Entering a new year together

As we enter 2016, the Ethnologue staff and all of us at SIL International wish you the happiest of New Years and many blessings and goodwill in the months ahead.

For us here at Ethnologue Central, we are also entering the final stretch in preparation for the 19th edition. The Ethnologue is updated annually with website content remaining static between edition release dates. We schedule each new release to coincide with International Mother Language Day, February 21st.

The annual new edition release gives us an opportunity not only to present the updated information which we have been collecting and adding to the database throughout the year, but also gives us a chance to introduce new categories of data, modify the way we format the presentation of the data, and make other changes that we trust will improve the way in which Ethnologue can be of service.

This year, while we have continued to receive and incorporate new information, some of it through the website Feedback mechanism, some through email, and some through our own staff research, we have also been engaged in a lot of behind-the-scenes work restructuring our database. That work won't be immediately visible to the Ethnologue end-user but in the longer term should contribute significantly to a more useful body of data that we can share.

The database restructuring has been accompanied by the development of a new editing interface which we have dubbed OSCAR - Online System for Collaboration and Research.  I talked about OSCAR briefly in a previous Ethnoblog post. It is a giant step forward for the Ethnologue. OSCAR makes the work of the editors much easier and more efficient. More importantly, it allows a corps of trained Field Contributors to participate much more actively in making sure that the data we have is correct, concise, and comprehensive. We now have a cadre of 30 Field Contributors and will be expanding that number throughout 2016.

Another way in which we have been able to improve the quality of the data is through cooperative research with scholars and community members in organized intensive "data review" projects. Initially, I called these events "data audits". Our intent was to cooperate with local experts in looking at the Ethnologue data for a specific country. Together, we "audited" that information to ensure that it was as complete and up-to-date as possible. Over the last decade, we have carried out these intensive data reviews in Kenya, the Philippines, Brazil, Central and South America, Nepal, and most recently in Sabah, Malaysia. The data from the Sabah review, carried out jointly with the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), is currently being entered into the database and will appear in the forthcoming 19th edition.

As you might expect, these events take a lot of planning and coordination to make them happen, and we are grateful to our partners in each case for their hard work in recruiting data reviewers, distributing and collecting the data for review, organizing the group meetings, and, in most cases, providing a major part of the resources needed--personnel, venue, and much of the funding.

Here at Ethnologue Central, much of our preparatory work right now involves fairly mundane checking of the data to be sure the restructuring process has worked correctly. We are also restoring a lot of the computerized magic that got broken when the structure of the database changed. In addition, we are awaiting the final results of the 2015 round of ISO 639-3 Change Requests and need to update our database based on those changes between now and the date when we "freeze" the database and set the final content of the 19th edition. This is keeping us doubly busy as our normal workflow of receiving and evaluating updates has continued without much change.

We're confident we can get it all done in time and that the 19th edition of the Ethnologue will be the best that we can produce. In the next week or so, we'll also have an editorial meeting to nail down the final specifications for the 19th edition and then we'll push hard to get it all together and out the door by the 21st of February. More about the final details of "the 19th" next month.