Demographic growth and the distribution of language sizes

Damian H. Zanette

It is argued that the present log-normal distribution of language sizes is, to a large extent, a consequence of demographic dynamics within the population of speakers of each language. A two-parameter stochastic multiplicative process is proposed as a model for the population dynamics of individual languages, and applied over a period spanning the last ten centuries. The model disregards language birth and death. A straightforward fitting of the two parameters, which statistically characterize the population growth rate, predicts a distribution of language sizes in excellent agreement with empirical data. Numerical simulations, and the study of the size distribution within language families, validate the assumptions at the basis of the model.

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