[Lingtyp] Ethnologue goes for paid access

Everett, Daniel DEVERETT at bentley.edu
Thu Dec 31 01:49:43 UTC 2015

The issue is not whether SIL will discontinue the service. It is whether the support will be sufficient to meet the expectations of the academic community.

On the one hand, I am concerned that SIL has taken so long to make any public statement about this. But on the other, the more fundamental question is whether it is appropriate for data bases of this type to be kept and controlled exclusively by a missionary organization. That is not a problem for SIL. It can build any data base it wants. That is a problem for the academic community.

As was discussed at an LSA meeting several years ago, via a panel organized by Lise Dobrin (and which I participated in with several others), a concern that was expressed had to do with the fact that as the academic community allows SIL to take on a quasi-official capacity in certain areas, e.g. the Ethnologue, SIL thereby is able to further the myth that it is an academic organization, when in reality (as I know having been a member of SIL from 1976-2002) it is a missionary organization, its members dedicated to the establishment of churches among indigenous communities around the world. The church support for the Ethnologue is not for the furtherance of scientific research but to have a more accurate assessment of Bible translation needs of the world’s languages.

That might be fine for some, but I think it is time that the academic community think about funding for a parallel project. Otherwise, no one should be concerned about paying the fee. This is the only way SIL seems to be able to support the project and if interested academics are willing to cede that responsibility to SIL, then they ought not to complain or worry about fees.

In any case, I don’t use Ethnologue much anymore so am indifferent to the outcome. I simply believe that it is worth discussing the general situation, perhaps at a LingTyp meeting, and LSA, etc.


On Dec 30, 2015, at 8:24 PM, Les Bruce <les_bruce at sil.org<mailto:les_bruce at sil.org>> wrote:

I don’t think we need fear that Ethnologue will be discontinued by SIL. People like Joe and Barbara Grimes who pioneered this work have been strongly supported by their constituency who have appreciated the academic work of these people.

Les Bruce

From: Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] On Behalf Of Everett, Daniel
Sent: Wednesday, December 30, 2015 3:41 PM
To: Martin Haspelmath
Cc: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Ethnologue goes for paid access

It is not at all clear that SIL is trying to make money. Maintaining these pages costs thousands of dollars per month and, as Martin says, SIL has no academic funding. Its funding comes from churches by and large and they have no particular interest in supporting non-mission related academics. I strongly urge the academic community to develop its own resources in this area.


Sent from my iPhone

On Dec 30, 2015, at 16:28, Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>> wrote:
Yes, that's true, and here's the description: http://www.ethnologue.com/ethnoblog/m-paul-lewis/ethnologue-launches-subscription-service

They say you can access seven data pages per month for free.

I don't find this surprising. Ethnologue (and the entire academic branch of SIL) has no proper academic funding, so it's normal that they are trying to make some money out of their flagship publication.

Incidentally, Glottolog has no proper funding either, but as it is now hosted by MPI-SHH in Jena (http://www.shh.mpg.de/48816/research_outline), at least its continued existence is assured for the next dozen years or so.

(I think we should try to tell our administrators that it makes little sense to try to sell academic publications. Instead, they should by properly funded by the academic publishers themselves, in order not to drive academics even further into questionable practices<http://www.frank-m-richter.de/freescienceblog/2015/12/18/is-our-scholarship-based-on-illegal-foundations/>.)

On 30.12.15 22:16, Peter Arkadiev wrote:

Dear all,

does any one know whether the access to the Ethnologue is going to be by paid subscription only? When trying to routinely access the information about a random language, I got a screen advertising paid subscription for $60 per year, and there is no way to bypass it and get access to the information which was freely available a week ago. This looks pretty distressing.




Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Kahlaische Strasse 10

D-07745 Jena


Leipzig University

Beethovenstrasse 15

D-04107 Leipzig

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