facts, Stegemann and Gupta

M. Paul Lewis Paul_Lewis at sil.org
Tue Mar 22 17:47:36 UTC 2005

Hal and all:

The organization of the Ethnologue is to list language-in-country data.
Each language is assigned a "hub" country (e.g. England for English) but a
language may also be considered "indigenous" in other countries where there
are large, long-established populations of speakers (e.g. English in the
United States).  Ethnologue also identifies but has much scantier data on
"nonindigenous" languages - languages with much shorter histories of
residence in a particular country - often spoken by an immigrant, migrant,
or temporary community of speakers.

The Introduction to the 14th edition of the Ethnologue accessible on the
web (p. viii in the printed volume) states: "Known nonindigenous languages
are listed in the introduction at the beginning of each country's listing,
with population estimate if known. They are not included in the language
statistics for that country. Information about nonindigenous languages is
incomplete, and may be incorrect. Corrections are welcomed. ..."  Such
nonindigenous languages are not given their own entry under that country.

Thus the small Indian language populations you refer to are listed only in
the country header for Malaysia and not given separate language entries
under Malaysia (though they are given separate entries under India which is
what Ethnologue considers to be their "hub" country).  Tamil is considered
an indigenous language of Malaysia and so gets its own entry (instead of a
brief mention in the country header)  though in Ethnologue terms its "hub"
country is India and more complete information is given in the entry there.

Evidently, the "fronting" of the information about nonindigenous languages
(even though they are given relatively short shrift in terms of the amount
of information given) has led you to believe that we are giving them
greater prominence,  while the much fuller, though the data provided
farther down on the indigenous languages has led you to infer that we don't
give them as much prominence.

We'd encourage all users of the Ethnologue to read the introduction
carefully as it provides valuable clues to the parsing and interpretation
of the material in the book (and on the website).

This, of course, begs the question about at what point a nonindigenous
language becomes established as an indigenous language of a particular
country. As always, updates and corrections on this point and all others
are very much welcomed. We make no claim of total accuracy but we do aspire
to get closer.


Paul Lewis
Editor, Ethnologue

             "Harold F.
             <haroldfs at ccat.sa                                          To
             s.upenn.edu>              lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
             Sent by:                                                   cc
             st at ccat.sas.upenn                                     Subject
             .edu                      Re: facts, Stegemann and Gupta

             03/22/2005 07:55

             Please respond to
             lgpolicy-list at cca

Dear Paul,

I'm glad to see that it's possible to update and correct some of the
listings in Ethnologue.  I just did a check on Malaysia, to see what it
says, and the following statement I find a little strange:

             "Languages of Malaysia

             [See also SIL publications on the languages of Malaysia.]

        National or official language: Malay. 21,410,000 (1998 UN). Also
             includes Burmese, Western Cham, Chinese Sign Language,
Malayalam 37,000,
             Eastern Panjabi 43,000, Telugu 30,000, people from Indonesia,
             the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom.
Information mainly
             from S. Wurm and S. Hattori 1981. Deaf population 31,000
(1980). Deaf
             institutions: 5. Data accuracy estimate: B, C. The number of
             listed for Malaysia is 140. Of those, 139 are living languages
and 1 is
             extinct. Diversity index 0.75."

This is fine as far as it goes, but it lists small Indian language
populations like Malayalam and Telugu, but fails to mention the over a
million Tamil speakers.  True, the next page does mention the 1,060,000
Tamil speakers [or people of Tamil descent who declare it as their
'mother tongue'], but it seems strange that Eastern Panjabi and Telugu
get more attention than the dominant Indian language. Then, on the next
page (Peninsular Malaysia) it does go into further detail but then ignores
Panjabi and Telugu etc.  Is this deliberate, or an oversight?

Hal Schiffman

On Mon, 21 Mar 2005 Paul_Lewis at sil.org wrote:

> Many thanks to Anthea for pointing out the inaccuracies in the Ethnologue
> reporting regarding the national / official languages of Singapore. The
> Ethnologue is a continuing research effort and we appreciate all
> contributions aimed at making it more accurate and complete.
> The error (at least regarding Bengali) has been corrected in the 15th
> edition which is now available in print (from Academic_Books at sil.org) and
> will soon be available on line.
> All users of the Ethnologue website (www.ethnologue.com) should be aware
> that the site is an online version of the last released print version of
> the Ethnologue. As such, the data is increasingly dated over time as the
> website is NOT generally updated until the next printed volume is
> (about every four years).
> We welcome all corrections and comments and will evaluate all
> communications that we receive with our sources and others we deem to be
> knowledgeable.  We attempt to acknowledge all such communications but may
> not necessarily notify a correspondent when we have changed our database
> reflect their input.  Even when we have done so, the website will not
> reflect a change or correction until the next printed volume is
> We recognize that this is frustrating to those who have submitted new and
> corrected data but it is an artifact of the limited number of personnel
> have available to maintain both the database and the website.  Our hope
> to improve the timeliness of the online data, but for the time being we
> where we are.
> With best wishes,
> M. Paul Lewis
> Editor, Ethnologue
> Editor_Ethnologue at sil.org
> (972) 708-7432
> (972) 708-7589 (Fax)
> www.ethnologue.com
> www.sil.org
>              "Anthea Fraser
>              Gupta"
>              <A.F.Gupta at leeds.
>              ac.uk>                    <lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
>              Sent by:
>              owner-lgpolicy-li
>              st at ccat.sas.upenn
>              .edu                      facts, Stegemann and Gupta
>              03/21/2005 05:56
>              AM
>              Please respond to
>              lgpolicy-list at cca
>               t.sas.upenn.edu
> Stegemann seems to think he has facts and I have assertions. Census
> evidence ALWAYS needs interpretation and an assessment of the direction
> of error. We ALWAYS need to know the source of statistics.
> I lack imagination  ("Anthea's inability to imagine a society
> without a single unifying national language"). J'accuse Stegemann of
> lacking an understanding that in language planning there are no easy
> answers. There are difficult decisions to be made in the light of
> political, ethnic, linguistic, and pragmatic complexities. I would
> understand what he thinks better if, instead of rubbishing Malaysia,
> Hong Kong and Singapore, he told us instead what he thinks does and
> would work better.
> S seems to be holding up Switzerland as a shining example. Switzerland
> has also had to make difficult decisions and the choice made is not
> without its problems either. In Switzerland (as in India and Nigeria)
> there is a regional element to language, which makes regional
> differentiation possible in a way that it would not be in a city-state.
> And it has to be remembered that the education system of Switzerland is
> intended to ensure that any two Swiss people meeting will be able to
> communicate in at least one of the official languages (and in English
> too). That seems to me like a unifying policy.
> One of Singapore's main concerns is the prevention of too much
> inter-ethnic tension. I happen to think that there is still too much
> ethnic separation in Singapore and would (as I said) like to see more
> cross-ethnic language learning, but the balancing act is a difficult
> one, and there have not been race riots since the 1960s, which suggests
> government's decisions have not been foolish.
> S says:
> >Firstly, with the exception of the Ethnologue data that relies on a
> > variety of sources of varying dates, all of my census data is
> > far more
> > recent than Anthea's 1994 book _The Step-tongue
> The critique in my 1994 book is just as valid applied to the 2000 census
> because the language question was the same (as it probably has to be --
> otherwise there could not be comparison across the years). Only language
> use within the household is classified (we do not know what language 50
> year olds speak to their children unless the children live in the same
> household); families are classified as a collection of 'dyads';
> responses are for main language used only.  I don't want to revisit the
> critique, but I must defend myself against the out of dateness. In 1990
> 27% of those born in 1961-1970 claimed to speak mainly English to their
> spouse (Gupta 1994:31). They were the youngest married age-group in
> 1990, and would therefore include a relatively low proportion of the
> highly educated. The most highly educated groups would be even more
> likely to be chatting to their boy/girlcfriends at the time/ In the 2000
> census, the figures supplied are much less detailed, and give only the
> (next to useless) figure of main household language, but even so, in the
> same age group, 26% claimed English as the main household language.  So
> even on the kind of figures S seems to like, in a quarter of families
> English was claimed as the main language in a majority of dyads.
> In the 2000 census, 65% of the 'resident' population claimed to be
> literate in English (defined as the ability to read a newspaper).
> Singapore is carrying the legacy of the past: in the UK there has been
> near-universal education in the medium of English for over 100 years,
> but in Singapore this has been the case only for the last 30 years. In
> those aged 15-24 97% claimed literacy in English, a figure very similar
> to UK or US figures, and probably near the possible maximum.
> The Ministry of Education asks parents for the most used and second most
> used language at home for incoming students. On 'most used' language
> Mandarin is the lead language, and English a close the runner up. In
> some years (though not 2000) the second most common language is also
> released revealing the prevalent pattern of domestic use of two
> languages, with one of them being English, in all ethnic groups. Here
> are the results for the censal years ('Dialect' means other variety of
> Chinese):
>              Dialect           Mandarin          English           Others
> 1980         64.4              25.9               9.3               0.3
> 1990         5.6               67.9               26.3
> 0.2
> 2000         2.2               53.8               43.2
> 0.8
> Language spoken most frequently by Chinese Primary One pupils at home
> (Education Ministry, ST Weekly, October 21 2000)
> A browse around the Ministry of Education website will find you the
> figures from other years, and ministerial comments on them.
> <http://www.moe.gov.sg/>.
> All of these statistics are subject to the usual warnings about self
> report and question asked. However, they are better, and more explained
> data than what Stegemann is offering us. The figure on Ethnologue cannot
> be taken seriously, as we do not know their origin (though I can work
> out most of them -- mostly old and misunderstood census data or
> respectable but ancient social surveys).
> I will give an example of something I hope even S will realise is an
> error in Ethnologue. Ethnologue gives this information: for Singapore as
> "National or official languages: Bengali, Mandarin Chinese, Malay,
> Tamil, English." NO WAY is (or ever has been, or ought to be, or in even
> the most patriotic Bengali's wildest dreams might be) Bengali a national
> or official language of Singapore. I have attempted to correct this (and
> other) gross errors in Ethnologue many times over the last decade.
> Another figure S might like to find from the Ministry of Education's
> site relates to the percentage passing Primary School Leaving exams (97%
> in 2004) and GCE O-Level exams at the end of secondary school. I think
> he will find that the proportions compare well with figures for similar
> educational stages in (for example) the UK.
> I would urge anyone out there who has not been to Singapore, and seen
> for themselves that practically everyone speaks English, to do a bit of
> webwork. Do a search for .sg websites and read a variety of texts.
> Listen to some radio stations, especially those with call-ins. You could
> start at:
> http://www.catcha.com.sg/cgi-bin/redirect.cgi?url=http://www.catcha.com.
> sg/content.phtml?17&111&&liveradio.sg
> Of course S may have a different idea of 'good English' from me. I do
> not regard English as monolithic, but welcome dialectal variation. I
> also know that there is nowhere in the world where everyone develops
> high level skills in the same Standard variety. Even with a normative
> stance, though, I would argue that figures such as censal literacy rate,
> and standardised tests in English indicate that the proportion of the
> Singapore population under the age of 40 (since English medium education
> became near universal) who can perform Standard English is similar to to
> proportion who can perform Standard English in countries such as the UK
> and US.
> Must get on with my life.
> Anthea
> Leow Bee Geok (ed).2001.  Census of Population 2000. Statistical Release
> 2@ Education, Language and Religion. Singapore: Singapore Department of
> Statistics.
> *     *     *     *     *
> Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
> School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
> <www.leeds.ac.uk/english/staff/afg>
> NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at leeds.ac.uk
> *     *     *     *     *
> ForwardSourceID:NT0007C792


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