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Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review

Hammarström, H. (2015). Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review. Language, 91, 723-737. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0038.
Ethnologue ( is the most widely consulted inventory of the world’slanguages used today. The present review article looks carefully at the goals and description of the content of the Ethnologue’s 16th, 17th, and 18th editions, and reports on a comprehensive survey of the accuracy of the inventory itself. While hundreds of spurious and missing languages can be documented for Ethnologue, it is at present still better than any other nonderivative work of the same scope, in all aspects but one. Ethnologue fails to disclose the sources for the information presented, at odds with well-established scientific principles. The classification of languages into families in Ethnologue is also evaluated, and found to be far off from that argued in the specialist literature on the classification of individual languages. Ethnologue is frequently held to be splitting: that is, it tends to recognize more languages than an application of the criterion of mutual intelligibility would yield. By means of a random sample, we find that, indeed, with confidence intervals, the number of mutually unintelligible languages is on average 85% of the number found in Ethnologue. © 2015, Linguistic Society of America. All rights reserved.
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