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Paul Lewis [email@example.com] Monday, March 03, 2014 11:56 AM Ethnologue and African languages--Reply Dear Don: A response from Ethnologue to your questions is certainly long overdue. My apologies for taking so long to reply. Your description of how Ethnologue handles cross-border languages is essentially correct and we want to take seriously your suggestions on how to improve. It is, however, easier said than done and a bit of background and history might be helpful in explaining that. Ethnologue began as a publication and the initial design specifications for what became the database behind the publication were drawn up with the goal of producing the now-familiar print volume. As the Ethnologue grew the major design constraint we faced was the growing size of the book which at its last printing was more than 1500 pages. A volume that size pushes against the physical limits of book manufacturing. Bindings just don't hold up, lighter thinner paper is required, type size has to be reduced, etc. as more and more information is squeezed into the same-sized "container" with each new edition. One editorial decision we made working within those limits is that we needed to distinguish between "full" entries and somewhat abbreviated entries for languages in order to save space. By associating each language with one and only one "hub" country, we could print a full language entry once and then subsequent entries about the same language in other (non-hub) countries would be abbreviated and cross-referenced to the full primary entry. Our criteria for determining a hub country was to choose the country of origin where known and, failing that, to choose the country with the largest L1 speaker population. As you have pointed out that misses the mark when the region of origin spans modern borders or where large populations of speakers are present in multiple countries. Our decisions about hub country assignment, however, are not driven by any ideological or political agenda but simply by the practical contingencies of book publishing. As Ethnologue has moved from being primarily a print publication to becoming an online reference (a process fully realized with the 17th edition) the constraints of paper-based publishing have gone away and we are moving towards reshaping our database to be more research-friendly allowing us to produce both web-based and print "snapshots" of the data much more frequently and with many fewer content and space restrictions. While there is no definite plan in the works to completely restructure away from the hub/non-hub organization which we have used for many years, we are finding it useful to more frequently use "full" (or almost full) entries in some of the forthcoming publications we will be making available. This still won't resolve the issues that you raise as we continue to be required to identify each language as being "A language of..." some geopolitical entity simply as a means of organizing the data and making it searchable. We may be able to find a way to more clearly identify and highlight the other countries in which each language can be found and we certainly explore the possibilities. The obstacles are primarily database reporting issues and I have a lot of confidence that our database wizards can find a way. I want to make it clear, however, that our intent is not at all to obscure the locations of languages nor to deny the existence of widespread languages across borders and entire regions. In this next update, we are providing a significant amount of new information about widespread languages that serve as languages of wider communication and about the use of languages as second languages with expanded descriptions of second-language use (Also use... Also used by...). We want to provide as much information of this sort as we can and in a way that is maximally useful to all users of the Ethnologue in all parts of the world. As for the references to "National languages", we are very aware that the legacy labeling for the information we report there has led to some confusion. The terms "national" and "official" have multiple meanings in different places and we agree that using one or the other of them globally will only continue to raise questions. In the forthcoming (Real Soon Now) update to the 17th edition data, we are revising our labeling of that field to "Primary languages" taking into account both the introduction of the EGIDS for evaluating the status of each language in terms of its endangerment or development and the new language functions categories introduced with the 17th edition. We now include in the primary language field any language that has been evaluated as being at EGIDS 1. Beyond that general categorization included in the country description, we also have introduced a much more fine-grained analysis of the state of official (both statutory and de facto) recognitions (what we are calling Function In Country or FIC) and we report those categorizations in each language entry as part of the Status description of the language. As long as Ethnologue users read our introductory material where data fields and their contents are described, they will see that we use a globally consistent set of criteria for inclusion of languages in the now-labeled primary languages field, and a detailed system of function parameters for the FIC categories we assign. That's not to say that we don't have some erroneous information for which we would gratefully accept corrections and updates. We do hope that we are consistently applying the classificatory systems that we have developed across the whole range of the world's languages. I hope this helps you and those reading this list to understand our process. We, of course, welcome additional suggestions and most of all corrections and updates to the data itself. All the best, M. Paul Lewis General Editor, Ethnologue On Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 10:06 AM, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: > I've raised questions about two aspects of how Ethnologue lists African > languages in its current (17th) edition, and wondered whether anyone else > has any thoughts on these: its listing of cross-border languages as "A > language of ..." only one country; and how its current use of the term > "national language" is at variance with common use in much of Africa. > > These issues are discussed in two blog postings about three months ago at: > > http://niamey.blogspot.com/2013/11/ethnologue-and-cross-border-languages.html > & > > http://niamey.blogspot.com/2013/12/ethnologue-and-national-languages-in.html > > I've signaled these to Ethnologue, and understand that they will respond. > I'd also intended to bring this up on H-Africa, thinking that the issues I > raised might be of interest, and possibly generate a discussion on the > larger issues of how languages in Africa are presented in references and to > the interested non-expert public (including for example to students). > > Don Osborn > > Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T -- --