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Modelling the dynamics of language death

Naturevolume 424page900 (2003) | Download Citation



Thousands of the world's languages are vanishing at an alarming rate, with 90% of them being expected to disappear with the current generation1. Here we develop a simple model of language competition that explains historical data on the decline of Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Quechua (the most common surviving indigenous language in the Americas) and other endangered languages. A linguistic parameter that quantifies the threat of language extinction can be derived from the model and may be useful in the design and evaluation of language-preservation programmes.

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  1. Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University, Ithaca, 14853, New York, USA

    • Daniel M. Abrams
    •  & Steven H. Strogatz


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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Daniel M. Abrams.

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