Interesting article by Michael Erard in today’s New York Times (reg. req’d), on the book and the database The Ethnologue, which are published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (S.I.L.).

This is an absolutely amazing source of information for everyone who is interested in the languages of the world.

Erard does not avoid to touch upon the curious origins of the project as a help for Christian missionaries and a guide to languages that lack a bible translation. They give rise to valid arguments against…

Denny Moore, a linguist with the Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil, said via e-mail: “It is absurd to think of S.I.L. as an agency of preservation, when they do just the opposite. Note that along with the extermination of native religion, all the ceremonial speech forms, songs, music and art associated with the religion disappear too.”

… and for the project as a whole:

Most linguists are unfazed at S.I.L.’s affiliations. “If you took away all the literature done by the S.I.L. people done in the last 60 years,” said Dr. Ruhlen of Stanford, “you’d be taking away a lot of language documentation for a lot of languages for which there’s nothing at all.”

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