Counting languages: history, methods and politics of population censuses

01.2016 - 12.2017
Diversity, Evaluation, History, Institutions, Policy

This literature review aims to present an overview of scientific research on the social, political and linguistic issues of language census by analysing international works conducted in various sociopolitical and sociolinguistic contexts. The purpose is to highlight the complexity of documenting languages as required for each census when quantifying information on respondents’ language practices.

The literature review primarily seeks to comprehend what international research highlights in the following areas: emergence, evolution and role of language censuses in public policies; designations and boundaries of languages and language varieties; languages as social practices; reaction to and appropriation of statistical results on languages.

Purpose – Expected results

This review will be useful for researchers working with data collected by censuses: It will provide insight to better comprehend sociopolitical issues with regards to the creation and use of language statistics. It also aims to identify gaps in scientific researches on language censuses in order to prompt new future projects.

This literature review will also help grasp the sociopolitical issues of language census in various contexts, thereby providing an international benchmark useful for understanding the Swiss position in terms of language census. The benchmark provided by this literature review will enable a comparison across countries that will prove useful for the thematic adaptation and refinement of statistical surveys in Switzerland (with the new survey on language, religion and culture, LRCS).