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Two languages in peaceful coexistence in one society

Date:
March 4, 2011
Source:
Institute of Physics
Summary:
Physicists and mathematicians have shown that two languages can remain stable in one society in the long-term. This research refutes earlier research which sought to show how one of two languages would inevitably die out.

Physicists and mathematicians from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain are putting paid to the theory that two languages cannot co-exist in one society.

Analysing the pattern of populations speaking Castilian, the most common language spoken in Spain, and Galician, a language spoken in Galicia, the North West autonomous community of Spain, the researchers have used mathematical models to show that levels of bilingualism in a stable population can lead to the steady co-existence of two languages.

The research, published 3 March 2011, in New Journal of Physics, refutes earlier research which sought to show how one of two languages would inevitably die out.

Older models only took the number of each language's speakers and the relative status of each language into consideration, concluding that eventually the most dominant language would kill off the weaker; the decline of Welsh is often cited as an example of this.

Still with an interest in languages' relative status, the researchers used historical data to show how you can predict the continued existence of a language when you also incorporate a mathematical representation of the languages' similarity to one another, and the number of bilingual speakers, into the calculation.

If a significant fraction of the population is bilingual in two relatively similar languages, there appears to be no reason to believe that the more dominant language will inevitably kill off the weaker.

Researcher Jorge Mira Pιrez said, "If the statuses of both languages were well balanced, a similarity of around 40% might be enough for the two languages to coexist. If they were not balanced, a higher degree of similarity (above 75%, depending on the values of status) would be necessary for the weaker tongue to persist."

The researchers suggest their work could be used to inform political decisions concerning the protection of endangered languages, "Allowing for varying statuses and interlinguistic similarity could suggest further and more precise political guidelines for protecting endangered tongues, as well as illuminating the evolution of the language entities themselves."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J Mira, L F Seoane and J J Nieto. The importance of interlinguistic similarity and stable bilingualism when two languages compete. New Journal of Physics, 13 (2011) 033007 DOI: 10.1088/1367-2630/13/3/033007

Cite This Page:

Institute of Physics. "Two languages in peaceful coexistence in one society." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110303065221.htm>.
Institute of Physics. (2011, March 4). Two languages in peaceful coexistence in one society. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110303065221.htm
Institute of Physics. "Two languages in peaceful coexistence in one society." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110303065221.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

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