To appear in MOST, a UNESCO electronic publication.




Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago


1. Introduction

This paper is a global critique of the literature of the past decade on language endangerment, including the following recent major books, which will typically not be cited individually, except for peculiarities that warrant singling them out: Mühlh”usler (1996), Dixon (1997), Brenzinger (1998), Grenoble & Whaley (1998), Calvet (1999), Crystal (2000), HagPge (2000), Nettle & Romaine (2000), Maffi (2001), and Renard (2001). I exhort linguists to embed the subject matter in a historical perspective longer than European colonization of the past 400 years, to highlight the competition and selection (Mufwene 2001) that has characterized the coexistence of languages since probably the beginnings of agriculture (Nettle & Romaine 2000), and thus to shed better light than hitherto on natural trends of language shift and loss.1 Such an approach would make the linguistic enterprise comparable to that of environmentalists concerned with endangered species, who as (macro-)ecologists and population geneticists have first sought to understand the conditions that sustain or affect biodiversity in the same econiche.

I submit that the subject matter of language endangerment is actually made better sense of when discussed in the context of language vitality in general, paying particular attention to factors that have favored particular languages at the expense of others, factors which lie in the changing socioeconomic conditions to which speakers respond adaptively for their survival. I submit that instead of capitalizing on value judgments in which they bemoan the loss of ancestral languages and cultures among the affected populations, and instead of arguing for the hopeless maintenance of these languages and cultures, linguists should also assess the experiences of the same populations in terms of what costs and benefits they derive from language shift in their particular socioeconomic ecologies. They should also think out whether any actions can realistically be taken on the relevant ecologies to prevent language shift at the expense of ancestral languages. I start by articulating the senses of the notions ‘colonization’ and ‘globalization’ (as in global/globalized economy) which have figured prominently in the relevant literature, highlighting how they bear on language vitality.

2. The terminology matters
Outside population genetics, colonization conjures up political and economic domination of a population by another. This form of control is often associated with military power, which, based on the history of mankind, is the means typically used to effect such domination. This has been made more obvious by the European colonization of the world over the past four centuries, at least until the independence of African and Asian countries in the middle of the twentieth century. Still the term colonization, often in alternation with colonialism and neo-colonialism, has often been used to describe the economic relation of Third World countries with their former colonial metropoles. It is also on this interpretation of colonization that the current debate of language endangerment has largely depended, especially when languages of the Third World are at issue (see, e.g., Crystal 2000, Nettle & Romaine 2000, and HagPge 2000). Thus, power has usually been invoked as an important factor that has favored language of the powerful over those of the dominated, hence, less powerful populations.

However, by focusing on the variable fates of languages among the colonized, oppressed, or powerless rural populations of Africa, volumes such as Brenzinger (1998) highlight the fact that the vitality of a language depends very much on factors other than power. They show that if power has any role to play, basic cost-and-benefit considerations having to do with what a speaker needs a particular language for, or to what extent a particular language facilitates one’s survival in a changing socio-economic ecology, determine what particular languages are given up and doomed to attrition and eventual extinction. Many African languages have recently lost the competition not to languages of power but to peers that have guaranteed a surer economic survival.2 What such literature shows is that, like the emergence of new language varieties, language endangerment is also one of the outcomes of language contact and is also subject to patterns of interaction among the populations in contact.

In order to understand the above view, it helps to also think of colonization in its population genetics interpretation, when a population relocates in a new territory, regardless of whether the latter is or is not inhabited by an indigenous population. Thus the 18th-century settlement of French colonists on RÈunion and Mauritius, then  uninhabited, was as much a form of colonization as the settlement of several Caribbean islands by Europeans during the 16th-18th centuries, or the establishments of trade forts on the African and Asian coasts during the 16-18th centuries, or the political and economic domination of several African and Asian countries from the 19th to the mid-20th centuries. Bearing in mind that even the spread of Indo-European populations in Europe involved as much of settlement colonization as the domination of the Americas and Australia by the English, history tells us that colonization as understood in population genetics has assumed many styles involving different patterns of interaction. The more common, political notion of colonization rests largely on the more neutral, population genetics notion.

From the point of view of language contact, the consequences of colonization have not been uniform. Although several languages have died in the process (e.g., Celtic languages in Western Europe and several Native American languages), new ones have also emerged (e.g., English out of the contact of Germanic languages among themselves and with Celtic languages, the Romance languages out of the contact of Vulgar Latin with continental southwestern European Celtic languages, and today’s pidgins and creoles out of the contact of European and non-European languages in some extra-European colonies especially during the 17th-19th centuries). It is not always the colonized populations that have lost their languages. Sometimes, it is the colonists and colonizers who have, as in the case of the Norman French in England, or the Tutsi (formerly speakers of Nilotic languages) in Rwanda and Burundi, or the Peranakan Chinese in the Straights of Malacca.3 There are also interesting cases where the old and new languages have coexisted. For them, what is now interpreted as a threat to the more indigenous language (e.g., Basque vis-a-vis Spanish) is only a recent development.

It is thus difficult to produce a general and uniform formula of what happens when a population colonizes another, not any more regarding language vitality than regarding the development of new language varieties. As argued in Mufwene (2001), the ecology of every case of language contact is somewhat unique. Despite similarities among them, what happens in one setting is not necessarily replicated in another. To be sure, we cannot overlook similarities, such as the fact that language loss has been the most catastrophic in settlement colonies and new language varieties have emerged additively in trade colonies (i.e., without replacing some extant languages). On the other hand, one must still note differences from one colony to another, regardless of whether the members of the relevant subset can all be identified as plantation or non-plantation settlement colonies, or as trade or exploitation colonies. Settlement colonies of North America still differ from those of Latin America, plantation colonies of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean were not quite the same as those of the Pacific, and exploitation colonies of Africa were not quite the same as those of Asia.


Like colonization, the terms globalization in English and mondialisation in French have figured prominently in the literature on language endangerment.4 Globalization and mondialisation have typically been assumed to be cross-linguistic equivalents and therefore synonymous. Actually, they are not. They reflect yet different perspectives on a phenomenon which is related in diverse ways to the wide range of socio-economic, hence ecological, factors that produce it. A more adequate English translation of mondialisation seems to be universalization, having to do with world-wide distribution of some institutions such as McDonald (hence the terms McDonal(d)ization5 and mcdonaldisation in both languages), of cultural products such as Hollywood movies and American toys and pop music, and the spread of English in several parts of the world, including those where it is spoken by less than 5% of the total population (as in several former French colonies in Africa).

One should simply beware of the fact that universalization also means generalization. Although this interpretation can also be associated with globalization, it is not part of the meaning of mondialisation. The fact that these terms are not equivalent just reveals the fact that much of the ecologically-oriented literature on language endangerment has not articulated precisely what particular aspects of globalization bear on the vitality of a language and under what specific conditions. One may ask for instance why global economy and the spread of English have not been as dangerous to indigenous languages in Asia as in the Americas.

As a matter of fact, like generalization, globalization can be a geographically local phenomenon, such as when taxation on financial transactions can be applied universally and generally in a country but not the world over. The distinction I made in the title of the French ancestor of this paper (see acknowledgments note) can prompt one to look into quite a few different interpretations of globalization, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive but help explain why the effects of globalization on language vitality need not be universal, as I argue below.

There is certainly a sense in which global, from which globalization is derived, means ‘universal’ as ‘worldwide’, as in global warming. However, it does not take long to notice that global in global war does not necessarily mean ‘worldwide’. Global war is not synonymous with world war. While these examples make obvious how globalization has come to mean so many different things (see also below), the meaning of global in global economy, which has often been invoked in the recent literature on language endangerment, is closer to that of global war — which involves many interrelated parties or places — than to that of global warming. Economic globalization has endangered some languages primarily as a local phenomenon . For instance, in Taiwan, English (so often blamed for the loss of other languages around the world)  is not widely spoken by Taiwanese and has had nothing to do with the endangerment of Formosan languages. Chinese, which is also the language of Taiwanese global economy, is the culprit. Relative to English, Chinese in Taiwan is as safe as any language with a lot of vitality can be these days.

The above state of affairs should have been evident, as the kind of global economy in place in North America, for instance, is far from being universal. Although one can claim that it is being spread all over the world, it is far from being in place in Third World countries. In fact, if multinational economic trends continue to grow on their present patterns, Third World countries are very likely to miss the boat entirely and not participate (much) in it all. Global economy in North America has a lot to do with the fact that different aspects of its industrial structure are interconnected. Much of its industry would shut down if there were a generalized power outage. Its economic networks would break down if there were no adequate transportation and communication infrastructure in place. The success of the American space program depends extensively on the cooperation of various industries that have been contracted to produce various components of the complex space ships that have been used, and this depends largely on regular communication among the manufacturers.

There is a world-wide global economy to the extent that, for instance, Singapore and Malaysia produce at lower labor cost chips that go into computers assembled in North America and Japan and goods sold in the United States are being marketed by telephone by low-paid agents in India. It has even become more and more difficult to geographically situate headquarters of multinational companies, because their branches are distributed in various countries, which specialize in the production of only some components, and the final products, e.g., automobiles or computers, are assembled in yet different places and redistributed for sale everywhere (Yue-man Yeung 2000).

Many countries participate in the global economic system only to the extent that they have become parts of networks of industrial interdependencies that blur their national boundaries. Yet not all countries participate in such networks at the same level of the manufacturing structure nor to the same extent. Many Third world countries in especially Africa participate only marginally in these networks. When a particular common language, such as English or French, is required for communication among the different branches of such multinational companies, not all employees of these companies are expected to be fluent in the lingua franca, especially where most of the labor is involved in the production of raw materials to be processed outside the country, or a large proportion of the adult population is unemployed and thus seriously disfranchised from the economic system. In such places, the vast majority of the populations continue to function in their ancestral or other local vernaculars, which they in fact adopt as their identity marker to distinguish themselves from the minority of affluents.

To my knowledge, Caribbean territories reflect some of the earliest experiences of loss of ancestral languages by the enslaved Africans and by the Arawakans and the Caribs in European settlement colonies since the sixteenth century. In most of them, the creole vernaculars that later on replaced these languages (through shifts to European colonial vernaculars) have become identity markers for the present masses of the disenfranchised proletarians who function only in the local and low functions of their economies.6 They stand in contrast with the acrolectal varieties spoken by minorities of the more affluent members of their societies. Creole speakers have either resisted shifting to the acrolects, or have seldom faced opportunities and real pressure to do so, despite a long history of stigmatization of their own vernaculars.

Things are not necessarily so different in economically more affluent former colonies where English or other Western European languages appear to play an important function and can be claimed to endanger their indigenous languages. For instance, as much as the participation of Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan in such multinational production networks depends on usage of English as a world-wide lingua franca, the proportion of employees that must be fluent in it is quite small. The reason is that locally, or nationally, the economy is run in a local language and English is only an interfacing instrument among countries that use different vernaculars or local lingua francas. While in many parts of the United States and Canada, it would be difficult to travel and communicate with the local population without speaking English, knowledge of only English can be frustrating while traveling in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Anybody who claims that the spread of English around the world endangers indigenous languages should explain how this is possible in countries where it is only a lingua franca of an elite minority but is barely spoken by the vast majority, or just a large proportion, of the population.

The above does not of course demonstrate that these territories have not suffered any language loss, nor that globalization has played no role in this process. As noted above, in becoming the major business language of Taiwan, Chinese has seriously endangered the Formosan languages, which are more indigenous to the Island, in about the same way that Japanese has caused the attrition of Ainu, just like English and the Romance languages have driven to extinction most of the Celtic languages that preceded them in Europe. The prevalence of Malay as the vernacular of Malaysia has certainly been at the expense of several other indigenous languages. Usage of these indigenous languages in wide and diverse sectors of the national economies has nurtured their vitality by providing them some raison d’
Ltre in what Bourdieu identifies as “language market.” In terms of costs and benefits relative to English as a global language, their association with lucrative functions in local, national, and/or regional economies has limited for most Asian populations the need for English, which has thus been confined to the role of elite supra-regional lingua franca. As explained above, English simply interfaces the local or national global economies with global economies elsewhere. The division of labor is such that the threat of English to indigenous languages here, as in other former European exploitation colonies, is exaggerated.

3. The importance of distinguishing different colonization styles

While my particular perspective on the vitality of a language relative to its economic ecology is emerging, it will help to reiterate that English and other European languages have endangered other languages, or driven them to extinction, typically in settlement colonies, not in exploitation nor in trade colonies, for reasons I explain below. It is also important to bear in mind that globalization as often invoked in the current literature is a by-product of European colonization since the 16th century. I will even argue below that globalization is not as recent a phenomenon as may be assumed. It is in some ways as old as colonization in its population genetics interpretation, to the extent that when a population relocates and/or dominates another, it more or less imposes a form of globalization by connecting the political and economic structure of the colony to that of their motherland. The colonists may import into the new territory production techniques which are more typical of the metropole, they may make the colony part of the same industrial network, and they often adopt the same business language at least for some level of the socio-economic and political system. So, even the use of European languages as the official varieties in some former colonies is a form of globalization, to the extent that they represent some uniformity or unity (as partial as it is) in the way business is conducted in the metropole and the colony. Thus, today’s globalization differs from its earliest ancestors particularly in complexity and speed of communication rather than in the fact of interconnectedness and uniformity of economic systems, technology, and production of goods.

However, it is helpful to remember that globalization is not equally extensive or integrated everywhere. This can be gauged by the extent to which a population depends on, for instance, electricity and the telephone for a large part of their activities. There are many Third World countries where this state of affairs is still a dream. To date, although variation in the state of globalization in a particular country reflects the extent of its economic success and technological advancement, it is to some extent also correlated with the nature of its recent colonization if the country was settled and/or dominated by Europe some time over the past four centuries.

Mufwene (2001) distinguishes between trade, settlement, and exploitation colonies. Trade colonies (such on the west coast of Africa from the 15th to the 19th centuries and mostly remembered for the association with the slave trade) were the first to develop. This happened typically soon after Europeans explored new territories and established trade relations with the Natives on more or less egalitarian terms, although the terms of interaction changed later on, at the expense of indigenous populations. The relationships were sporadic and generally led to the development of new language varieties called pidgins, typically lexified by a European language on the western coast of Africa but by a Native American language in the Americas. In the latter part of the world, the trade colonization was concurrent with settlement colonization. Europeans settled to build new homes, or better Europes than what they had left behind (Crosby 1986). The nature of regular interactions among different populations in these new colonies often led to protracted competition and selection among the languages and dialects they brought with them, leading to shifts from some to others and to the loss of several of them, and to the emergence of new language varieties typically lexified by European languages. Some of these have been identified as creoles (typically in plantation settlement colonies), but others have  been identified as new, colonial dialects of the European lexifiers, such as American English(es) and QuÈbÈcois French (in non-plantation colonies).7 Trade colonies have not been reported to have caused any significant language endangerment, let alone language death, to be associated directly with this colonization style, even when trade was abused to enslave and deport some of the indigenous populations.

What is especially relevant to this paper is the fact that the above-mentioned competition and selection gradually led to some monolingualism, favoring the language of the colonizing nation (England in the case of most of North America but other languages elsewhere) but disfavoring and dooming to extinction the languages brought by the Africans (who were first to lose theirs) and other Europeans originating from countries other than the colonizing one (the case or Gaelic/Irish, German, Italian, French, Dutch, Swedish in North America, except in Quebec and Ontario). Native Americans lost their languages either because they were decimated by ills and wars, or because they were forced to relocate to places where they couldn’t continue to speak their languages, or because they eventually got to function in the new, European-style economic world order which imposed a new language of business and industry. Unlike trade colonies, settlement colonies everywhere gradually evolved to some form of social and economic integration that has endangered languages other than those of the colonizing European nation, or one adopted by it.8

The balance sheet has of course involved more losses than gains, but we must always remember that the outcome of population and language contact in settlement colonies anywhere, including Australia and New Zealand, has not consisted of losses only. This is especially important because we do not know what the future of creoles is, nor whether American English will always be considered a new dialect of English or a separate language a couple of centuries from now, if nothing in the present world order and in the dynamics of the coexistence of languages over the world changes.9

The question of the future of creoles is relevant, because former plantation settlement colonies, in which they developed have had an economic history different from those of non-plantation settlement colonies, which are more industrialized. After the Abolition of slavery, plantation settlement colonies evolved  economically on a hybrid model between the non-plantation settlement colonies and the exploitation colonies (explained below). With the exception of those that have become French overseas departments, most of the former plantation settlement colonies have not industrialized and belong in the Third World block of nations, marginally engaged in the recent trend of world or regional global economy as a network of industrial productions. The masses of their populations are hardly under any pressure to speak a language (variety) other than Creole. Jamaica is a good example, since, contrary to the expected consequences of DeCamp’s (1971) mistaken decreolization hypothesis, Patois has gained in vitality, and a new, divergent variety called Dread Talk, more different from the local acrolect, has been developing among some speakers.

The above considerations are simply a reminder that, just as colonization has not been uniform world-wide, the vitality of languages has not been uniformly affected everywhere, not even in former settlement colonies. In future research, it will help to examine the social structures of these former colonies in terms of which have majority European populations and which do not, whether this has some correlation with economic development, and to what extent particular patterns of interaction across language or dialect boundaries have something to do with the process of language endangerment.

It is also worth determining the extent to which settlement is advanced in a particular territory and what can be learned about the factors that bring about language endangerment. If the documentation provided by Nettle & Romaine (2000) is accurate, why are there proportionally more Native American languages surviving in Canada than in the USA, and why are there more indigenous languages still spoken in Latin America than in North America? Are these differences a consequence of variation in colonization patterns within the settlement style (including patterns of interaction with the indigenous populations), are they a consequence of variation in the physical ecologies of the settlement colonies, or do they reflect a combination of both factors? Can the size and nature of the Amazon forest be overlooked as a factor in the survival of indigenous languages in a large part of South America? Is this phenomenon entirely different from Nettle’s (1999) and Nettle & Romaine’s (2000) observation that the greatest linguistic diversity obtains along the equatorial forest, in a world-wide belt between the tropics?

One cannot be shocked by the fact that indigenous languages have survived the most in exploitation colonies, which have typically replaced and expanded former trade colonies of Africa and Asia since the mid- or late-19th century. Even those that have died or are moribund there have suffered their predicament not from European colonial languages but from other indigenous languages that have been favored by the new socio-economic ecologies implemented by European colonizers. Although both settlement and exploitation colonies developed from trade colonies, in part as the consequence of the European commercial greed in wanting to control the sources of raw materials and other products needed in Europe, very few colonizers planned or decided to build new homes in the exploitation colonies. As the term exploitation colony suggests, these colonies were intended to be exploited for the enrichment of the European metropole. The colonizers were generally civil servants or companies’ employees who served limited terms and had to retire back in Europe. With the help of missionaries and their schools, they generally developed an intermediary class of indigenous bureaucrats or low-level administrators through which they communicated with the local populations or they themselves learned the most important of the local languages, but they encouraged no more than this local colonial elite to learn scholastic varieties of their languages.

Instituting economic systems that generally reaped raw materials to be processed in metropolitan industry, the colonizers fostered a two-tiered economic system in which the overwhelming masses of the populations continue to communicate in their own ethnic languages or in (the new) locally-based lingua francas, such as Lingala in the Congo basin, Sango along the Ubangi River, Swahili in East Africa, Wolof in Senegal, Songhay in parts of West Africa east of Senegal (along Arab north-south trade routes), Hausa in Nigeria, Fanagalo in the Copper Belt extending from South Africa to Zambia, and Bazaar Malay in Southeast Asia. In a few places, such as Nigeria, Cameroon, and Papua New Guinea, pidgins based on European languages were being learned naturalistically (by trial-and-error attempts to communicate in these languages, without a teacher) by the masses of the populations who participated in the low ranks of the colonial economy. The expansion of these pidgins into major lingua francas sometimes competed with but did not eliminate (the development of) other indigenous-based lingua francas, such as Pidgin Ewondo in Cameroon or Police Motu in Papua New Guinea.

Overall, these colonial languages were just an addition to local repertoires of languages and constituted little threats to the more indigenous ones, which were protected by the clear division of labor in their functions, with the more indigenous ones functioning as vernaculars and the colonial ones as lingua francas. Socioeconomic changes of the late colonial and post-colonial periods, with many of the new lingua francas becoming urban vernaculars and with relatively more and more lucrative jobs based in urban centers and operating in them gave a competitive edge to the new indigenous lingua francas. Ethnic vernaculars fell in attrition in the cities, and the trend is expanding to some rural areas. The collapse of Third World economies and the increasing relative economic importance of urban centers and their lure which led to rural exodus compounded to further erode the beneficial significance of rural indigenous languages. Still, these have been eroded not by the European languages but by the indigenous lingua francas be they traditional (like Swahili, according to Nurse & Spear 1985) or new (like Lingala).

One must really remember that in the evolution of languages, the balance sheets from the contact of Europe with other countries look so much more different in settlement colonies than in their exploitation counterparts. An important reason is that the Europeans were less invested socially and psychologically in the exploitation colonies than were the colonists in settlement colonies. The latter considered their colonies as their homes (Crosby 1986) and the patterns of their interactions with the indigenous populations gradually moved from sporadic to regular, with the involvement of the Natives in the local economy growing from marginal to engaged. Also, unlike in exploitation colonies, where the European colonizers remained a small, though powerful, minority, the colonists in non-plantation settlement colonies became the overwhelming majorities and instituted socio-economic systems that function totally in their own dominant language. Once demarginalized and now minorities, the Natives in former settlement colonies have felt more and more pressure on them to shift to the majorities’ languages for their economic survival, especially after their physical ecologies have been transformed in ways that deprived them of the alternative of practicing their traditional economic systems.

In terms of costs and benefits, as a function of the changing socio-economic ecologies, it was only natural for the Natives to shift to the colonists’ languages. Unlike in exploitation colonies, language shift was critical to the survival of the Natives in settlement colonies, at the cost of losing many of their traditions. In most former exploitation colonies, the Natives did not even feel the pressure to shift, because they remained the overwhelming majorities who in the rural areas have been barely affected by the economic and political transformations undergone by their territories, including the formation of nation states. The options most of them had were either to continue operating in their traditional world or to work in the low cost colonial and post-colonial labor system that does not require a European language.

As a matter of fact, the new world order in former exploitation colonies is such that even the elite participating in the interfacing sector of the economy have had no pressure, except from their own personal attitudes, to give up their indigenous languages. If anything, unless they decided to sever links with their ancestral customs, the pressure has been just the opposite: one must preserve one’s competence in the ancestral languages in order to continue interacting with one’s relatives in the rural areas. Two factors have especially protected the indigenous languages from being driven out by European languages: 1) the indigenous populations have remained numerically quite superior to the colonizers; 2) the overwhelming majority of them have formed a proletariat that has barely assimilated the external values brought by the colonizers.

The closest approximation of these European values is evident in the development of urban societies, in which  traditional and European-colonial ways have mixed and the new indigenous lingua francas, favored by the colonial systems, have gained economic power, and prestige, and have gradually displaced the ancestral ethnic languages. They are the ones that can be said to have endangered indigenous languages, to the extent that some rural populations have been shifting to the urban vernaculars, abandoning some of their traditional cultural values for those practiced in the city. On the other hand, the absence of economic correlates of this appeal of urban values has slowed down the effect that the current linguistic stratification could have had on rural vernaculars. The city has also frustrated some of its residents. Some disenchanted individuals have returned to their rural roots and speak their ancestral languages with zeal.

In the same vein, unemployment in cities and the ever-growing size of the proletariat in African and other Third World countries have also disfavored usage of European languages. There are fewer and fewer incentives for speaking these languages that have sometimes been interpreted as means of exploitation. Even in more prosperous former exploitation colonies such as Singapore and Malaysia, European languages have continued to function primarily as bridges with the world outside one’s home, or outside one’s ethnic group or neighborhood, or outside one’s country.10 Otherwise, it remains natural to communicate with members of one’s inner group in an indigenous, or non-European language.

We should thus not overrate the importance of European languages regarding language endangering. The experience in former exploitation colonies has certainly not been the same as in former settlement colonies, as much as European colonization in general has spread European languages to territories where they were not spoken 400 years ago. Former plantation settlement colonies reveal features of both exploitation and settlement colonies. They are like the latter in that the indigenous languages have generally disappeared, due to the rapid and dramatic deaths of their speakers or regarding the relocations of indigenous populations to places where they discontinued speaking their languages.

The colonies are also similar in that several immigrants lost the languages of their motherlands. As pointed out in note 4, the homestead period in these settlement colonies must have exerted a serious negative founder effect on the languages of the enslaved Africans. As explained in note 4, they were originally integrated as small minorities in the homesteads, which were isolated from each other. They had nobody with whom to speak their languages within the homestead, and in the rare events that they happened to know somebody on another homestead who spoke the same language, there was not enough regular interaction that would have permitted the retention of that common language. Attrition and loss were simply caused by lack of opportunities to interact in the African languages.11 Their creole children learned to speak the colonial languages as their vernaculars and they would in fact become the models emulated by the masses of bozal slaves of the plantation period.

While the colonies were growing from homestead societies to plantation societies, creole slaves were typically preferred to bozal slaves, as they were generally more familiar with the local customs and vernaculars (see, e.g., Berlin 1998). They were often spared the hardship of working as field hands, and they thought of themselves as superior to the bozal slaves, whom they had the responsibility of seasoning. This process entailed acculturating the bozal slaves to the local vernacular. The constant decrease in opportunities to speak African languages, especially in socioeconomic settings marked by high societal multilingualism, fostered more and more erosion of the African languages, and eventually their loss. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of how rural populations have been absorbed over the past century in sub-Saharan African cities, except that here the existence of ethnic neighborhoods has slowed down the process of language shift.

Like in sub-Saharan African cities too, the African slaves formed the overwhelming majorities of the plantation societies. People of European descent have been a small minorities, with small subsets of them emerging as affluent. Yet, the countries that evolved from such plantation societies still contain large proletarian majorities that speak Creole and identify socioeconomically with it. Because of lack of incentives in an economic system depending on foreign markets and industry, participating only marginally in the world’s global economy, and becoming poorer and poorer, Creole has gained more vitality in relation to the acrolectal language varieties spoken by the upper class. In places like Jamaica and Haiti, one learns quickly that the prestige of a language does not necessarily entail its vitality.

The underprivileged do not necessarily aspire at the varieties spoken by the more affluent members of their societies, especially if the varieties won’t improve their conditions. As a matter of fact being economically disfranchised is often a good reason for despising those prestigious varieties.

4. Why speakers shift languages: What linguists should not ignore
As argued in Mufwene (in press), prestige alone won’t favor a particular language (variety) over others. Shifting to a particular language is typically associated with particular benefits to be derived from its usage, especially economic ones. Otherwise, speakers stick to the languages they have traditionally spoken, although they may learn another one for interaction with outsiders. However, even this behavior is benefit-driven. Most Third World populations will not shift to European languages, because the alternatives are not likely to improve their conditions. In the first place, the division of labor which relies on indigenous lingua francas in the lower sectors of the economy (in which most of the workforce are engaged) makes it even unnecessary to target a European language, because the jobs associated with them are very few.

Immigrants to the New World and Australia shifted to the dominant languages because they had emerged as the only languages of the colonies’ economic systems and they had something to gain from the shift, or at least they avoided the danger of not being able to compete at all on the new job markets. Although slaves gave up their languages because they often had nobody else to speak them with, an important reason why their children never bothered learning their parents’ languages (just like children in African cities) is that they had everything to gain in speaking the colonial languages as fluently as they could.

Now the question arises of whether linguists can help some languages thrive by encouraging their speakers to have pride in their ancestral heritage, even if they lack control over situations that have led them to give up their languages. Over the past decade language endangerment has become a major preoccupation among linguists. In his seminal (1992) article on the subject matter Michael Krauss instilled a certain amount of guilt among linguists, accusing them of not being concerned enough by a negative phenomenon that should have received more attention and stating that history will remember us, unlike environmentalists, as the only profession that did not care about the loss of the subject matters of their research: languages. The number of publications has increased since then. They have typically blamed the European colonization of the past 400 years and today’s global economy for this state of affairs. Some of them have spoken about “killer languages,” which are guilty of linguicide (by analogy to homicide) as if languages had independent lives and weapons of their own.12

The issues have sometimes become confusing, especially when language preservation and language maintenance are confused as one and the same thing, and the very linguists whose party line is that language is primarily oral and spoken have privileged the school system and the written medium as ways of saving the endangered languages. Very little scholarship has been invested in understanding the ecology of language and what it takes to sustain the vitality of a language, especially in territories where several languages have coexisted seemingly happily with one another under an efficient division of labor in the repertoires that contain them. As stated in the Introduction, this essay is a general theoretical response to the above characteristics of that literature, to show that languages do not kill languages, but their own speakers do, in giving them up, although they themselves are victims of changes in the socioeconomic ecologies in which they evolve.13 Solutions that focus on the victims rather than on the causes of their plights are just as bad as environmental solutions that focus on affected species rather than on the ecologies that affect the species.

European colonization of the past four centuries has definitely contributed to the predicament of languages around the world, as it has introduced new socioeconomic world orders that have pre-empted the usefulness of some languages. However, it is helpful to put things in a historical perspective too. Language shift and language loss are neither new nor recent phenomena, as evidenced by the fact that only 3% of the world’s languages are spoken in Europe (Mayor & BindÈ 2001), which is one of the most densely populated parts of the world. The prevalence of English (a Germanic language) in the United Kingdom and of Romance languages in a large proportion of Western Europe has been at the expense of Celtic languages, only a handful of which are still spoken today. The Germanic languages are now spoken in territories that used to be Celtic. The Indo-European languages have spread and prevailed in territories formerly inhabited by other populations, as evidenced by rare survivals such as Basque and Finnish.

As observed in note 9, the Stammbaums of genetic linguistics, which illustrate language diversification and therefore an increase in the number of languages have masked the concomitant phenomenon of the loss of indigenous languages where the new Indo-European languages have emerged. Things seem to have proceeded the same way they have recently, with some languages prevailing at the expense of others and being transformed in the process, becoming new varieties and eventually being recognized as separate languages. We should try to understand why and how Basque and Finnish survived the dispersal of Indo-European languages, while the majority of others vanished, and we should investigate similarities and differences between what happened then and what is happening now, and why some populations just cannot preserve their languages against the invaders while some invaders have actually given up their own languages.

Linguists have typically bemoaned loss of linguistic, especially typological, diversity. Rarely have they focused on the speakers themselves in terms of motivation (other than the obvious pressure on them) and costs-and-benefits to their survival. The usual concern with loss of ancestral traditions is nothing more but a politically correct way of bemoaning loss of interesting resources for linguistics. Seldom have linguists addressed the question of whether the survival of a language would entail more adequate adaptations of its speakers to the changing socioeconomic ecologies. Short of claiming that cultures are static, and failing to notice that the populations who have shifted to new languages have concurrently developed new and hybrid cultures, linguists have also bemoaned the fact that such populations have lost their ancestral cultures. The question arises of whether the ancestral cultures are necessarily more adaptive to the current world order than the new ones, just like the question of whether the peculiarities of the lost or endangered languages are more informative about Universal Grammar than are the new patterns of variation and language diversification that follow from their appropriation of languages spoken by the more powerful group. There has really been no true assessment of costs and benefits to speakers and mostly the costs and benefits to linguistics have been at the center of the relevant debates.

It should help to recall that much of the concern for language endangerment has been modeled on environmentalists’ concern about the degradation of our physical ecology due to modern industry. Like linguists, environmentalists are ecologists, generally biologists, more precisely population geneticists who have specialized on the coevolution of species and their environments. We would really be their counterparts if there were a research area in linguistics that specializes on the coevolution of speakers, their socioeconomic ecologies, and their languages. The concern for language endangerment seems to have caught linguists off guard and we have been prescribing remedies without the requisite understanding of the socioeconomic dynamics that have affected the vitality of languages negatively or positively in different parts of the world throughout the history of mankind.

There is also another important point of difference. Environmentalists are concerned with the environment relative to humans, the way we humans should coexist with other species, and how we are affected by what affects them, thus the need for biodiversity relative to our survival. We humans have generally been distinguished by environmentalists from that ecology. However, things are not so similar regarding languages. These means of communication do not have independent lives from their speakers. Humans and their socioeconomic activities are the ecologies of languages, or, as expressed in Mufwene (2001), speakers are both their creators and their hosts. What affects speakers socioeconomically often affects their languages too. The physical ecologies of speakers are by transitivity also those of languages, and speakers’ adaptations to these ecologies when they change affect languages too. Changes in the vitality of languages can thus be interpreted as part of their speakers’ adaptations to changing ecologies.

As much as we would like to sustain some form of linguistic diversity parallel to biodiversity, it is difficult to pursue this goal without assessing clearly the ways in which the relevant socioeconomic ecologies have changed and consequently the actual nature of costs and benefits to speakers in the ways they have adapted to these changes. After all, the bottom line is that languages are tools that must remain useful to speakers and arguments for the maintenance of particular languages should not overlook the role that such languages will play in the efforts of speakers to cope with ecological changes affecting them.14

The observation that speakers make their languages to serve their needs should not be taken lightly. Although languages wind up emerging as windows into the cultures and histories of particular populations, they exercise the important function of helping speakers communicate with each other and thereby manage conditions or ecologies that affect their survival. Unless giving up a particular language in favor of another is likely to affect negatively the survival of a particular population in a changing socioeconomic ecology, linguists must really justify what particular benefits or selective advantage its maintenance is likely to bring its speakers under those particular conditions.

Most linguists’ arguments have revolved around the maintenance or preservation of particular cultures. In the first place, arguments for preservation should not be confused with arguments for maintenance. As long as preserving a language means freezing it in some form, especially writing, so that interested individuals who remain familiar with their systems can have a glimpse into a frozen part of its speakers’ cultural history, there is no particular social problem with that. The endeavor is just as good as the preservation of particular artifacts as evidence of the material culture of a particular people at some stage of their history.

Most arguments for maintenance have also suggested that cultures and languages are static. Such discourse could also have been developed against language change. It has ignored the fact that speakers make their languages as they speak and cultures are being shaped as members of particular communities behave in specific ways. These are dynamic systems that keep evolving as people behave linguistically and otherwise and as they keep adapting them to new situations. That is, languages coevolve with their speakers. Language shift, which is the main cause of language endangerment and death, is part of this adaptive coevolution, as speakers endeavor to meet their day-to-day communicative needs. It is not so much that linguistic changes are bringing about cultural changes but that linguistic changes echo cultural changes. That is language shift is no more but an adaptive response to changes in a particular culture, most of which is what I have identified as a socio‚economic ecology. Arguments for language maintenance without arguments for concurrent changes in the present socioeconomic ecologies of speakers seem to ignore the centrality of native speakers in the whole situation.

Suggesting that speakers will maintain or preserve their cultures if they continue speaking them is ignoring the fact that in the first place they would not stop speaking their language if they valued its association with their ancestral culture over their necessary adaptation to the current world order — a simple matter of prioritizing things in their struggle for survival. The position in the average literature on the subject matter is also tantamount to assuming that language and culture go hand in hand, that only one language can best mirror or convey a particular culture, and that another language cannot be adapted to convey it. Sapir (1921) argues convincingly for decoupling language and culture as separate systems.15 The literature of indigenized Englishes and African French, for instance, have made it quite obvious that a language can be adapted to a different culture — which gives more meaning to the notion of ‘language appropriation’ (so much preferred by Chaudenson 2001 over that of ‘language learning’). So populations shifting to another language have always had the option of adapting the new language to their ancestral culture. After all it is generally influenced by their substrate systems and typically develops into a new variety.

We can perhaps argue that a language mirrors a culture because it is itself part of a culture. Changes affecting it reflect changes in a particular culture. Arguing for its maintenance when the population of its speakers behave differently reflects a value judgement on the part of the linguist, who rates the ancestral culture over the one that is being fashioned by the speakers’ linguistic behavior. A problem then arises when nothing is being done or advocated to change the ecology, to which speakers adapt. Linguists are thus different from environmentalists who have realized that the survival of a particular species depends largely on restoring the ecology in which it thrives. Linguists’ proposal for rescuing endangered languages suggests that speakers must continue their traditional communicative behaviors, regardless of the changing socioeconomic ecologies. Somebody should explain how adaptive such resistance to changing ecologies is or how a language can continued to be spoken as a vernacular when the ecological structures that used to support it barely survive.

Since there are countries such as Taiwan which have succeeded in appropriating the Western capitalist economic system without losing much of the Chinese culture and language, it is obviously clear that other countries could have taken that path. It should help to know why they did not choose it. And the question also remains whether things can be reversed in nations whose cultural and linguistic experiences have been different and under what realistic conditions, bearing in mind that under certain ecological conditions speakers shift to the language that promises to benefit them the most.16

If the current ecology cannot be changed, linguists should perhaps focus realistically on language preservation (Paul Newman 1998, in press), rather than maintenance. They should thus also invest more time into understanding the natural laws which since the beginnings of mankind, through colonization, have regulated language shift, the loss of some languages, the emergence of new ones, and the balance sheets of losses and gains at different states in history. Then we will be able to deal with language endangerment with justifications other than benefits and costs to linguistics. My position remains that costs and benefits to speakers as individuals adapting to socioeconomic changes that affect them should have played a more central role than is evident from the literature to date, and speakers are far more important to our planet and in the environmentalist discourse than their languages.

Scholars such as Nettle & Romaine (2000, cited here because they have the most explicit discussion of all the books published in 2000 and 2001) argue that a certain amount of traditional folk knowledge of their environments is lost with the dying languages. The observation is definitely true, but it fails to note that the environment itself is changing and this particular knowledge may be becoming quite irrelevant to it. Moreover, the culture and this specific knowledge must have been eroding concurrently with the language itself, if not before it, otherwise they would be transferred to the new language. One way or another, insisting on the utility of the endangered language and on bilingualism, when the socioeconomic ecology can no longer sustain them suggests that a language can be sustained regardless of whether or not it really contributes to the socialization of the young into new realities. Yet, experience everywhere suggests that linguistic behavior is profit-driven (Bourdieu 1991). One would like to invest not only in forms and structures that maximize their linguistic capital but also in a language that is beneficial to them. Individual multilingualism is possible typically when it is advantageous to the speaker. It is perhaps not by accident that in highly stratified societies multilinguals are the most numerous in the lower classes or among the elite who have a vested interest in communicating with the lower classes. In societies that are typically monolingual, multilingualism is practiced by those who can travel outside their communities and interact with outsiders. Not everybody has a vested interest in speaking more than one language. A profile of individuals or communities that give up their languages in favor of others will be informative in future research.

5. Colonization and globalization: Not such new phenomena
The current literature on language endangerment has presented the phenomenon primarily as one of the negative side-effects of European expansion and colonization of most of the non-European world over the past half millennium. It is true that the geographical and political extents of European expansion have been unprecedented, for instance when one compares the size of the British Commonwealth, as discontinuous as it has been, with that of the Roman Empire a millennium earlier. However, putting things in perspective, one can also realize that the difference in size is also a function of differences in modes of communication. About 1,500 years ago, the size of the Roman Empire was certainly also unprecedented, in fact too large to have central control over, at least under the communicative conditions of the time. Easier and faster transportation systems since the 15th century have enabled the European conquest of territories much farther away from the metropole. Easier and faster means of communication (especially with the invention of the telegraph and telephone, of the radio and television, and now of the internet) have facilitated the political, military, and economic controls of bigger and bigger colonies, making the world look even smaller. Improvements in control techniques have also facilitated the control of more and more aspects of the colonies.

However, today’s colonization differs from colonization of the earlier times more in size and complexity than in kind. It is not so common to refer to the dispersal of the Bantu populations from the southern Nigeria and western Cameroon area into central and southern Africa or of that of Indo-Europeans from Asia Minor to Europe as colonization. In reality, they are, consisting of the domination of indigenous populations by outsiders with stronger forms of economy. As Nettle & Romaine (2000) point out, agriculturalists generally colonized hunter-gatherers and imposed their economic systems on them. Thus the Bantu populations have generally assimilated or decimated the Pygmies and Khoisans in central and southern Africa, and only a few of these latter populations remain today as distinct minorities in a wide area considered Bantu. Of the non-Indo-European languages which preceded the European languages, Basque, Finnish, and Lap are notorious exceptions whose survival conditions need uncovering. Basque is an especially interesting case, because it has survived both the Indo-European and Roman colonizations. Much of the present linguistic map of Western Europe represents consequences of language shift, under colonization, for Roman or Germanic languages. Celtic languages have become moribund minorities in a wide territory, from Germany to the British Isles, that used to be dominated by the Celts.

We stand to learn a lot by trying to understand similarities and differences among those earlier forms of colonization, and between them and the recent European phenomenon of the past 400 years outside Europe. For instance, both British Isles and the southern part of Western Europe were colonized by the Romans. In both parts, Latin was the colonial language. However, the Romance languages have developed only in the latter part. Although one can invoke the subsequent colonization of the British Isles by the Germanics, we cannot ignore the fact that subsequent to Roman colonization, Iberia was dominated first by the Arabs and then by the Visigoths, and France was dominated also by the Frankish. Nor can we ignore the fact that the colonization of England by the Norman French caused no language shift of the kind that would produce a new language from that of the colonizers. Its main consequence was the development of the ancestor of today’s standard English varieties.

It is also important to stress the fact that like in Africa, for instance, it was after the colonizers had left that the important proportions of the indigenous populations shifted to the colonizers’ languages. Can we assume that if the Germanics had not settled permanently in the British Isles, these territories would have become Romance too? Or are there other factors that must be taken into account? Why didn’t the Arab, Visigoth, Frankish, and Norman colonizations of Iberia, France, and England have the same effects regarding the vitality of indigenous and colonial languages as the Roman and Germanic colonizations of the same territories did? Did all these cases involve colonization of the same style, such as settlement or exploitation? If so, how did they vary?

There are yet similarities between England and North America in the styles of their settlement colonization by outsiders and in the fates of their indigenous languages. When the Germanics settled in England, they drove the Celts westward and later on they assimilating the survivors. So did the Europeans in North America, getting concessions on the eastern coast of North America and driving the Natives westward. Eventually, they assimilated the survivors, after the American Revolution (which was primarily the independence of  European colonists from England) and the present United States had been formed. Native Americans were really not brought into American politics and recognized as American citizens until late in the 19th century, and this assimilation process in itself was quite reminiscent of the gradual absorption on of the Celts in the British Isles by the Germanic invaders. Colonized since the 5th century, some Celts such as the Irish did not become subjects of the United Kingdom  until the 19th century, long after Oliver Cromwell initiated the settlement colonization of Ireland in the 17th century and potato plantations became one of its major industries. In both cases, the loss of indigenous languages did not start till the assimilation of the Natives to the current socio-economic system.17

Noteworthy in all such cases is the fact that absorption of the indigenous population by the colonizers has generally led to the loss of indigenous languages, regardless of whether the Natives are kept in a subordinate position or treated as equal. The critical factor is that of involving them in an economic system in which one must use the language of the new ruler in order to compete in the labor force and function adaptively. This is an aspect of globalization qua homogenization, requiring that things work more or less the same way in the colony as in the metropole, especially in the exercise of power and control of the working class. Here one finds similarities between the Germanicization of England and the rest of the British Isles, the Islamicization of North Africa and Iberia, and the Romanization of southwestern Europe. In the latter case, the impact was linguistically the most devastating after the Romans had left, raising in part the question of why the same thing did not happen in England as in France, Spain, and Portugal. The question also arises of why what happened linguistically in part of the former western Roman empire and in Italy did not happen in the eastern empire, where the Romans continued their domination much longer?

The fact that the Romans withdrew from western part of their empire also suggests that their colonization was apparently more on the exploitation model than on the settlement one. The question thus arises of the conditions under which the language of the former colonizer may be adopted to gradually replace the indigenous languages. As we must recall, this is not about to happen in sub-Saharan Africa, where overall any danger to minor indigenous ethnic languages arises more from the expansion of the indigenous lingua francas which also function as urban vernaculars than from the European colonial languages (Mufwene 2001).18 One important social ecological factor here is that Roman soldiers and administrators married into the local communities and obviously transmitted their language to their children. The latter, who shared power with their parents, also used their Romance languages (i.e., Celticized Vulgar Latin, like today’s Africanized French, for instance) in ruling their countries, continuing basically the same Roman administrative style.

In sub-Saharan Africa, segregation was the rule and cross-race unions were relatively rare. Most such unions occurred between the European merchants, those who had no political or administrative power, with African women. The children had barely more advantages than the more indigenous colonial elite, who had the same kind of colonial education. Overall, as auxiliaries to the colonial rule, the African elite were just intermediaries between, on the one hand, the indigenous populations and, on the other, the European colonizers. They continued to socialize with the less privileged indigenous mass and hardly gave up their ancestral cultures, despite their adoption of colonial values. As those of them who visited the metropole must have quickly noticed, they hardly ever westernized, in part because they were hardly acculturated extensively to it, despite their exposure to the European languages. Besides their Africanized varieties were still derided by the Western speakers. Thus their usage of European languages was highly circumscribed, being limited to interactions with Europeans and less commonly to interactions among Africans from different ethnic backgrounds.

Even the few mulattoes that were to be found still had to speak African languages in order to fit in the majority of indigenous populations. One can argue that competence in indigenous languages enabled the elite to still claim roots in an Africa that was ruled and exploited by the colonizers whom they ironically served but who shared little in benefits with them. While running post-Independence Africa, the elite generally tried to maintain the socio-economic structure of colonial sub-Saharan Africa, though they became more successful in maintaining the linguistic division of labor than in sustaining the colonial economic (infra)structure. The decline of their national economies has actually favored the new indigenous lingua francas over the European official languages inherited from the colonial rule. In Tanzania, Swahili has been promoted at the expense of English, and in cities like Kinshasa Lingala has gained more prestige than French in modern popular culture, where French is derided.

Former plantation settlement colonies are somewhat like sub-Saharan African countries in that language varieties of the proletarian masses are far from being endangered by the acrolects that were privileged by the colonial systems. As a matter of fact former English and French plantation settlement colonies were converted into exploitation colonies after the abolition of slavery, with their administrators appointed from the colonial metropoles. The economic systems of all these territories, which remain in the Third World group, have remained generally the same as those of sub-Saharan African countries, with the exception of French overseas departments, whose economic discrepancies from the metropole are just being addressed now. Haiti, which became independent the earliest, in 1804, shows perhaps even the highest proportion of speakers of Creole. As Dejean (1993) points out, this only vernacular of the overwhelming majority of the Haitian population is far from being threatened by French.19

Yet, students of language endangerment cannot continue dodging interesting questions that arise from discrepancies among colonization styles. These linguistic developments are like natural evolution in population genetics, where it is absolutely imperative that one understand what ecological factors bring about particular consequences for varying species in an econiche. The non-uniform linguistic consequences of colonization over the world makes it compelling for linguists to have to investigate and better understand the socio-economic factors that affect language vitality, favoring colonial languages at times but indigenous languages at others.

It is also obvious that many of the developments today have antecedents in earlier history, more obviously in the colonization of England by the Germanics and in that of Southwestern Europe by the Romans some centuries earlier. Even the developments were not uniform. Interpreting those earlier cases depends partly on how well we understand the recent cases of colonization and what parallelisms we find between them and their antecedents of previous centuries. In turn, our understanding of the past will shed different light on what we thought we already understood well. What seems particularly obvious is that political and economic globalization in the sense of homogenization at least in the ways of doing things is not a new phenomenon. We have to put things in perspective and assess the balance sheets of losses and gains in terms of benefits to speakers, whose needs the languages had to serve in the first place. They are the ones that are the bottom line of any considerations we can have about language vitality, rather than about loss of cultures or linguistic diversity. No culture nor language has remained the same in the course of time. There is no particular reason why we should want those spoken or experienced today to do otherwise. There is new diversity coming into being all the time, and it too is as informative about the human mind and Universal Grammar as the outgoing one, in ways similar to the replacement of languages in centuries past. It is not so much a specific form of diversity that matters but rather how much can be understood about variation in the architecture of Universal Grammar based on diversity that is available. Otherwise, we would have to resurrect all the dead languages for a truly accurate picture of also the evolution of Universal Grammar itself.

6. Imperial languages and language endangerment: A myth that cannot go on
Globalization in the sense of ‘emergence of international and regional economic networks with blurred national boundaries’ as well as in the sense of ‘economic monopoly over less developed polities for raw materials and as outlets of one’s technology’ have led world languages such as English and French to compete with each other as imperial or hegemonic languages. These are languages that need not serve as lingua francas among the elite of the indigenous populations (although they often do too) but are primarily needed to interface local economies (regardless of how globalized they are) with foreign and more globalized systems. For instance, French is maintained in Haiti only because this is necessary to maintain some economic ties with France, despite the apparently more important fact that the elite need it to isolate themselves from the proletarian mass (DeGraff 2002). Taiwan and Hong Kong could do locally with their local Chinese varieties and without English, but they use this language to maintain their global associations at the international level with The United States and the United Kingdom. Malaysia and Singapore could probably also do without English and use Malay only as their national lingua franca if their economies did not depend so largely on American and British markets. More and more Third World countries, in especially Africa, have become arenas where English and French are competing with each other for monopoly. French has been losing ground and books such as Hag
Pge (2000), joined by Crystal (2000), Nettle & Romaine (2000), and Renard (2001), decry this expansionism of English. They connect it with the McDonaldization of the world or the world-wide spread of American movies and other cultural products. As a matter of fact, as if to trivialize the language endangerment “problem,” La Francophonie claims that French is endangered by English. In a March 2002 posting on The Linguist, the British Professor Geoffrey Sampson made a similar absurd observation, apparently confusing the French population’s now better disposition to use English as a lingua franca with an unfounded fear of seeing it used as a vernacular in France or Francophone Belgium. There is no evidence of such an evolution yet in these strongholds of French as a vernacular, not even in Quebec, where the economic pressure for such a development is stronger.20

Interestingly, McDonald stores around the world operate in the local lingua francas, if not their vernaculars (as in the case of France and Germany). It is not even evident that one needs to prove competence in English in order to have a managerial position in its stores. Hollywood films are often translated into local lingua francas/vernaculars (as in France and Germany), though the music is not. Those who learn in English to partake in American pop culture do not even dream of using it as a vernacular — which is true of many parts of the world, including France, Germany, and Russia. What we learn here is indeed some association of the spread of imperial languages with their technologies, which are usually exported with their languages. However, in the vast majorities of places where the imperial languages were not already adopted during the colonial period, the languages are being learned (and introduced in the school system), or alternatively being abandoned, in terms of costs and benefits to the local population. Thus, it is those who hope to benefit from hegemonic languages who invest the most energy into them.

Practical considerations prevail a great deal more than linguists have acknowledged. Proximity to North America has made English more attractive than French to many Haitians today. Economic or technological aid from the USA (even if only symbolic), rather than ideological drives on the part of France to propagate French culture, has made English more attractive  to several Third World countries. Economic and professional incentives have made English an asset, albeit as a second lingua franca, even to native Francophone professionals. In any case, one cannot lose sight of the fact that imperial languages are far from becoming vernaculars in these places where the elite still use their indigenous languages in domains associated with their local cultures. It is contradictory on the part of linguists to advocate multilingualism as a possible solution for the survival of languages around the world and yet discourage people from appropriating international languages that should enable them to satisfy personal economic and other cultural interests. One would perhaps have to worry if the hegemonic languages were becoming vernaculars, but they are not, except in former settlement colonies, where it is too late to undo things. Even in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where English is widely spoken among Asians of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds, the indigenous languages are far from being threatened by it, despite the overt policy of some Singaporean officials to see English function as a vernacular for all.

As noted above, in several places in the Third World, weak indigenous languages are being threatened by major indigenous languages, not by the colonial or imperial languages, which are spoken regularly only by a small fraction of the population. In those same places, degrading economic conditions have fostered more solidarity within the proletariat and more association with a local lingua franca as a socio-economic identity marker than with the colonial official language. In places such as India, numbers alone are among the strongest defense weapons against the potential spread of English as a vernacular.

There is an exaggerated view of language endangerment as a uniform problem, based on demographic considerations alone, which has been propagated by much of the literature on the subject matter. This is best illustrated with Nettle & Romaine’s (2000) list of the world’s most widely spoken languages, which includes Chinese varieties, Bengali, Hindi, Japanese, Javanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Telugu alongside recent major colonial languages, viz., English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. The list is partly corroborated by the following list of “eight most widely spoken languages” produced by Mayor & BindÈ (2001:334): Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, and French.

There is no doubt that colonization of one style or another in the distant past accounts for the fact that all these languages are so widely spoken. The history of the world is marked by regular waves of population movements on small and large scales, with the stronger people assimilating or displacing those they did not kill. This is as much true of the current distribution of the Bantu languages and it is of that of Indo-European languages.21 Asia is no exception, and the current movement for the independence of Tibet from China is but an evolution from that old expansionist colonization which brought together populations speaking different languages. (This imposition is likewise evidenced by differences among Chinese varieties and promotions of Putonghua ‘common language’, native name for Mandarin ‘official language’, which is based primarily on the Peking variety, as the unifying language).

To be sure, many of the same formerly colonial languages function today primarily as vernaculars rather than as lingua francas. They are also dispersed worldwide, with diasporic communities that are largely a consequence of European colonization and its demand for labor. Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Japanese, Javanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Telugu, none of which qualifies as a world language, certainly fall in this category. Even when they are spoken outside their homelands, they function only as vernaculars among transplanted people from the same ethnolinguistic background. Thus, in North America and Europe, Chinese is spoken typically in Chinatowns (though one cannot even take it for granted that the younger generation is acquiring it in these neighborhoods).

The other languages (English, French, Arabic, etc.) are recent hegemonic languages that largely owe the large numbers of their speakers also to their lingua franca functions. English and French in particular have more non-native than native speakers. While Chinese vernaculars may be a real threat to some Tibetan languages, English, French, and Arabic are certainly no dangers to many languages of the Third World, where they are spoken as second language varieties and for highly circumscribed functions, and only by small fractions of the indigenous population.

Besides, there is a fallacy in counting Nigeria and India as Anglophone countries in the same way as the United States is, or the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Island of Dominica, and Vietnam as Francophone in the same way as France, QuÈbec, and Belgium are. Along with Dejean (1993), I think it is problematic to count Haiti with its overwhelming majority of monolingual Creole speakers as Francophone, unless of course one counts Haitian Creole as a French dialect. The same seems to be true of all territories where creoles lexified by European languages have developed. Despite present schemes by France to develop its overseas departments economically (most by supporting their infrastructures for tourism), there is no indication that French is a threat to CrÈole in these territories. Similar doubt can be cast about all territories where creoles have coexisted with their lexifiers and have derived a lot of vitality from association with the cultures of the disfranchised proletarian majorities.

It is also noteworthy that Spanish and Portuguese are widely spoken today mostly thanks to the settlement colonization of several parts of the world by their European speakers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Portugal and Spain have no economic or military hegemonies today that would make them threats to other languages outside those same settlement colonies. In more of less the same vein, note that Arabic has become so much associated with Islam that it can hardly stand up to the competition of English and French for the function of international lingua franca even in those territories of North Africa and the Middle East where Arabic vernaculars are spoken.

However, as noted above, the lingua franca function is hardly a threat to indigenous languages in those territories where the hegemonic languages do not function as vernaculars. As a matter of fact, the best lesson here comes from the fact that standard varieties of the same languages have generally not displaced their nonstandard vernaculars, just like acrolectal varieties have not displaced basilectal and mesolectal ones in creole-speaking territories. In the now celebrated case of Ocracoke Brogue as an endangered dialect (Wolfram and Shilling-Estes 1995), the dialect has actually been endangered by other vernacular varieties, not by Standard English. Not even highly stigmatized varieties such as African-American English and Appalachian English are at all threatened by Standard English. French patois, as either traditional Celtic languages or rural nonstandard French dialects (franÁais populaires), have been threatened by urban colloquial French, not by Standard French. Perhaps one of the very reasons why hegemonic languages are a false perceived threat to indigenous languages in several places around the world is that they are not vernaculars in the first place.

7. Conclusions
Language endangerment is a much more complex subject matter than most of the literature has led us to think. The process is far from being new in the history of mankind. It has been a concomitant of language diversification, the hidden aspect that the Stammbaums of genetic linguistics have not revealed. This is itself a byproduct of language appropriation, a process during which languages currently spoken by the learners influence the one they target. Such contacts have sometimes caused language shift (instead of sustaining bi- or multilingualism), which is directly related to language loss.

It is also far from being uniform from one territory to another, being in part correlated with variation in different colonization styles and in the communicative functions that the new languages have assumed in various territories relative to their indigenous counterparts. They are largely a function of the new economic systems that have replaced the indigenous ones and the extent to which the Natives have been absorbed, assimilated, or integrated in the current systems.

Integration happens when populations coexist in some sort of peace, not when they are fighting each other. This state of affairs makes it ironical and inadequate to speak of language wars, rather than on mere competition ensuing from choices that speakers make during their verbal interactions. It also reveals an interesting thing about how language loss occurs, viz., the stronger language endangers the weaker one(s) stealthily while speakers are happy to be able to communicate (successfully) in the language of their choice and select the same language at all or most such interactions. The procedure is the same even during periods of enslavement, including the most oppressive ones from the 17th to the 19th centuries in the New World and the Indian Ocean. Making more significant the strength of the founder effect, the homestead societies inflicted a devastating blow to the languages of the enslaved Africans, with the Africans of the homestead phase being forced by the circumstances to operate only in colonial European vernaculars and the plantation-phase slaves being seasoned by the creole slaves into the colonial vernaculars (Chaudenson 2001, Mufwene 2001). The few African languages that survived were brought by indentured servants after the slave trade had been abolished and the newcomers were being slowly integrated within the former slave populations. Languages of other immigrants died also through the same process of absorption within the socio-economic majority or powerful group.

Like the enslaved Africans, the Jews enslaved in Babylon and Egypt had likewise lost their language (Hag
Pge 2000), through integration in the economic infrastructure, while being socially marginalized. However, as has been made obvious by the linguistic experience of countries with large proletarian populations, economic marginalization has just the opposite effect. The disfranchised proletarians stick to their indigenous or nonstandard vernaculars as markers of their identity and are forced by the circumstances to avoid the language associated with their economic exploitation. In the big picture of competition and selection among languages, cases of language extinction by genocide remain exceptional. Those due to absorption of demographically or economically less powerful groups are more typical.

Language loss is indeed one of the outcomes of competition and selection among languages sharing the same econiche. Competition and selection among languages, not just between the indigenous and non-indigenous ones is similar to that which obtains among structural features in language evolution (Mufwene 2001). Like structural features, languages or dialects can be a threat to each other only when they compete for the same functions. Languages or dialects that have separate communicative or social functions can coexist quite happily, which has typically been the case between European languages and indigenous languages in former exploitation colonies. Overall, it is when a language is adopted as a vernacular that it becomes a threat to the speaker’s previous vernacular. European languages have been such threats to indigenous languages in former settlement colonies because they have become vernaculars, albeit in new, restructured forms. On their other hand, their status as lingua francas in exploitation colonies has made them primarily economic assets for a chosen few and rather marginal from the vernacular cultures of the overall national populations.

It is thus important to distinguish between plantation settlement colonies, where descendants of non-Europeans have constituted demographic majorities (as on the Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands), and other settlement colonies, where descendants of Europeans have become majorities (as in the American mainland and Australia). In plantation settlement colonies, distinct new varieties disfranchised as creoles and associated with the proletarian mass have emerged. They have acquired a status similar to that of indigenous vernaculars in former exploitation colonies, serving also as identity markers for the economically marginalized proletarian masses. They are not at all threatened by the acrolectal varieties associated with the elite sections of the populations, which contain a disproportionate size of people of European and mixed descent. Although new, restructured vernaculars have likewise emerged in other settlement colonies, they have generally been treated as continuations of the European languages, have become majority languages, and their generalized position in the new economic systems have made them critical to the adaptation of the other groups. That critical role has made them a threat to the languages of the indigenous populations, who have become minorities and have had to adapt to the changing socioeconomic ecologies, almost like any other minority.

Globalization has been useful to consider in this essay because it sheds insightful light on the role of socioeconomic system in language vitality. One can determine how global(ized) a particular polity is, whether or not its whole population is involved in the global economy, in what language the economy functions, what position the European colonial language plays in it, and whether it competes with particular indigenous languages for that function. It was shown above that even in places outside the West that operate in the global economy, this system is not necessarily implemented in a European language, and the European language that is spoken in the polity remains an elite language that hardly affects the role of indigenous languages, because it functions primarily as a second-language lingua franca rather than as a vernacular.

Moreover some major languages such as Chinese, Hindi, and Japanese are not hegemonic and constitute threats only to other indigenous languages over which they have prevailed as vernaculars in the present polities. Such local expansion has been facilitated by the local aspect of globalization, which is apparently more relevant to the vitality of languages than regional or world-scale aspects of economic globalization. Although we can identify diasporas in which these languages are spoken (which prompted Nettle & Romaine 2000 and Mayor & BindÈ 2001 to list them among the most widely spoken languages along with English, French, and Arabic), their status even as vernaculars in the Americas and Europe in particular is not the same as in their homelands (the counterparts of natural habitats in ecology). For instance, Chinese varieties as spoken in Singapore and various places in Southeast Asia are less the survival of what the Chinese traders brought there in the 15th and 16th centuries than the result of their dispersal in the 19th century by the British colonists through indentured servitude. The same is true of Indic languages, with later immigrations having only reinforced communities that developed as separate either by colonial settlement design or due to lack of socioeconomic integration in the host countries. In the Caribbean, the speakers were economically absorbed and their languages have hardly survived.

The future of languages in the 21st century obviously depends on how individual countries will evolve socioeconomically during that time. In some parts of the world, globalization is progressing without any serious obstacles that can stop its effects on indigenous languages that are not participating in the economy. On the other hand, the economic future is already so uncertain in some other parts of the world that no indigenous languages and cultures are being affected by the present course of events, except somewhat by the indigenous lingua francas. In most such polities, numbers matter little in determining whether or not a particular population will carry on their indigenous language, so far as they remain isolated from developments outside their communities, as well pointed by Mühlh”usler (1996).  Even where the economy is globalizing, the effects have of course not been the same, such as between South and North America. There is obviously variation in the way globalization is taking place around the world, which should remind linguists again of the danger of overgeneralizing.

While we linguists are so concerned with linguistic diversity as a dimension of biodiversity to be maintained (Maffi 2000, 2001; Nettle & Romaine 2000), we cannot ignore a moral dilemma that arises. The socioeconomic ecologies of most populations around the world have changed since the recent European colonization of the world started four centuries ago (especially over the past four hundred years), and so have their aspirations for decent living. The changes in these socioeconomic ecologies have often involved new languages in which they are expected to develop some competence in order to compete for jobs when they are available. Where the new languages function as vernaculars, the pressure on the indigenous and some immigrant populations to function also in the new languages and be better integrated in their new societies has been unrelenting. Despite their attachments to their ancestral traditions, the pressures of the new socioeconomic systems have made it increasingly difficult to practice their traditional languages and cultures. Lack of practice has produced attrition and eventually death for the languages, despite the will of the relevant populations not to give them up.

It is certainly not unnecessary to echo Ladefoged (1992) with the following questions: Can we linguists work against the aspirations of the affected populations and exhort them to hold on to their languages and cultures only in the interest of a kind of diversity that should benefit our disciplines? In the first place is it possible to sustain a language and culture without an ambient socioeconomic system that can support it? Note that despite Nettle & Romaine’s (2000) characterization of such questions as the “benign neglect” position, languages and cultures are nurtured by practice.22 >From the point of view of competition and selection in the coexistence of languages, linguists’ rhetoric of the past decade seems to be working against the natural adaptive laws that have operated in mankind since our pre-hominid beginnings. Worst of all, they promote a notion of language and culture that is static, ignoring the fact that language endangerment is part of the normal process of language evolution, the same one that produced diversity in the past and is producing a new one today. Underrating the kind of diversity that is emerging now is in itself a moral problem, especially when we cannot prove that the ancestral language varieties and cultures will help the affected populations adapt more adequately to the current socioeconomic ecologies.23

We should remember that typically speakers do not consciously give up their languages. Languages die gradually and inconspicuously as a consequence of communicative practices of their speakers. We can say that speakers kill them by neglect, as they constantly select other language varieties to communicate with speakers of other languages and/or within their own ethnolinguistic group. Speakers typically do this as part of their adaptive response to current socioeconomic ecologies that requires competence in the chosen language for their survival. We cannot just encourage speakers to maintain their ancestral languages even if only as vernaculars for home without concurrent actions on the ecologies themselves that prompted them to behave in manners detrimental to their languages. As experts, linguists should consider what particular adaptive alternatives are really available for the concerned populations, including whether maintaining their ancestral languages is a realistic alternative.

Lest my views are misunderstood, this paper has described my interpretation of the current competition and selection of languages in the world market as part of language evolution. It has prescribed no action, because I feel that none need be prescribed except to fight oppression, which affects the victims’ behaviors. Little of what has produced language endangerment has had to do directly with overt oppression of a group by another. Except in conditions of slavery and genocide, languages have endangered others typically when oppression has been insidious. Most cases of language loss and endangerment are late results of (post-)colonization activities that cannot be reversed. I personally wonder whether linguists have been so constructive in focusing on the victims, from the point of view of language loss, rather than in addressing the perceived problems with the victimizers, those whose actions have changed the socioeconomic ecologies of the present world and produced the present conditions. Linguists need to stop for a while, take some time to interpret the situation less emotionally, and determine whether there is problem to fix, what it is, and what is the best action to take that benefits not only the linguist first but enhances the adaptability of the relevant population. Unfortunately linguists have been more preoccupied with the contribution that the maintenance of linguistic diversity will ultimately make to research the architecture of Universal Grammar than with whether or not speakers who have given up their ancestral languages and cultures have adapted beneficially to their current, changed or changing, socioeconomic ecologies.

The concern with benefits to linguistics rather than to the affected populations, or the conflation of both concerns into one, accounts for the common confusion of the notions ‘maintenance’ and ‘preservation’ in the relevant literature. It seems to me that linguists have little power, if any, to control the current socioeconomic ecologies that have replaced traditional ones all over the world. They cannot create the conditions that would make it rewarding for the affected populations to continue speaking in their languages, the case of maintenance. The interest of linguistics and in some ways of the affected populations (to the extent that they are interested in their past) can be served with language preservation projects, such as recording chunks of discourse, describing them, and thus making evidence of them available to posterity. Paul Newman (1998, in press) speaks eloquently about this, going as far as to exhort linguistics departments to stop underrating descriptive research work in favor of theorizing based on introspection without fieldwork.

Still, consistent with the linguist’s definition of a language as a system (something rather abstract in the minds of speakers), one must remember  that what are being preserved through recordings and transcriptions (more or less as museum artifacts) are not languages per se but evidence thereof, Chomskyan E-languages that can be used to infer the underlying systems. Grammatical descriptions do not preserve languages either, they are analysts’ interpretations of systems used by speakers, and the interpretations may contain inaccuracies. For the purposes of linguistics, they are of course better than no speakers and no languages to work on. My priority still remains the ability of speakers to adapt to their ever-changing ecologies in ways that they find beneficial to them.



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*This paper has largely developed from my contribution to a debate with Professor Claude HagPge, under the title Quel avenir pour les langues?, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, on 19 September 2001. (It was part of the series Entretiens sur le XXIe siPcle.) The original French title was, “Colonisation, mondialisation, globalisation et l’avenir des langues au XXIP siPcle,” from which mondialisation has now been omitted, for reasons that become obvious soon in the main text. The essay has also benefitted from lectures I gave on 7 November and 3 December 2001 at, respectively, the National University of Singapore and Hong Kong University under the title “Colonization, globalization, and language endangerment.” I am also deeply indebted to Michel DeGraff, Claude HagPge, and Alison Irvine for comments on earlier specimens of this publication.

1 I have found the term language war (as used, for instance, in the title of Calvet 1998) rather inadequate, because it suggests that languages that are used by the same community are at war with each other. In the first place, because languages are parasitic species (Mufwene 2001) which are nurtured or neglected by their speakers, they cannot really coexist in that active kind of belligerent and violent relation. Actually, wars between populations tend to increase the vitality of languages, as the warring groups prefer to use their languages as identity markers. Political liberation movements have typically adopted a particular language or dialect, different from that of the ruling group, as theirs. Wars foster differences, though victories do just the opposite and tend to homogenize populations. Indeed, barring cases of absolute genocides, languages have been endangered the most under peaceful conditions, through an insidious process of assimilation. I have adopted the biological terms competition and selection because they are rather neutral. I am also counting on the long tradition of the usage of these terms in population genetics and macroecology, which rests on ecology both as internal to the species (having to do with variation and the coexistence of variants) and as environment. The species are the relevant languages as populations of, or extrapolations from, idiolects. The ecological action on languages is effected through the regular non-belligerent communicative acts of their speakers. I argue below that some languages are lost not because some individuals, even speakers of the prevailing languages, intended to drive them out, but because the socioeconomic ecologies in which their speakers operate have become less hospitable to them, exerting pressure on them to communicate in other languages or dialects. In several cases, competition, like variation on which it depends, remains stable, as is obvious in multilingual societies. (See Mufwene 2001, chapter 6 for details.)

2 I invoke ‘power’ here to identify the capacity that some individuals or groups are endowed with in order to control others’ actions or fates. The concept does not apply to inequalities that naturally (dis)favor some individuals or groups under certain conditions. In the case of the indigenous African languages discussed here, their speakers have no real economic power over each other, though differences in their economic activities, compounded with the effects of the environment, favor some languages over others. This position is of course as variance with Bourdieu’s (1991)looser notion of ‘symbolic power’, which seems to apply also to individual speakers when they select variants (speech forms, communicative strategies, or languages) that enhance their acceptability or status.

3 Heeding Hoeningswald (1989), I am invoking here an often neglected aspect of language loss especially among immigrants (invaders, colonists, slavers, or otherwise), who have often lost their languages while resettling in the new land. This loss, which is partial in that only one part of the diaspora population is affected, is quite relevant, because it is informative about the impact of ecological changes on the vitality of a language. Just like biological species, language may die in one setting and yet thrive in another (see also Mufwene 2001, Chapter 6). Their fates are not uniform across populations of their speakers, especially when the communities are discontinuous (on the model of what macroecologists identify as metapopulations).

 The Peranakans are descendants of male Chinese traders who settled in the Straights of Malacca in the 15th century, married local women, gave up Chinese while preserving some aspects of their Chinese cultural background. Their children, who spoke nothing but Baba Malay, are the Peranakans. (Literally, Baba Malay means Malay of the male Peranakans, based on the fact that the Chinese males were instrumental in the divergence of this variety from the native ones.) They have formed a culturally mixed group distinct with traditional Chinese (who have only reproduced among themselves) and the local Malay and Javanese populations. Today many of them speak English natively and learn Chinese in school. Their cuisine, characterized as nonya (name of the female Peranakans), reflects local Malay influence. Their communities are to be found in cities such as Penang, Melaka, Singapore, and Jakarta, the original Chinese trade colonies. I explain the different kinds of colonies below.

4 Rare are books on globalization that bother to define it and guide you to some understanding of the different ways in which it can be interpreted, depending on context. Yeung Yu-man (2000) is rather exceptional in providing a discussion that makes it possible for the alert reader to identify the wide range of interpretations for the term globalization. Another one coming close to this is Friedman (1999).

5 Searches on internet archives by Benjamin Barrett and Paul McFedries (p.c., 11 February 2002) indicate that McDonaldization is by far the dominant alternative.

6 While it is obvious that the Arawakan and Carib languages were lost because their speakers were killed or driven out, it is oversimplified to assume that the African languages were lost because of the pressures exerted on their speakers by slavery. It is the particular form of assimilation exerted on the slaves of the homestead phase that, by the founder principle, doomed the vitality of African languages early in the histories of settlement colonies. On the homestead, the handful of African captives who lived with Europeans were minorities and integrated, and they generally had nobody else to speak their languages with. Their creole children learned the colonial vernaculars and would later on serve as models to bozal slaves of the plantation stage. The process of shift would become similar to what has taken place in African cities, where populations originating from the rural areas give up their languages in favor of urban lingua francas. In both the case of black African cities and New World plantations, extensive societal multilingualism has favored the language shift trend toward a form of vernacular monolingualism. This trend has favored the language that guarantees one’s adaptation to, or survival in, the system, consistent with Bourdieu’s (1991) notion of capital in the linguistic market, though the latter is formulated in terms of profit to the speaker. It is of course difficult to articulate “survival” of a slave in an oppressive and dehumanizing economic system. It does not work as in a free society but the difficulty to articulate it does not mean that it must be dismissed as a factor bearing on language shift. At least in order not to be fully crushed by their new conditions and understand what went on around them, slaves had to learn the colonial vernacular. Slave communities were also stratified. The way one spoke the vernacular often determined whether or not they could move up, although language was not the only factor.

7 As explained in Mufwene (2000, 2001), the criteria for the distinction are more social than structural, if there is any structural justification at all. The geographical or socioeconomic distinction simply serves to identify places that coincide with the spurious opposition widely accepted to date in linguistics between creole and non-creole languages. We need not discuss this question here. Suffice it to note the emergence of new language varieties, regardless of whether they are considered new dialects of the same European colonial languages or separate languages.

8 The latter was the case for English in Suriname, which evolved into creoles such as Saramaccan, Sranan, and Ndjuka.

9 We should realize that genetic linguistics cladograms, or Stammbaums, reveal only the end results of complex restructuring processes. They do not illustrate, let alone explain, the interactions of languages that brought about the restructuring and diversification they represent. If one pays more attention to, for instance, routes of migration of the Indo-European populations from their original homeland in Asia Minor to most of Europe today, it is obvious that they came in contact with several more indigenous populations (now survived by the Basques and the Finns, among a handful of others) and drove the latter’s languages to extinction. For an interesting discussion, see, for instance, Martinet (1986) and Renfew (1988).

10My categories of colonization styles are not perfect and need elaborating. Singapore is definitely not a (proto)typical exploitation colony. To date, the Malays, the most indigenous of its present almost fully Asian population, represent less then 15 % of its total, as opposed to more than 75% of Chinese. However, it started as a trade colony and did not develop on the model of either the plantation settlement colonies (except in having a powerful European minority) or non-plantation settlement colonies.

11 This does not mean that the African languages died soon after their speakers arrived in the colonies. In Haiti, some African languages were apparently used as secret codes during the Revolution wars (Ans 1996, Mannessy 1996). The fact that Voodoo and Kumina rituals contain remnants of African languages is also evidence that some African languages continued to be spoken up to the 19th, or perhaps the early-20th, century, notwithstanding the maintenance of African languages (e.g., Yoruba in Trinidad, per Warner-Lewis 1996) by post-Abolition indentured servants. Similar survivals are also observable in black African cities. My position is simply that, like African cities in relation to indigenous ethnic languages, the homestead phase in European settlement colonies of the New World and Indian Ocean had the impact of working against the full maintenance of African languages, even when there was a critical mass that could have sustained them. What d’Ans (1996) and Mannessy (1996) report about Haiti can certainly be associated with the bozal slaves that arrived soon before the Haitian Revolution. In any case, prohibition of usage of African languages by plantation owners had no more success than Jesuit missionaries’ attmpts to spread colonial languages over the indigenous ones through their boarding schools in either Africa or North America, viz., marginal. Economic developments did a better job.

12 Ironically one is reminded here of Stephen Dawkins’ notion of ‘’meme’.’. They putatively colonize and use their hosts, humans, to spread. Likewise languages would use their hosts, their speakers, to fight their wars. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Languages are mere parasitic species at the mercy of their creators and hosts (Mufwene 2001, Chapter 6). Their  structures, which are not static, emerge from their speech and communicative acts, which also determine their vitality positively or negatively.

13 This position does not contradict Mufwene’s (2001) stand that speakers are the unwitting agents of what happens to their languages (Chapters 1, 2, 6, and 8). What I say in this essay is that they do so as victims of the changes that affect their communities, especially when they really do not have the option of not giving up their languages for another one.

14 It is evidently in a utilitarian way that I approach the subject matter of language vitality. I invoke the notion of ‘usefulness’ beyond the established fact that it serves the communicative needs of its speakers. It is also in the spirit of Bourdieu’s “linguistic capital,” viz., the profit that a speaker hopes to derive in using a particular form or language, rather than an alternative.

15 See especially Chapter 8: “Language, culture, and race” (207-220 in the 1949 printing). I n the particular case of Athabaskan, he states:

The cultural adaptability of the Athabaskan-speaking peoples is in the strangest contrast to the inaccessibility to foreign influences of the languages themselves (214).

Invoking factors that are subsumed by what I have identified as socioeconomic ecology in this essay, he writes:

A common language cannot indefinitely set the seal on a common culture when the geographical, political, and economic determinants of the culture are no longer the same throughout its area (215).

Much of my discussion capitalizes on this view.

16 Such conditions have obtained in former settlement colonies, in which only one language has typically been adopted as the language of business and industry. In places like Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most other Third World countries, that choice of language is not even available, despite the fact that the language of economic power is taught in school. Jobs that should create the motivation for the shift to it are too few to prompt speakers to shift.

17 The case of Scotland is different because this was more a merger of kingdoms than regular colonization. English was not imposed by the English (thus Germanic) refugees but adopted by an enthusiastic Scotch monarch who loved both an English princess and her language.

18 One particular exception to this observation appears to be Gabon, where French is apparently spoken by the urban population, and Mozambique, where the protracted liberation war promoted Portuguese as the lingua franca of the liberation fighters and the major lingua franca of the post-independence state.

19 According to Dejean, 95% of Haitians are monolingual in Creole (77), many of them do not interact with French speakers (78), and members of the French-speaking elite also speak Creole (76). The latter situation is similar to that of the African elite explained above. Moreover, the proletarian mass of Creole speakers do not even aspire at speaking French (79). Although the size of the proletariat is apparently much higher in Haiti than on other Caribbean islands, the situation described by Dejean has counterparts in them. Things may in fact develop in the direction of the same Haitian extreme if their economies do not improve. In places like Jamaica, Patois seems to have gained more vitality over the past few decades, or perhaps acrolectal speakers have become more uncomfortable with speaking their variety in domains where Patois is becoming the norm and where the acrolect carries no particular prestige, such as in music and local cuisine.


 Incidentally, Quebec has been a leader in French neologisms intended to match English computerese.

21 See, e.g., James Newman (1995), Mazrui & Mazrui (1998) and Mufwene (2001) regarding the present linguistic landscape of Africa, Martinet (1986) and Renfew (1988) for the dispersal of Indo-European, and Cavali-Sforza (2000) regarding the world overall.

22 As they formulate it (153), the “benign neglect” position amounts to the following: “there have always been massive extinctions, so why should we be concerned about the prospect of another?” Speakers of endangered languages “quite reasonably have more pressing concerns, such as improving their economic prospects” than worrying about the fates of their languages (153). This is not of course the position I advocate. We should be concerned with whether linguistically a particular population is adapting adequately to the changed, or changing, socioeconomic ecology that affects them.

23 As becomes obvious below, my position does not amount to the possible unfortunate misinterpretation that the fittest language survives the competition. In the first place, from an ecological perspective, the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” slogan should be restated as “survival of the luckiest” (Gould 1993). Consistent with the position developed in this essay, the reformulation is true of languages interpreted as parasitic species at the mercy of their speakers’ behaviors and of the ecologies that affect the speakers. What makes the selection process “natural” is the fact that the speakers themselves are not aware of what they are cumulatively doing to their languages when they individually opt to speakers languages other their own.