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Modeling social factors in language shift

  • Maya Ravindranath Abtahian EMAIL logo , Abigail C. Cohn and Thomas Pepinsky


This article introduces a quantitative approach to modeling language shift in communities with millions of speakers. Using Indonesia as a case study, and employing a large body of data from the Indonesian population census, we document how factors such as urbanization, ethnicity, economic development, gender, and religion correlate with the shift from local languages (Javanese, Sundanese, etc.) to the national language, Bahasa Indonesia. Our findings inform ongoing research on the sociological foundations of language shift across both small and large communities. Methodologically, we introduce a statistical approach that borrows from other social sciences, and show how to exploit massive amounts of untapped linguistic, demographic, and sociological data.


The authors would like to thank J. Joseph Errington, Wayne Harbert, Daniel Kaufman, Naomi Nagy, John Wolff, three anonymous reviewers, and the audience at NWAV 44 in Toronto for their helpful comments on previous versions of this article. We would also like to thank the Fulbright Foundation for funding Cohn’s research in Indonesia, Atma Jaya Catholic University for hosting Cohn during her recent sabbatical, and both the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University and the Center for the Humanities at the University of New Hampshire for funding portions of this research.


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Supplemental Material

The online version of this article (DOI: 10.1515/ijsl-2016-0036) offers supplementary material, available to authorized users.

Published Online: 2016-10-4
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

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