In a recent article, Nsiwander-Sic proposed a fresh approach to problem of endangered languages, which focuses on Small Subset Diversity Conservation (SSDC) and the notion of the Necessary Linguistic Subset (NLS). (Nsiwander-Sic 2013)
Nsiwander-Sic proposes two methods for achieving this aim:
At least two feasible, reasonable approaches to selecting an appropriate subset of the world’s languages are evident.
Method 1: We might simply survey linguists directly, and additionally perform a meta-
analysis of their publications, to see which languages are commonly used to illustrate important linguistic properties and differences. The remaining languages may be judged effectively redundant.
Method 2: Somewhat more formally, we might instead perform a study constructing a ‘DRE differences matrix’ in which all the important noted parameter values of the world’s languages are encoded. This matrix could then be analyzed to determine the minimum subset of languages necessary to conserve important linguistic diversity.
We support the second, formal and data-
In fact, we feel that Nsiwander-Sic doesn’t really go far enough with this approach. Such a matrix could be used to find a minimal basis set of language vectors, in terms of which all other languages could be represented. For example, no one would be surprised to discover Romanian was best represented as “0.72 It + 0.06 Fr - 0.01 Sp + 0.07 Ru + 0.04 Cz - 0.02 Pol + 0.001 Basq”.
Of course, the most perspicacious representation would be one step further abstracted, and derived from a factor analysis of the language vectors, allowing researchers to find a set of normalized independent basis vectors of unit length, spanning the sum total of language space. Cf. earlier work on OBV-
Conlangers could finally be put to good use (cf., CA 2009) in service of real linguistics by constructing composite languages
For the small number of readers with insufficient linear algebra to follow the argument, the idea would be to construct a small number of languages (Nsiwander-Sic’s NLS) that not only provide all the necessary linguistic diversity for linguistic examples (Nsiwander-Sic’s SSDC), but do so in proper proportion, and in a completely non-
One of the new basis vector languages, for example, might be comprised of “0.43 Basque + 0.22 Dyirbal - 0.21 English - 0.13 Pirahã + 0.02 Hindi + 0.01 Mandarin”. An obvious naming scheme
Why should the Basque learn Finnish, as Nsiwander-Sic suggests, when they could learn a much more useful (to linguists) language like Bas-
Nsiwander-Sic’s proposal is a good first approximation but, as we noted earlier, it does not go far enough. Our extension to a basis-
“Conlangers Anonymous,” 2009. SpecGram CLVII.4.
Nsiwander-Sic, Chris, 2013. “Linguistic Diversity and the Dream of the Universal Language,” SpecGram CLXVI.2.
Pelota-Grande, I. Juana, 2005. “Linguistic Topology,” SpecGram CL.2.
Phlogiston, Phineas Q., 2007. “Cartoon Theories of Linguistics
van der Meer, Jonathan, 2005. “Letter to the Editor,” SpecGram CL.3.