Are the World’s Languages Consolidating? On the Dynamics and Distribution of Language Population

Published in The Economic Journal, 2015

Scholars have conjectured that the return to speaking a language increases with the number of speakers. Long‐run economic and political integration would accentuate this advantage, increasing the population share of the largest languages. I show that, to the contrary, language size and growth are uncorrelated except for very small languages (< 35,000 speakers). I develop a model of local language coordination over a network. The steady‐state distribution of language sizes follows a power law and precisely fits the empirical size distribution of languages with ≥ 35,000 speakers. Simulations suggest the extinction of 40% of languages with < 35,000 speakers within 100 years. Download ungated version here