The books are here!

Last month, I talked about the whiz bang process we use to transform the data we have locked away in our database into the printed volumes that you can order from your favorite bookseller.  Since then, that process has worked away and the books are now or soon will be available for purchase.

Many of you will recall that in the past the Ethnologue has been printed in various formats, mimeographed pages initially, then a spiral bound edition, and finally starting around 1978, the Ethnologue was formally published and began to look like a "real book". The 15th and 16th editions were weighty hard-bound tomes. The 17th, and now the 18th editions take the form of 3 hard-bound volumes, each with a specific regional focus and encompassing about one-third of the living languages of the world.

The 18th edition volumes are now or soon will be available through your favorite bookseller. Why in print when most of the same information is available online? And why three volumes?  Stay tuned while I try to answer these and other questions.

The reason for offering a printed edition of the Ethnologue is fairly straightforward. Some of us just like books. In addition, as computers become more and more portable (from desktop to laptop and now handheld) screen sizes are shrinking.  Let's say I'm working on writing a paper, and I have a couple of other applications open on my fairly tiny laptop screen, finding space to juggle multiple different windows (tabs, panes, etc.) starts to get complicated and confusing. Sometimes it's nice to just have the printed Ethnologue within easy reach, propped open to the page(s) I want to refer to. What's more, the print volumes can be digitally searched--using your own personal digits--ah, the feel of paper and ink on your fingertips. Exquisite!

And then, why so many volumes? As I described last month there are some purely practical reasons for that. The sheer size of the single-volume 15th and 16th editions meant that we had to find a book manufacturer who could produce such a volume at a reasonable cost while maintaining a suitable level of quality. What's more, a 5 lb. book is expensive to ship, takes up a lot of space to store, and is generally unwieldy (and potentially dangerous if dropped). A full collection over time of such volumes would require special shelving, and perhaps eventually, reinforced flooring.

Beyond those practical issues, however, while many people enjoy the global perspective that the Ethnologue provides, most users are much more narrowly focused on a specific region, country, and in many cases, a single language. If you have to buy the entire Ethnologue in order to get just that information, there is a pretty daunting cost-benefit ratio that comes into play.  By dividing up the languages into regions (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Pacific) and by combining those so that each volume covers about one-third of the world's languages, we are able to provide volumes that come much closer to covering the research interests of many scholars and investigators without adding too much overhead to what they need to purchase.

But then you might ask, why not just buy a country report (or several) if my interest is only in a specific country (or region)?  That certainly is an option, but the three print volumes provide additional statistical summaries for each Ethnologue area (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Pacific) that are not available in the online edition nor in the individual country reports. So, if my interest is specifically in the language situation in Europe, for example, I can find the statistical summary information for Europe in the Africa and Europe volume. The Global Summary also appears in each volume (as it does online) but the regional summaries provide additional information that is not directly available in any other Ethnologue product. You might never have expected that the Isle of Man, San Marino, and the Vatican State are the least linguistically diverse political entities in Europe. The Europe Summary section of the Africa and Europe volume is where you can find that and many other interesting details.

So what do you get in each volume?  Here are some factoids that might be of interest:

Volume Languages  Countries  Lg & Dialect Names  Maps 
Africa and Europe 2,467 105 18,402 74
Americas and Pacific 2,653 79 13,103 72
Asia 2,349 52 16,547 72

We are trying to make the valuable information in the Ethnologue available in a variety of formats in order to serve as wide an audience as possible. The print volumes are one set of tools that we are happy to be able to provide.


Submitted by Joseph Davidson on Sun, 2015-08-30 21:30
When will the 18th edition (three volumes print) be available for purchase, and how much will each volume cost? Joseph O. Davidson
Submitted by M. Paul Lewis on Tue, 2015-09-01 00:49
Thanks for your question. The 18th print edition, in three volumes, can be ordered from "your favorite bookseller" (e.g. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). You may need to look carefully because they are still selling the 17th edition volumes as well. The three volumes (Africa and Europe, Americas and Pacific, and Asia) are each sold separately. List price for each is $99 (USD) but they may be offered at a discount by those distributors.