In this commentary, we argue that examining the topic of language endangerment and loss requires close attention to culturally specific local factors that influence patterns of language choice and that shifting the emphasis of investigation from language endangerment to language vitality can yield significant research insights. Drawing largely on lessons from the investigation of patterns of multilingualism in rural Africa, we also suggest that examination of language ideologies and the use of ethnographic methods in language documentation can play an important role in understanding global patterns of language vitality.