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date: 10 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The dominant discourse of language endangerment, centered on countable (named) languages and finite numbers of speakers, is rooted in a nineteenth-century argument between those who viewed language change as following a structural logic internal to each linguistic system, and those (e.g., dialectologists) who observed how changes wash over populations of speakers in a wave-like fashion, driven by grammar-external (sociocultural and economic) factors. Most of modern sociolinguistics (including Labovian variationism) has started from the second position; much recent work in documentary linguistics seems to start from the first. This has implications both for efforts to document endangered languages in the field, and for the design of digital and other infrastructures meant to preserve for posterity the “last words” of a language’s terminal speakers. Speech practices associated with complex and unstable forms of societal plurilingualism and the re-stratification of multilingual speaker repertoires are also in urgent need of documentation and analysis.

Keywords: endangered languages, plurilingualism, documentary linguistics, digital infrastructures, multilingualism

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