What I did on my summer vacation...

I've been away from Ethnologue Central for several weeks now, not exactly on holiday, but certainly having a wonderfully productive time.  Most of this extended trip has involved significant events related to the Ethnologue.  There isn't enough space here to go into a lot of detail about these events, but both represent additional milestones for the Ethnologue.

The first week of this trip was spent in Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah in Malaysia. Sabah is located on the island of Borneo and there are more than 50 languages spoken within the boundaries of the state. Many of those spill over into neighboring regions, of course, but the focus of our time in Sabah was to work alongside the Universiti Malaysia Sabah to do a thorough review of the language data that Ethnologue publishes about the languages of Sabah. The event was jointly sponsored by SIL in Malaysia and the University and involved the participation of representatives of many other organizations.  There were linguists, educators, members of the local communities, all gathered in one large room, seated in separate groups around tables with computers and video projectors, carefully reviewing data forms that had been circulated and revised earlier.  Our colleagues at the university did most of the hard work preparing for, hosting, and organizing the event  Now the burden falls to us. We have a lot of updating to do as a result of this intensive week of work by nearly 100 different participants. Those updates should appear in the 19th edition of the Ethnologue which we will release online, in country reports, and an updated Global Dataset in February 2016 with the larger print volumes to follow.

The second major event of this month-long trip has just concluded in Brisbane, Australia.  Those who follow the Ethnologue year-by-year will be aware that we have been actively calling for Ethnologue users to "join the conversation!"  One mechanism for doing that is by registering on the website, providing a very brief user profile, and then submitting comments and corrections via the Feedback tabs on every language and country page.  There are a large number of registered users and a considerably smaller group who actively contribute Feedback through this channel.  We'd like to see that grow but we have also been looking for other ways to foster collaboration in the research that makes Ethnologue what it is and so widely relied upon.

To that end, we have been working to develop an online collaborative research system. That system, which we are calling OSCAR (Online System for Collaboration and Research), debuted this past week as we introduced it to 15 hardy volunteers who have agreed to work with us as Field Contributors. These folks know a lot about the languages in the Pacific region but, being busy people, they don't have large blocks of time to dedicate to updating a lot of Ethnologue data all at once.  OSCAR makes it possible for them to work on improving Ethnologue language entries a little at a time--to review current Ethnologue data, to update the existing data with new or additional information, and to request the removal of erroneous information.  All three of us who are editors of the Ethnologue just spent three days together with these Field Contributors learning how OSCAR works and starting to work out the processes by which we can benefit from their knowledge of language situations as well as their access to other knowledgeable networks.  The hard work of these Field Contributors is a labor of love, but at least they can benefit by seeing their work made known and having their knowledge integrated into the comprehensive description of the status of the languages of the world that Ethnologue provides.

This first training event is just a small step towards building a larger network of Field Contributors. We'll be slowly expanding the network and working on improving OSCAR and its capabilities.  As with any new technology, OSCAR has bugs and there are many places where it needs to grow or change.  The opportunity to work with it on real language data has been extremely helpful. While it is a bit overwhelming to see all that we still need to do, it is also very exciting to see the potential that this new approach has for both Ethnologue and for scholars who wish to work collaboratively with us.

I can't say that this "summer vacation" has been all that restful. It has been supremely satisfying though to see these important steps forward.  I'm going back to Ethnologue Central so I can get some rest!