Friday, September 18, 2015

Online Linguistic Resources: The CIA World Factbook

On this date in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was formed in the United States based on the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. In honor of the founding of one of the world's most famous intelligence agencies, today we're going to take a look at The World Factbook, a reference resource that has been published by the CIA since 1962.

While The World Factbook was originally a classified resource book designed to be used by government officials, it has been made available to the public since 1975. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that it's full of facts about various countries around the world, primarily those related to subjects like demographics, government, people and society, transnational issues, and geography.

I first discovered The World Factbook in secondary school, when I saw it online and noticed that it was a very handy online resource when you needed information about foreign countries. In addition to being easily searchable, the information it contains is fairly reliable since it is a U.S. Government resource that has undoubtedly been fact-checked.

Clipperton Island, which has been uninhabited since 1945.
While it used to be updated yearly, it is now updated almost every week, which also makes it a great resource for students or those who are simply curious about the world. For example, the North Korea page was recently updated to reflect the country's new time zone, which now differs by half an hour from that of South Korea.

If you're interested in languages like us, you can read all about the languages of a specific country or territory in its "People and Society" section. Better still, you can view a list of all of the language information contained within The World Factbook on one page, in some cases complete with percentages of the population that speak the languages. It's not nearly as comprehensive as the Ethnologue when it comes to statistical information related to language use, but it is still a good resource if you only need basic information.

However, if you're interested in learning more about the world and the complex interactions between various countries, it's a fantastic resource. You can learn all kinds of random facts by simply reading bits and pieces of its many entries, from the appropriate demonym for people from Guinea-Bissau (Bissau-Guinean) to the percentage of the inhabitants of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, that speak Portuguese (nearly 5%). For instance, I just spent a few minutes reading about a beautiful uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico called Clipperton Island, which was named after an English pirate and has been an overseas territory of France since 1935.

Do you know of other great online linguistic resources besides the Ethnologue and The World Factbook? Let us know about them in the comments!