Linguistic ecology

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The term "linguistic ecology" (also known as "language ecology") was first used in an article on the "language situation" in Arizona (Voegelin, Voegelin and Schutz, 1967).


It was taken up by Einar Haugen, who pioneered a form of linguistics which used the metaphor of an ecosystem to describe the relationships among the diverse forms of language found in the world, and the groups of people who speak them. Linguistic ecology looks at how languages interact with each other and the places they are spoken in, and frequently argues for the preservation of endangered languages as an analogy of the preservation of biological species.

Linguistic ecology has often been described as a form of ecolinguistics (e.g., in Fill and Mühlhäusler). However, some claim that this is more properly considered a form of sociolinguistics, since the focus is on humans and language, rather than the life-sustaining interactions of humans, other species and the physical environment. Steffensen (2007) has argued that separation of the metaphorical 'linguistic ecology' from ecolinguistics would be reductionist, because high linguistic diversity is associated with high biological diversity (see Bastardas-Boada 2002). The relationship between linguistic diversity[1] and biodiversity is claimed to arise since local ecological knowledge is built into local language varieties and threatened if the local language is threatened by a more dominant language (see Mühlhäusler 1995).

Linguistic ecology is represented by the journal Language Ecology which describes the field as follows:

"The ecology of language is a framework for the study of language as conceptualised primarily in Einar Haugen's 1971/72 work, where he defines language ecology as "the study of interactions between any given language and its environment". It was a reaction to the abstract notion of language – as a monolithic, decontextualised, static entity – propagated by Chomsky, and it was conceived as a broad and interdisciplinary framework. In his use of 'ecology' as a metaphor from biology in linguistics, Haugen formulated ten questions which together comprehensively address factors pertaining to the positioning of languages in their environment. Each of these relates to a traditional sub-field of the study of language – encompassing historical linguistics, linguistic demography, sociolinguistics, contact, variation, philology, planning and policy,[2][3] politics of language, ethnolinguistics,[4] and typology – and each of them intersects with one or more of the other sub-fields.


Taken together, answering some or all of these questions is part of the enterprise of the ecology of language. Since then the notion of ecology in linguistics has evolved to address matters of social, educational,[5] historical and developmental nature. With the development of ecology as a special branch of biology, and issues of the 20th and 21st centuries such as migration, hybridity and marginalisation coming to the fore, the notion of language ecology plays an important part in addressing broad issues of language and societal change, endangerment, human rights, as well as more theoretical questions of classification and perceptions of languages, as envisaged in Haugen's work" (Language Ecology 2016).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Esperanto with English subtitles) Evildea, Ĉu Esperanto savos aŭ estingos la aliajn lingvojn ? (Will Esperanto save or extinguish the other languages), YouTube
  2. ^ Hult, F.M. (2010). Analysis of language policy discourses across the scales of space and time. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 202, 7-24.
  3. ^ Hornberger, N.H., & Hult, F.M. (2008). Ecological language education policy. In B. Spolsky & F.M. Hult (Eds.), Handbook of educational linguistics (pp. 280-296). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  4. ^ Hult, F.M. (2009). Language ecology and linguistic landscape analysis. In E. Shohamy & D. Gorter (Eds.), Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery (pp. 88-104). London: Routledge.
  5. ^ Hult, F.M. (2012). Ecology and multilingual education. In C. Chapelle (Gen. Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied linguistics (Vol. 3, pp. 1835-1840). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


  • Bastardas-Boada, Albert (1996) Ecologia de les llengües. Medi, contactes i dinàmica sociolingüística [Ecology of languages. Context, contacts and sociolinguistic dynamics]. Barcelona: Proa.
  • Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2002) "Biological and linguistic diversity: Transdisciplinary explorations for a socioecology of languages" Diverscité langues, vol. VII.
  • Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2002) "The Ecological perspective: Benefits and risks for Sociolinguistics and Language Policy and Planning", in: Fill, Alwin, Hermine Penz, & W. Trampe (eds.), Colourful Green Ideas. Berna: Peter Lang, pp. 77–88.
  • Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2007) "Linguistic sustainability for a multilingual humanity" Glossa. An Interdisciplinary Journal vol. 2, num. 2.
  • Calvet, Jean-Louis (1999) Pour une écologie des langues du monde. Plon
  • Fill, A. and Mühlhäusler, P., 2001. Ecolinguistics Reader: Language, Ecology and Environment. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Language Ecology 2016 [1]
  • Mühlhäusler, Peter (1995) Linguistic Ecology; Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Rim. London: Routledge.
  • Sánchez Carrión, José María (1985): "La nueva sociolingüistica y la ecología de las lenguas". Donostia-San Sebastián: Eusko Ikaskuntza.
  • Steffensen, Sune Vork (2007): "Language, Ecology and Society: An introduction to Dialectical Linguistics." In: Bang, Jørgen Christian and Jørgen Døør (eds) Language, Ecology and Society. A Dialectical Approach. Edited by Sune Vork Steffensen and Joshua Nash. London: Continuum. Pp. 3–31.
  • C.F. Voegelin, F. M. Voegelin and Noel W. Schutz, Jr. The language situation in Arizona as part of the Southwest culture area" in Studies in Southwestern Ethnolinguistics: Meaning and history in the languages of the American Southwest, ed. by Dell Hymes and William E. Bittle, 403–51, 1967. The Hague: Mouton.