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LLM Forum

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Comments on Karl Franklin's Considering the Etymology of the Word “Pidgin” [LLM Vol. 38, 2020] by

John Lynch


Thanks for sharing this, Olga. I was unaware of this development, and have only now located a page on their site referring to it:


December 7, 2015

As you may know, Ethnologue has recently decided to charge subscriptions fees to access its online database. I feel quite strongly that this is a very retrograde step that constitutes yet another barrier to Papua New Guineans wanting accurate scientific information about their own languages.

I have written the comment below to the editors of Ethnologue. May I suggest that this be the beginning of a conversation in LSPNG about this new policy, a conversation that could be started in LLM and continued at the next annual meeting?

Tenkyu tru, craig Volker

Open Letter to Ethnologue Editors by Prof. Craig A. Volker (DWU)

As Professor of Linguistic Research at Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea, I must express my disappointment at your recently introduced policy of charging subscription fees for access to Ethnologue.

Ethnologue is a valuable tool to linguists and the general public. For this reason it was chosen to be the ISO standard for language names in the world. I am surely not the only one to wonder how a listing of ISO information can now be available only by paying a private organisation for access.

This will be a particular barrier to those of us in Melanesia. While a fee of US$10 may seem little to someone in the First World, it is a large amount for someone in Papua New Guinea, especially a student, and even more for someone in neighbouring Indonesian Papua. Even the means of payment is a barrier--very few people in our region, even academics, have credit cards that can be used online.

Your policy sends a sad message to our students-- we want to describe and study your languages, but we will not give you unfettered access to the information we collect. It will become even more difficult to counter the argument we often hear from students that foreign researchers come to Melanesia only to steal our languages and make money from them.

I urge you to reconsider your action and at the very least, to restore free access to Ethnologue to requests originating from developing countries in the Third World.

To download the PDF of Prof. Volker's letter, click HERE.


Thanks for sharing this! I was unaware of this development, and have only now located a page on their site referring to it:

As Craig bravely describes, this is a ridiculous and sad development. And note that the USD 10 is per month. Considering that a good deal of time at LSPNG conferences has been spent discussing how materials on PNG languages can be made available more widely, this is movement backwards, not forwards. And how contrary it is to the wonderful work being done by SIL in PNG to digitise their materials and make the available online for free. I also join Craig in requesting an urgent review of this situation and appeal to at least allow free access in places like PNG, where SIL has had a long, fruitful presence.

Prof. Don Niles, PhD

Acting Director & Senior Ethnomusicologist, Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Box 1432, Boroko 111, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Response by Prof. Aikhenvald (JUC):

I fully agree - this is a potentially damaging and retrograde step which will restrict people's access to the Ethnologue and ultimately do damage to our discipline. Ethnologue is not without its drawbacks, but it is in general a reliable source produced by reliable scholars with trustworthy first-hand experience in the languages of the world. Unfortunately, many unreliable data-bases (all free open access) have sprung up over the years. The main offender is the so-called Glottolog replete with mistakes and misinterpretations and compiled by people who have little if any first-hand experience in the world's languages. Restricting access to Ethnologue will give an extra 'green light' to the Glottologs of this world. I feel rather strongly about this; maybe we could write together to whoever is in charge of the Ethnologue and point this out?

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FQA, FAHA

Distinguished Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow

Director of the Language and Culture Research Centre

The Cairns Institute Building (D3-036), James Cook University

PO Box 6811, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia

mobile 0400 305315, office 61-7-42321117

fax 61-7-4042 1880 http//



I have contacted Ethnologue and received a response from them. I will summarize the e-mail and paste the details below.

Everyone in developing nations has free and unlimited access to Ethnologue. I have doubled checked and whether using my internet access from work (which goes through DWU) or through my phone (Digicel), I did not have to register and I received complimentary access to Ethnologue. Below are the details from Ethnologue regarding their decision regarding subscriptions:

Everyone in Papua New Guinea and all other mid to low GDP countries should see a message about having complimentary access.

In the meantime, here are a few more details.

The Ethnologue program does not have a sustainable economic model. This is not about profiting. In fact, for years the Ethnolgoue program has lost thousands of dollars every single month. As a result we are unable to enhance the Ethnologue and website to make it everything people want it to be. Instead we are scraping and clawing to tread water. We have been actively measuring traffic for six months and have looked back at historical traffic. We conducted a specialized type of market survey of users. 1,200 people gave us detailed responses that we've analyzed.

Many factors were taken into account, but here are two key findings:

· We serve over 120,000 unique users each month on, only 5% of them access more than 7 language data pages on the site over the course of a month. We've watched this very closely since we rolled out the subscription system and found that 95% of users are able to do what they need on Ethnologue without getting close to the limit that would require a subscription.

· The vast majority of the other 5% are in countries classified by the World Bank as "high income" countries -

The metering/subscription on the site is only being applied to these high income countries. All users in the other mid to low income countries, including Papua New Guinea, are given unmetered access to without a subscription. You might say that we're giving 95% of our users free access to do what they want to do. We're giving heavy users from high income countries (the 5%) the ability to view 7 language data pages before they decide if they want to subscribe or buy a report. It is a very focused approach. For many years we've had a big vision for enhancing and expanding the value of, but we haven't had an economic model that enabled us to actually do it. It's our hope that subscriptions will be part of a viable economic model that enables us not just to sustain Ethnologue, but to invest in making it even better. Imagine if we could afford to add L2 data to Ethnologue, digital vitality index, interactive maps, an Ethnologue app for smartphones, etc. That's where we want to go, but we can't go there until we find a economic model that enables it. We've already got some enhancements in the pipeline, but we need the new revenue to bring them to the world.

In Christ Alone,

Rev. Peter Frost

Senior Manager for Language Services


Ukarumpa EHP 444 | Papua New Guinea

+675-537-3544 x4604 {Telecom}

+675-7211-8228 {Digicel}


One of my UCSB graduate students (Joseph Brooks) who works on a PNG language (Chini) used the Ethnologue response feature and got the form letter reproduced below. This would suggest that users in PNG will not have to pay to use Ethnologue. I've no idea why they don't say this on the basic page describing the subscription service. In any event, it would be worth checking with them, just to make sure, and maybe encouraging them to make explicit the distinction between "high income" and other countries on the page where the subscription service is described.

(As an aside, those of us in "high income" countries, including those who have contributed our own free time to provide Ethnologue with information, are not too happy with the new subscription service. But at least we can console ourselves with the thought that those who would suffer most apparently won't.)

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