Monday, February 2, 2015

Join the tribe of people making linguistics online better

The people behind Ethnologue recently did a blog post where they talk about the upcoming new edition*. They also write:

We're really grateful for the Ethnologue staff here and for contributors and commenters all around the world who point out many things that need to be fixed--may their tribe increase!

In case you didn't know, you can contribute with feedback to the Ethnologue that they will take into consideration for future editions. Other similar sites also have methods for you to contribute, so I thought I'd do a brief post about how you can contribute to making linguistics on the internets better. I'll cover four different resources that you can contribute to and make a difference.

This is especially relevant if you are doing research on a specific language or set of languages that is not well described (i.e. practically most languages). You can contribute with your specialised in-depth knowledge about what sets your language apart form the neighbours, what the name is that they community themselves prefer to be called etc.

Join the tribe!

1) contribute to Ethnologue (and ISO 639-3)
2) contribute to Glottolog
3) contribute to Wikipedia
4) contribute to Glottopedia

1a) ETHNOLOGUE 
Ethnologue is a catalogue of the worlds languages, edited and distributed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International. Ethnologue contains lots of information, besides classifying all known living language varieties (and plenty dead too) into dialects, languages and families it also contains information about speaker populations, writing systems and much more.

If you want to give feedback on information in Ethnologue you can either email them at Ethnologue_Editor (at) sil.org or become a registered user and submit feedback directly on the page for the language. Each language page has a little feedback section, here is the one for Gambian Wolof for example. It's very easy to become a user, don't be scared that it is complicated.

However, if you want to give feedback on wether a language should be split into several or lumped with others, or suggest new languages not described - then you need to give feedback to ISO 639-3.

1b) ISO 639-3
The SIL International also maintain an international standard of languages names, the ISO 639-3. This is the three letter code that you commonly see references next to language, for example: Senegalese Wolof [wol], Ikulu [ikl] and Alutor [alr]. The ISO 639-3 is updated every year, usually around the 21 of February (the International Mother Tongue Day). You can contribute to it by submitting a change request. Right now that process is a bit complicated, they plan on making it more effective soon by creating web forms.

Ethnologue is not exactly the same thing as the ISO 639-3 codes. Yes, they are both edited by SIL International and every entity that is deemed a language in ISO 639-3  is counted as a language in the Ethnologue. However, 639-3 are codes for the standardisation of language names (and thereby also languages) whereas the Ethnologue also makes statements about languages genealogical relationship to each other, number of speakers/signers, vitality and more information. The International Organisation for Standardisation does not govern Ethnologue, only ISO 639-3.

There are other ISO codes that concern languages, the 639-3 is the only one that is curated by the SIL International and that is concerned with what is construed as the "language-level" of analysis at a global level (i..e not families or dialects, and for the entire world). The other codes are linked to the 639-3 and it is also the one that is the most frequently used code set.

2) GLOTTOLOG
Glottolog is another resource that provides classification and meta-information about languages. In glottolog you can find
  • classification of language varieties into dialects, languages and families
  • genealogical relationships between languages
  • citations for the classification of varieties and the genealogical relationships between languages
  • bibliographies of languages, i.e. lists of references that treat different language
  • alternative names for languages
  • codes (glottocodes) for each node in the trees, i.e. not only for the "language-level" but also families, dialects and everything in-between
  • links to ISO 639-3, other CLLD-sites, MultiTree etc.
  • location of languages (dots not polygons, i.e longitudes and latitudes)
These classification are not identical the those of Ethnologue and ISO 639-3, in short it is often the case that Glottolog is more splitting than Ethnologue. Personally I find it very hand that each of these decisions is being accompanied by a reference, that way I know why it has been decided the way it has.

There is not information in Glottolog on number of speakers or vitality. However, knowing how many descriptions there are of a language is HIGHLY useful.

Would you like to contribute to Glottolog in some way? Perhaps you know a reference that deals with a  language but it is not listed, perhaps you know an alternate name that Glottolog should know, perhaps you disagree with the classification of varieties into languages and dialects? There are a two different ways you can contribute: email or GitHub.

E-mail: Each node (language, family, isolate, dialect) has a glottocode and a page. This is the page for the North-Central Atlantic branch of the Atlantic-Congo Family for example and this is the Essin dialect of the language Bayot.  Each of these glottocode-specific pages has a little alarm bell. See picture to the right. Click that thing, it will take you to whatever email client you have set as default on your web browser. Now you can write whatever it is you want to pass on to the Glottolog editors concerning that languoid.

Github: Github is a place online where people can share code. All CLLD-sites are run through Github. This alternative is for people who either don't mind creating a user on Github for doing a few simple things, or for people who already are users of github. You can also use Github to have discussions, for example through "issues". Issues can be tagged, assigned to people etc. There is a repository for Glottolog data, you can submit issues here.

3) WIKIPEDIA
Wikipedia has revolutionised the spread of knowledge, of course also in linguistics. This is often the first place people look for information to orient themselves in a new field. And as such it is plenty annoying when one find mistakes, but you know what? You can contribute to Wikipedia, we all can!

Earlier this year there was a collaborative effort to improve linguistics, #lingwiki. If you are new to wikipedia editing this is a great place to start, read more about it on Grecthen McCulloch's blog and also here on Humans Who Read Grammars. There is information there about what articles need work and how Wikipedia editing works.

Also, have a look at this manual for how to edit wikipedia in general. Not all pages on Wikipedia are protected, meaning you can edit them without being a registered user. However, I strongly recommend that you register as an official user, it is quick and easy and it lets you keep track of what you have going on.

Would you perhaps like to join the next online collaborative wikipedia edi-a-thon?

4) GLOTTOPEDIA
Glottopedia is Wikipedia for Linguists by Linguists. Glottopedia is what happened when the people at WikiLingua at the University of Trier and Linguipedia at the MPI in Leipzig merged. It's free, it's directed to linguists and you can contribute yourself. There's already lots of articles and it's run by several very prominent scholars of linguistics. Also, our wonderful fellow tumblr Linguisten (aka Jan Wohlegemuth) is an editor!

Glottopedia works almost exactly like Wikipedia, you can read more about editing Glottopedia here.


Ok, that's it for now. I hope you found this useful and that you will join the tribe of people improving these different resources, it is always needed and appreciated. For the most recent edition of Ethnologue they made nearly 60,000 updates and corrections. It is not easy maintaining a resource on so many entities that is also every changing. Sometimes helping out with this is easier than you think, even correcting things that you find "obvious" is very helpful.
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* Yes, you read that right. Thought that the most recent edition that came out last year would stick around for a while? Apparently not. Ethnologue says that they've got the production process organised effectively in such a way so that they can updated much more often. The 17th edition that is currently in effect came out in 2014, the previous ones came out 2009, 2005, 2000 and 1996 respectively.

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