time-series data, so if you have had long-term involvement with a given language we encourage you to complete one form reporting the current status of the language and one form reporting its status when you first encountered or began working with the language. The more good data we have, the more reliable will be our generalizations and the more useful they will be for communities, researchers and policy-makers. So, we also encourage you to provide us with information about other people who can be invited to complete a questionnaire for a given language, and we encourage you to pass the survey on to others. In order to help us assess the validity of the survey instrument, it will be more useful if two observers report independently on the same situation than if two observers collaborate on a single report." (UNESCO survey, 2003:1)

Back to the previous page