Something is rotten in Fontainebleau, and it isn't the cheese. There, a business professor and entrepreneur named Philip M. Parker INSEAD Chair Professor of Management Science at INSEAD, is creating a publishing empire of sorts, a very odd publishing empire. He claims to have published over 200,000 titles.
Mr. Parker's niche is the generation of books by computer programs from data collected on the net. He has quite a few business publications, an example of which is The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats, and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India, which may be had for $458. Those of us not that interested in the Indian floor covering market need not despair, for we can still enjoy this absolutely hysterical review.
Of concern to us is the fact that he has collected lists of words for over 600 languages and is using them to create products ranging from books of crossword puzzles to dictionaries. He has, for example, published a book of Wagaman Crossword Puzzles, based on the Wagiman Dictionary compiled by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. He also publishes dictionaries. Here is Parker's Murrinh-Patha Dictionary. Note that the domain he uses, websters-online-dictionary.org, has nothing to do with Noah Webster or the Merriam-Webster dictionaries.
I won't go into greater detail since it is already available from Aidan Wilson at Matjjin-Nehen and Peter Austin here and here. Such publications present several problems. One is the impropriety of Parker's failure to acknowledge the source of the raw material and to explain what is the result of his processing and what is not. A second is the poor quality of the resulting dictionaries, which do not indicate whose language it is and where it is spoken, explain the writing system or provide other essential information. The purchaser expecting a useful dictionary is very likely to be disappointed. Finally, there is considerable potential for damage to the often sensitive relationships between linguists and indigenous communities. Many indigenous people are worried by the thought of information about their language escaping into the wild, so to speak, getting out of their control and being exploited by unscrupulous outsiders. Most such concerns are misconceived, as few people have much interest in small languages and there is little profit to be gained by such exploitation. Parker's activities could provide fodder for what has hitherto been a largely groundless fear.