Wiktionary:Neutral point of view
|This is a Wiktionary policy, guideline or common practices page. Specifically it is a policy think tank, working to develop a formal policy.|
|Policies – Entries: CFI - EL - NORM - NPOV - QUOTE - REDIR - DELETE. Languages: LT - AXX. Others: BLOCK - BOTS - VOTES.|
Wiktionary’s editorial policy is to take a “neutral point of view”, often abbreviated “NPOV”. This policy means that we accept all significant viewpoints on an issue. Instead of simply stating one perspective, we try to present all relevant viewpoints without judging which is correct. Our aim is to be informative, not to convince readers of something. It’s OK to state opinions in entries, but they must be presented as opinions, not as fact. Also, it’s a good idea to attribute these opinions, for example “Supporters of (...) say that...” or “(Notable commentator ___) believes that...”
On Wiktionary, neutrality directly implies that a descriptive approach is taken towards the documentation of languages, and not a prescriptive approach. This is one of the primary tenets of how Wiktionary works. Entries should not impose any particular view on the correctness of a word or meaning, as this is subjective and does not represent all views fairly. Incorrectness is always a subjective matter when language is concerned, as different people speak differently and no speech variety is inherently less valid than any other, only perhaps more or less widely used.
In the treatment of words
In order to be neutral, Wiktionary does not have any policy regarding the correctness of words. Wiktionary’s criteria for inclusion do not attempt to enforce “correctness”, but rather exist to define which words are in widespread enough usage to include them in a dictionary. These criteria are the only ones on Wiktionary that define “what is a word”, and they are meant to be as objective as possible and not favour one view over another. This means that words or word forms that are considered incorrect by some people can also be included as long as they are used widely enough to meet the criteria. For example, if some people use a form such as thunk rather than thought, then both are considered equally according to the criteria. Similarly, newly-formed words such as tweet or selfie are just as “correct” as any other word.
It is, however, fine to state that a particular word or form is rarely used, and it would even be fine to state that a considerable number of English speakers considers it nonstandard or incorrect, or has certain other connotations. For example, thunk is certainly not as widely used as thought is. These are simple statements of fact, and can be verified as such. It would also be ok to note that a particular word is not sanctioned by any existing official standard (if one exists for the language). But even in this case the official standard is not considered by Wiktionary to have any authority of what is right or wrong usage. It is simply a standard which individual speakers may or may not choose to follow.
For practical reasons, the main definition of a word, along with its etymology and translations, is usually given on the most common form of that word. This avoids duplication of identical content, which would eventually lead to inconsistencies, and helps to keep things together in one place. Other forms of the word are given smaller entries that give the definition as “alternative form of (the main word)”. This is not a violation of neutrality: “alternative” does not imply “less correct” or even “less common”, it simply means “also in use”. Consequently, which word or spelling variety receives the main definition of a term is arbitrary and does not imply any bias towards one variety of the other. Some Wiktionary entries have the main definition at the British spelling, while for others it is located at the American spelling.
Usually, the general practice among editors is to follow any official standard, or the most-used form, when deciding where to place the main content. Such practice is usually not codified among Wiktionary editors, although the community of editors for a particular language may decide to formalize this when they feel it necessary. Again, this does not imply that Wiktionary itself endorses or prefers this particular form of the language, but only that editors have decided, for the purpose of consistency and to avoid duplication of content, to standardise the location of content within the dictionary. A German entry is normally placed at the form that follows the official standard used in Germany, and users that look up forms in the Swiss or Austrian standards will be directed to this entry through an “alternative form” link. For example, compare grüßen, which is standard in Germany and Austria, with grüssen, which is the norm in Switzerland. When there is no consensus or no clear preference or precedent for one variety or another, both varieties are generally used at the whims of the editors who write the entries. This is the case for English, which has its main entries more or less randomly distributed among the British and American spellings.
In the treatment of languages
The question of what is or what is not a language is a difficult one, and may also be politically charged. The linguistic reality is that there is no clear difference between languages and dialects; all are simply “language varieties”. Every speaker is different, and even the same speaker might use their language differently depending on the situation.
Wiktionary explicitly does not attempt to define what is a language and what is not, as this is linguistically meaningless. However, Wiktionary does have fairly strong consensus-based rules on what to name languages within Wiktionary itself, and which languages to consider equivalent or part of a common grouping. This is, again, for practical reasons: it would not make much sense to have an entry for “Portuguese” alongside an entry for “European Portuguese” and “Brazilian Portuguese”, as the latter two are linguistically grouped under the former. So while in reality there is no clear definition of what a language is, Wiktionary must define it in one way or another, and thus choose one point of view over another, in order to be useful.
The Wiktionary community may decide, on a case-by-case basis, how to treat each language on Wiktionary. It may be decided that a language would be better off split up into several languages to better cater to the differences among its major dialects (as was done for Arabic, which exists alongside Hijazi Arabic, Egyptian Arabic etc.). It may also be decided that different varieties would be better off merged into one language when there are not enough differences to warrant systematically separating them (as was done for Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin, which were merged into Serbo-Croatian).
In entry content
Neutrality is also reflected in the usage of English itself when writing definitions, usage notes, and so on. Wiktionary is written in any form of English that is considered intelligible by the majority of English speakers. This includes the English varieties of Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and so on. If words are spelled differently in different areas, do not change the spelling simply for the sake of it, unless you are acting to keep a consistent usage throughout an entry. If an entry uses an English word that may not be understood by all speakers, it may be better to rephrase it, or to list similar words from different regions to get the point across. This happens in particular when providing definitions of terms in other languages. The Dutch word zaklamp may be defined in British English as a torch, but it would be helpful to clarify this for American speakers by also including flashlight, which is more readily understood by them. (In American English, torch only refers to a handheld or wall-mounted instrument that is lit on fire.)