The Ethnologue[ref 1] as an academic book, is somewhat of a straw man in linguistics. Many people who write grants for language documentation projects (generally on under described or endangered languages) will cite the Ethnologue and some other resources or lack of resources[ref 2][ref 3][ref 4] . These efforts seeking funding are usually an effort to get more language data. The rationale for this is two fold:
- Because so little is known that we do not know if the Ethnologue is correct.
- Because there is a conflict between other published sources and the Ethnologue[ref 5] .
In both cases the Ethnologue is not taken as an authoritative and accurate source (in an earnest sense, but certainly a citable source[ref 6] ). In some of the courses at the graduate level linguistics program I am in, citing the data from the Ethnologue is verboten. It is not that the Ethnologue is only cited by grant writers or in reference to language documentation efforts. It is cited by many others like:
- persons looking at population statistics [ref 7][ref 8][ref 9]
- those looking at linguistic diversity[ref 10]
- those looking to define what a language is[ref 11]
- those looking to organize their language data[ref 12][ref 13][ref 14] – Though these people should probably be citing the ISO 639-3 now rather than the Ethnologue
- typologists and comparitivists, and typological works like in Multitree[ref 15] or Wichmann et. al’s[ref 16] Causes and consequences of linguistic phylogenetic reticulation.
However, it is this perspective on the Ethnologue where, academics cite it, and then use the citation in a manner to justify proving it (the Ethnologue) wrong or inaccurate which makes me say that it is perceived as a straw man. The Ethnologue has a long history[ref 17] . Both Simons and Campbell point out the Ethnologue did not start out as a linguistics publication. The book was not always published by SIL International, it was formerly published by Wycliffe Bible Translators[ref 18] . It is interesting how, a “non-academic” book has such weight in academia and though some despise its origin[ref 19] it is still a highly cited resource.
Additionally, the Ethnologue does not cited its language tree associations or where it gets it data in its entries.And since 15th Edn. of the Ethnologue[ref 20] where it adopted the ISO 639-3 when people today dispute the Ethnologue as conflating or inflating languages perhaps these researchers should be interacting with the ISO 639-3 registrar rather than disputing the Ethnologue. It does have citations for the intro to the book but not for the presentation of material under each language. This is uncommon for Language Atlases and Language Reference books. WALS[ref 21] and the Atlas of the World’s Languages[ref 22] both cite sources.
In terms of academic merit, the Ethnologue does leave itself open to criticism. While it is understandable that some details might be left out for the sake of printing a hardbound copy. There is no excuse for not providing this data to the viewers of the entries on-line or in non-paper mediums. Just because the Ethnologue is open to criticism in this way does not mean that it is not edited in earnest or an award winning publication[ref 23] . As a publication it looks to enhance its coverage to include language vitality and EGIDS[ref 24] metrics for the languages it lists[ref 25] . It is also my understanding that every editorial cycle there are multiple thousands of edits which occur and a great deal of effort goes into keeping the book accurate. However for an end user, edits, enacted because of greater, more accurate knowledge about a reported language situation is not distinguished from edits based on corrections to errors. The question will then arise, What was the purpose of the edit? was it mis-infomration before, or do we now just have a more accurate time sensitive snapshot?
- M. Paul Lewis. (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th Edn. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. ↩
- Steven A. Marlett. 2011. Documenting the Me’phaa genus. DEH-NEH fellowship proposal. http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/pdf/DEL_NEH_Marlett.pdf. [PDF] [DEL Awards] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Sadaf Munshi. 2011. Archive of Annotated Burushaski Texts. NSF grant proposal. http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/pdf/DEL_NSF_Munshi.pdf. [PDF] [DEL Awards] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Monica A. Macaulay. 2011. Potawatomi Documentation, Lexical Database, and Dictionary. NEH grant proposal. http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/pdf/DEL_NEH_Macaulay.pdf. [PDF] [DEL Awards] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Roger Blench. n.d. Introduction to the Temein languages http://www.rogerblench.info/Language/Nilo-Saharan/Eastern%20Sudanic/Temein%20cluster/Blench%20Temein%20language%20NM%20proceedings.pdf [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Lyle Campbell, and Verónica Grondona. 2008. Review of Ethnologue: Languages of the world. 15th ed. Ed. by Raymond G. Gordon, JR. Dallas: SIL International, 2005. Pp. 1,272. ISBN 155671159X. $80(Hb). Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, Vol. 84, No. 3 pp. 636-641. [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Larry J. West. n.d. Census v.s The Ethnologue. http://anyothersource.com/CensusvsTheEthnologue.aspx . [Link] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- James D. Fearon. 2003. Ethnic Structure and Cultural Diversity around the World: A Cross-National Data Set on Ethnic Groups. http://www.stanford.edu/group/ethnic/workingpapers/egroups.pdf [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] particularly page 14 footnote 9. ↩
- Michael R. Marlo. 2009. Luyia Tonal Dialectology. http://bit.ly/y9rpoH . [PDF] ↩
- David Harmon and Jonathan Loh. 2010. The Index of Linguistic Diversity: A New Quantitative Measure of Trends in the Status of the World’s Languages. Langauge Documentation & Conservation Vol. 4, pp. 97-151 http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/ldc/ http://hdl.handle.net/10125/4474 [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Gerhard Jäger. 2010. Languages of the World. http://www.sfs.uni-tuebingen.de/~gjaeger/lehre/ws1011/languagesOfTheWorld/folien1.pdf [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Fei Xia, Carrie Lewis, William D. Lewis. eLanguage. Language ID for a Thousand Languages. http://research.microsoft.com/apps/pubs/default.aspx?id=138763. [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Jan Wohlgemuth. 2009. Towards a typology of verbal borrowing. http://loanverb.linguist.de/maps/LVDB2.pdf [PDF – of data diagram] ↩
- Gary F. Simons. 2002. SIL three-letter codes for identifying languages: migrating from in-house standard to community standard. In Proceedings of the International LREC Workshop on Resources and Tools in Field Linguistics, Las Palmas, 26-27 May 2002, Peter Austin, Helen Dry and Peter Wittenburg (eds.). pages 22-1 through 22-8. S.l.: ISLE and DoBeS. http://www.sil.org/~simonsg/preprint/SIL%20language%20codes.pdf [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- 2009. Multitree: A digital library of language relationships. Ypsilanti, MI: Institute for Language Information and Technology (LINGUIST List), Eastern Michigan University. http://multitree.org/. [Link] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Søren Wichmann, Eric W. Holman, and Robert Walker. Submitted. Causes and consequences of linguistic phylogenetic reticulation. http://wwwstaff.eva.mpg.de/%7Ewichmann/ReticulationPaper12.pdf [PDF Preprint] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Marie Lebert. 25 July 2011. eBooks: 2009 – 6,909 living languages in the Ethnologue. http://www.gutenbergnews.org/20110725/ebooks-2009-6909-living-languages-in-the-ethnologue/ [Link] [Accessed: 15 February 2011] ↩
- Barbara F. Grimes. (Ed.), 1984. Ethnologue: languages of the world, 10th Edn. Dallas, Tex.: Wycliffe Bible Translators. ↩
- Ole Stig Andersen. 20 June 2005. A Language is a dialect with a missionary. http://www.olestig.dk/reviews/ethnologue.html [Link] ↩
- Raymond G. Gordon, JR. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th Edn. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. ↩
- Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.). 2011. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library. http://wals.info [Accessed: 12 December 2011] [Link] ↩
- Christopher Moseley, R. E. Asher & Giles Darkes (eds.). 2007. Atlas of the world’s languages. London; New York: Routledge. ↩
- Collins Maps. 25 June 2010. The BCS John C. Bartholomew Award 2010 Winner. http://blog.collinsmaps.com/2010/06/bcs-john-c-bartholomew-award-2010.html . [Link] [Accessed: 27 February 2012] Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth Edition. Commended by the bestower s of the John C Bartholomew Award ↩
- Paul M. Lewis & Gary F. Simons. 2010. Assessing endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 55.2: 103–20. ↩
- Gary Simons. 2010. Ethnologue as a global sourcebook on linguistic diversity and language vitality. 12th International Congress of Ethnobiology Tofino, British Columbia, 9–14 May 2010. http://www.sil.org/~simonsg/presentation/ICE%202010%20slides.pdf [PDF] [Accessed: 15 February 2012] ↩