Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Language, Classification of
Patricia N. Chrosniak
To classify the languages of the world, it is of foremost importance to first decide what constitutes a “language.” Most classification schemata involve spoken languages—alive, endangered, and extinct. The estimated number of spoken languages varies from 3,000 to 10,000, and there are languages spoken by a few societies that are still unidentified. There are some languages that have different names in different cultures, and there are some that have no names. There are languages that are classified as “major” because they are used by numerically large populations of people (for example, English, Polish). There are languages that are used between and among many societies as contact languages besides their individual native or national languages. Sometimes a society will use the term dialect synonymously with language , and sometimes a name is used to refer to a language group as well as to a single language. If one takes into account ...