Three-volume 17th edition
Owner SIL International
Alexa rank Increase 145,018 (global; 12/2014)
Commercial yes

Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web-based publication that contains statistics for 7,457 languages in its 19th edition, which was released in 2016. Of these, 7,097 are listed as living and 360 are listed as extinct.[1] Ethnologue provides information on the number of speakers, location, dialects, linguistic affiliations, availability of the Bible in each language and dialect described, and an estimate of language viability using the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[2]


Ethnologue is published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization based in Dallas, Texas. The organization studies numerous minority languages in order to facilitate language development and work with the speakers of such language communities in translating portions of the Bible into their language.[3]

What counts as a language depends upon socio-linguistic evaluation; as the preface to Ethnologue says, "Not all scholars share the same set of criteria for what constitutes a 'language' and what features define a 'dialect'." Ethnologue follows general linguistic criteria, which are based primarily on mutual intelligibility.[4] Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.[5]

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue gives names that its speakers, governments, foreigners and neighbors use for it and its dialects, and also describes how the language and its dialects have been named and referenced historically, regardless of whether a name is considered official, politically correct or offensive. These lists of names are not necessarily complete.

In 1984, Ethnologue released a three-letter coding system, called an "SIL code", to identify each language that it described. This set of codes significantly exceeded the scope of other standards, e.g. ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2.[6] The 14th edition, published in 2000, included 7,148 language codes. In 2002, Ethnologue was asked to work with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to integrate its codes into a draft international standard. The 15th edition of Ethnologue was the first edition to use this standard, called ISO 639-3. This standard is now administered separately from Ethnologue (though still by SIL) according to rules established by ISO, and since then Ethnologue relies on the standard to determine what is listed as a language.[7][8]

With the 17th edition, Ethnologue introduced a numerical code for language status using a framework called EGIDS (Extended Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), an elaboration of Fishman’s GIDS (Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), which ranks a language from 0 for an international language to 10 for an extinct language, i.e. a language with which no-one retains a sense of ethnic identity.[9]

In December 2015, Ethnologue launched a soft paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven data pages per month can buy a paid subscription.[10]

Language families

Ethnologue's 18th edition describes 228 language families (including 96 language isolates) and six typological categories (sign languages, creoles, pidgins, mixed languages, constructed languages, and as yet unclassified languages).[11]


In 1986, William Bright, then editor of the journal Language, wrote of Ethnologue that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world".[12] In 2008 in the same journal, Lyle Campbell and Verónica Grondona said: "Ethnologue...has become the standard reference, and its usefulness is hard to overestimate."[13]

In 2015, also in Language, Harald Hammarström, an editor of Glottolog, criticized the publication for frequently lacking citations and failing to articulate clear principles of language classification and identification. However, he concluded that, on balance, "Ethnologue is an impressively comprehensive catalogue of world languages, and it is far superior to anything else produced prior to 2009."[14]


Starting with the 18th edition, new editions of Ethnologue are to be published every year.[15]

1[16] 1951 Richard S. Pittman 10 mimeographed pages; 40 languages[3]
2[17] 1951 Pittman
3[18] 1952 Pittman
4[19] 1953 Pittman first to include maps[20]
5[21] 1958 Pittman first edition in book format
6[22] 1965 Pittman
7[23] 1969 Pittman 4,493 languages
8[24] 1974 Barbara Grimes [25]
9[26] 1978 Grimes
10[27] 1984 Grimes SIL codes first included
11[28] 1988 Grimes 6,253 languages[29]
12[30] 1992 Grimes 6,662 languages
13[31] 1996 Grimes 6,883 languages
14[32] 2000 Grimes 6,809 languages
15[33] 2005 Raymond G. Gordon, Jr.[34] 6,912 languages; draft ISO standard; first edition to provide color maps[20]
16[35] 2009 M. Paul Lewis 6,909 languages
17 2013, updated 2014[36] M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig 7,106 living languages
18 2015 Lewis, Simons, & Fennig 7,102 living languages; 7,472 total
19 2016 Lewis, Simons, & Fennig 7,097 living languages; ? total

See also


  1. Ethnologue, 19th edition website
  2. Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2010). "Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman's GIDS" (PDF). Romanian Review of Linguistics. 55 (2): 103–120.
  3. 1 2 Erard, Michael (July 19, 2005). "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". The New York Times.
  4. "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  5. Dixon, R. M. W. (2012-05-24). Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 3: Further Grammatical Topics. Oxford University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780199571093. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  6. Everaert 2009, p. 204.
  7. Simons, Gary F.; Gordon, Raymond G. (2006). "Ethnologue". In Brown, Edward Kenneth. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (PDF). 4 (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 250–253. ISBN 978-0-08-044299-0.
  8. In only one case, Ethnologue and the ISO standards treat languages slightly differently. ISO 639-3 considers Akan to be a macrolanguage consisting of two distinct languages, Twi and Fante, whereas Ethnologue considers Twi and Fante to be dialects of a single language (Akan), since they are mutually-intelligible. This anomaly resulted because the ISO 639-2 standard has separate codes for Twi and Fante, which have separate literary traditions, and all 639-2 codes for individual languages are automatically part of 639-3, even though 639-3 would not normally assign them separate codes.
  9. "Language status". Ethnologue. 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-24.
  10. M. Paul Lewis, "Ethnologue launches subscription service." Ethnologue. 6 December 2015
  11. "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  12. Bright, William. 1986. "Book Notice on Ethnologue", Language 62:698.
  13. Campbell, Lyle; Grondona, Verónica (2008-01-01). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world (review)". Language. 84 (3): 636–641. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0054. ISSN 1535-0665.
  14. Hammarström, Harald (2015). "Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review". Language. 91 (3): 723–737. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0038. ISSN 1535-0665.
  15. "Welcome to the 18th edition!". Ethnologue. 2015-02-21. Retrieved 2015-04-28.
  16. "[SIL01] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  17. "[SIL02] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  18. "[SIL03] 1952". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  19. "[SIL04] 1953". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  20. 1 2 "Pinpointing the Languages of the World with GIS". Esri. Spring 2006. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  21. "[SIL05] 1958". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  22. "[SIL06] 1965". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  23. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  24. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  25. Barbara F. Grimes; Richard Saunders Pittman; Joseph Evans Grimes, eds. (1974). Ethnologue. Wycliffe Bible Translators. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  26. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  27. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  28. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  29. Ethnologue volume 11. SIL. 2008-04-28. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  30. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  31. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  32. "Ethnologue Fourteenth Edition, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  33. "Ethnologue 15, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  34. Everaert 2009, p. 61.
  35. "Ethnologue, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  36. "Check out the new Ethnologue". Ethnologue. 2014-04-30. Retrieved 2014-07-13.


Further reading

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