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Language vitality is demonstrated by the extent that the language is used as a means of communication in various social contexts for specific purposes. The most significant indicator of a language’s vitality is its daily use in the home. A language with high vitality would be one that is used extensively both inside and outside the home, by all generations, and for most, if not all, topics.
For language development, the study of language vitality is important for determining the likelihood that a language will continue to be used into the foreseeable future and that efforts to develop the language are likely to be sustainable.
SIL language assessment specialists study language vitality by exploring the functions (domains of use), acquisition (transmission across generations), motivation for use, governmental policy regarding language use, and distinctive niches (particular contexts where the language is used), as these factors foster the ongoing use of a language. For example, by identifying people’s motivations for using a given language we learn of their interest and desire to continue to use one language or to acquire a new language. During interviews, people are asked to identify the youngest generation that daily uses the language in all domains of life. The vitality of each language within a repertoire of a community (or an individual) is also further assessed by asking for the specific purposes, social contexts, opportunities, and frequency that a given language is used. If a language is showing signs of endangerment, we also want to understand the factors that are motivating the shift.