Ethnologue in the News

It has long been the mission of the Ethnologue to share as widely as possible the results of language research.  From the earliest editions, mimeographed and distributed by post, to the most recent edition, online and freely available to anyone with an internet connection, the goal has always been to see the Ethnologue used as a resource by scholars, researchers, planners, and the general public.

So it makes us happy when we see that others are making use of the Ethnologue.  Just in the last month, we've been made aware of several public references to the Ethnologue.  In this post to the Ethnoblog, I want to point those out to you and at the same time request that you make us aware of any other Ethnologue references that you know about. 

The May 2013 issue of National Geographic included a factoid (p. 24) that states that "Nearly one in four people is a native speaker of Mandarin, Spanish, or English". They cite the Ethnologue as their source and it seems clear that they have consulted our Statistical Summaries pages as the basis for their statement.

An earlier (March 2013) review of the Ethnologue was posted online by Karin Wiecha in the Rosetta Project blog.  We're grateful when people take the time not only to mention the Ethnologue but to review it.  We benefit from such reviewseven (or perhaps especially) when they point out our weaknesses.  The Rosetta Project review was quite positive and does a nice job of highlighting the new features which we've been talking about here in the Ethnoblog as well.

Another interesting use of the Ethnologue statistical information occurred in early May when it was the basis for the Globalist Quiz, a syndicated feature item that came to us through the San Jose (California) Mercury newspaper.  The quiz focuses on the question: "What percentage of the world's living languages is in imminent danger of becoming extinct?" The Ethnologue is cited right up front and almost the entire "quiz" is based on our statistical summaries.

And finally, a very nicely laid out but somewhat flawed infographic appeared on the Nerdgraph website that curiously cites statistical data from the 16th edition but uses the distribution of languages among the various vitality categories that we've just published in the 17th edition.  For example, they state that there are approximately 6900 languages in use (Ethnologue 16th edition: 6,905) while the 17th edition (now including Dormant languages among the living) identifies 7,105 living languages. The infographic includes a bar graph ("Life of Languages in Numbers"), however, that shows how we have categorized the EGIDS levels into five groups (Institutional, Developing, Vigorous, In Trouble, Dying) and the distribution of the world's languages among within those groupings.  That information comes from the 17th edition.

There are some other factual inaccuracies in the infographic as well.  The most egregious of these is the assertion that "most languages are constantly used by less than 1,000 speakers."  Our data show that the median L1 speaker population is 7,000, so it would be more accurate to state that half of all the world's languages have fewer than 7,000 speakers.  In fact, we report that just under one quarter of all of the living languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers.

We are very familiar with the pitfalls of data updates occurring while a product is in production, rendering it out-of-date almost as soon as it is published.  It would be nice if this infographic could be updated and reposted.

Please feel free to let us know, by using the Contact Us link, about any other online mentions of the Ethnologue. We like to see how the Ethnologue is being used (and occasionally abused).