Language survey

Language survey

Language surveys are conducted around the world for a variety of reasons, by a variety of agencies and people.

*measuring people’s ability to speak and understand another language (usually community based, not school based) (multilingualism)
*studying people’s attitudes about different languages (Rensch 1993)
*evaluating the differences and similarities in speech of communities that speak related speech forms, noting comprehension or collecting details of linguistic form (dialectology) (Labov 1982, Backstrom 1992, Egland 1978)
*assessing the vitality of languages that may be disappearing (language death) (Statistic Canada 1993, Ferreira and Holbrook 2002)
*doing initial descriptions of languages in areas that are linguistically undescribed (King and King 1984)


Methods used in language surveys depend on the questions that the survey is trying to answer. Methods used include collecting word lists (Bender 1971), playing recorded texts to assess comprehension (Casad 1974), sentence repetition tests (Radloff 1991), questionnaires (Hochstetler and Tillinghast 1996), group and individual interviews, retelling of stories (McKinnies and Priestly 2004), direct observation (Cooper and Carpenter 1976), and even internet surveys (

As with any form of research, the methods used depend on the questions that the researchers are trying to answer. Also, the reliability of the results varies according to the method and the rigor with which it is applied, proper sampling technique, etc.


The results of language surveys are use for a variety of purposes. One of the most common is in making decisions for implementing educational programs. The results have also been used for making decision for language development work (Holbrook, 2001). And of course, academics are always interested in the results of any language survey.


Surveys have also been conducted by ethnic associations (Saskatchewan 1991), NGO’s (Toba, et al. 2002), foundations (Pew Hispanic Center 2004), etc. Often such groups work together (Clifton 2002). Some large and notable surveys include the Language Survey of India which was begun by George Abraham Grierson late in the 19th century (Sociolinguistics research in India) and the Survey of Language Use and Language Teaching in East Africa, sponsored by the Ford Foundation from the 1960’s. Both resulted in a number of volumes describing locations of languages, patterns of multilingualism, language classification, and also included descriptions of languages, such as ‘‘‘Language in Ethiopia’’’ (Bender, Bowen, Cooper, and Ferguson 1976). The single agency conducting the most language surveys around the world is SIL International (Summer Institute of Linguistics). The results of many of their surveys are posted on the web:

Surveys have usually been conducted among spoken languages. However, in recent years, surveys have also been done among users of sign languages (Bickford 1991, Woodward 1991, 1993, 1996, Parkhurst & Parkhurst 1998).

References: sample survey reports

*Acharya, A. S. 1976. Tiptur Kannada. Linguistic Survey of India Series, no. 8. Poona: Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute.

*Backstrom, Peter C. 1992. "Wakhi." In Peter C. Backstrom and Carla J. Radloff (eds.), Languages of northern areas , 57-74. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 2. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics.

*Bender, M. L. 1971. The languages of Ethiopia. A new lexicostatistic classification and some problems of diffusion. Anthropological Linguistics 13(5): 165-288.

*Bender, M. L., J. D. Bowen, R. L. Cooper, and C. A. Ferguson. 1976. Language in Ethiopia. London: Oxford University Press.

*Bickford, J. Albert. 1991. Lexical variation in Mexican Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 72:241–276.

*Clifton, John M., editor. 2002. Studies in languages of Azerbaijan, vol. 1,2. Baku, Azerbaijan and St. Petersburg, Russia: Institute of International Relations, Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan and North Eurasian Group, SIL International.

*Egland, Steven T., ed. 1978. La inteligibilidad interdialectal en México: Resultados de algunos sondeos. Mexico: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

*Ferreira, Jo-Anne and David Holbrook. 2002. "Are they dying? The case of some French-lexifier creoles." La Torre 7(25): 367-397.

*Holbrook, David. 2001. "Exploring the potential for Creole language development through religious literature: the current sociolinguistic situation in Guyana, South America." La Torre 6(19): 75-90.

*King, Julie K. and John Wayne King, editors. 1984. Languages of Sabah: a survey report. Pacific Linguistics C, 78. Canberra: Australian National University.

*Labov, William. 1982. The social stratification of English in New York City Center for Applied Linguistics.

*Lewis, M. Paul. 1987. "Un estudio de la sociología de lenguaje del idioma quiché." Winak 2(4): 249-55.

*Rensch, Calvin R. 1992. "The language environment of Hindko-speaking people." In Calvin R. Rensch, Calinda E. Hallberg and Clare F. O’Leary (eds.), Hindko and Gujari , 3-88. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 3. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies and Summer Institute of Linguistics.

*Saskatchewan Indigenous Languages Committee. (1991). Socio-linguistic survey of Indigenous languages in Saskatchewan: On the critical list. Saskatoon, Sask.: Saskatchewan Indigenous Languages Committee.

*Statistics Canada. (1993). 1991 Aboriginal peoples survey: Language, tradition, health, lifestyle and social issues. Catalogue No. 89-533. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Post Censal Surveys Program.

*Toba, Sueyoshi, Ingrid Toba and Novel Kishore Rai. 2002. UNESCO language survey report Nepal. Kathmandu: UNESCO.

References: survey methodology

*Blair, Frank, 1990. "Survey on a Shoestring: A Manual for Small-Scale Language Surveys". Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington.

*Casad, Eugene H. 1974. Dialect intelligibility testing. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics and Related Fields, 38. Norman: Summer Institute of Linguistics of the University of Oklahoma.

*Casad, Eugene H. 1993. "Language area surveys." International Journal of Applied Linguistics 8: 29-49.

*Cooper, R. L. and S. Carpenter. 1976. Language in the Market. In "Language in Ethiopia", ed. by Bender, M. L., J. D. Bowen, R. L. Cooper, and C. A. Ferguson, pp. 244-255. London: Oxford University Press.

*Downey, Michael P. 1986. "Survey methods and their insights into the acceptability of literature among related varieties." "Studies in Philippine Linguistics" 6(2): 94-180

*Ferguson, Charles, "On sociolinguistically oriented language surveys." From S. Ohannessian, C. Ferguson and E. Polome (eds.), "Language surveys in developing nations". Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.

*Hickerson, Harold, Glen D. Turner, and Nancy P. Hickerson. 1962. "Testing procedures for estimating transfer of information among Iroquois dialects and languages." "International Journal of American Linguistics" 18: 1-8.

*Hochstetler, Lee and Tim Tillinghast. 1996. "Discussion on sociolinguistic questionnaires." "Notes on Literature in Use and Language Programs" 48: 48-61.

*McKinnie, Meghan and Tom Priestly. 2004. Telling tales out of school: assessing linguistic competence in minority language fieldwork. "Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development" 25(1): 24-40.

*Parkhurst, Stephen and Dianne Parkhurst. 1998. Introduction to Sign Language survey. "Notes on Sociolinguistics" 3: 215-42.

*Radloff, Carla F. 1991. "Sentence repetition testing for studies of community bilingualism". Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics, 104. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington.

*Woodward, James. 1991. Modern Standard Thai Sign Language, influence from ASL and its relationship to original Thai sign varieties. "Sign Language Studies" 92: 227-252.

*Woodward, James. 1991. Sign language varieties in Costa Rica. "Sign Language Studies" 73.

*Woodward, James. 1991. The relationship of sign language varieties in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. "Sign Language Studies" 78: 15-22.

External links

*Samoan language survey via internet (

*Assimilation and language among Latino population in USA, by Kaiser foundation (

*Reports of surveys in a variety of smaller language communities around the world (

*Canada’s indigenous languages (

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Language geography — is the branch of human geography that studies the geographic distribution of language or its constituent elements. There are two principal fields of study within the geography of language: the geography of languages , which deals with the… …   Wikipedia

  • Language identification — is the process of determining which natural language given content is in. Traditionally, identification of written language as practiced, for instance, in library science has relied on manually identifying frequent words and letters known to be… …   Wikipedia

  • Survey of English Usage — The Survey of English Usage was the first research centre in Europe to carry out research with corpora. The Survey is based in the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London. History The Survey of English Usage was …   Wikipedia

  • Survey of English Dialects — The Survey of English Dialects was undertaken between 1950 and 1961 under the direction of Professor Harold Orton of the English department of the University of Leeds. It aimed to collect the full range of speech in England and Wales before local …   Wikipedia

  • language — /lang gwij/, n. 1. a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition: the two languages of Belgium; a Bantu language; the French… …   Universalium

  • Survey methodology — Sociology …   Wikipedia

  • Language poets — The Language poets (or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, after the magazine that bears that name) are an avant garde group or tendency in United States poetry that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In developing their poetics, members of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Language minority students in Japanese classrooms — Minority (non Japanese) students can be found throughout the entire Japanese education system. An incomplete list of possible cultural and or language minorities represented in Japanese schools include: other Asian, particularly Korean, Chinese,… …   Wikipedia

  • Language ideology — In sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, a language or linguistic ideology is a systematic construct about how languages carry or are invested with certain moral, social, and political values, giving rise to implicit assumptions that… …   Wikipedia

  • Language bioprogram theory — The Language bioprogram theory or Language bioprogram hypothesis (LBH) is a theory arguing that the structural similarities between different creole languages cannot be solely attributed to their superstrate and substrate languages. As… …   Wikipedia