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Article

The speakers of minority languages are more multilingual

Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions:

The paper tests the hypothesis that the larger the population of language speakers, the smaller the number of second languages mastered by these speakers.

Design/methodology/approach:

We match the size of the population of 29 Dagestanian languages and the number of second languages spoken by the speakers of these languages from 54 villages, and run a Poisson mixed effects regression model that predicts the average number of second languages spoken by speakers from first-language communities of different size.

Data and analysis:

Data for this study comes from two sources. The information on the population of Dagestanian languages is based on the digitalized census of 1926. The information on the number of second languages in which the residents of Dagestan are proficient is taken from the database on multilingualism in Dagestan (4032 people).

Findings/conclusions:

The study supports the hypothesis that the size of language population is negatively correlated with the multilingualism of the language community.

Originality:

The paper is the first to test the correlation between the size of language population and the level of multilingualism of its speakers using statistical methods and a large body of empirical data.

Significance and implications:

Population size is a factor that could have influenced patterns of language evolution. The population is interrelated with other factors, one of which is long-standing multilingualism. The methodological lesson of this research is that there is a difference in the level of multilingualism within a range of populations where the largest was about 120,000 people.

Limitations:

The data is limited to one multilingual region. The revealed correlation probably does not hold for areas where language communities do not interact with their neighbors and even speakers of minority languages can be monolingual, or for the territories where many people migrated and the area where a language is spoken was discontinuous.