Ethnologue: Languages of the World (stylized as Ethnoloɠue) is an annual reference publication in print and online that provides statistics and other information on the living languages of the world. It was first issued in 1951, and is now published annually by SIL International, a U.S.-based, worldwide, Christian non-profit organization. SIL's main purpose is to study, develop and document languages for religious purposes and to promote literacy.

Three-volume 17th edition
OwnerSIL International, United States

As of 2020, Ethnologue contains web-based information on 7,117 languages in its 23rd edition,[1] including the number of speakers, locations, dialects, linguistic affiliations, autonyms, availability of the Bible in each language and dialect described, a cursory description of revitalization efforts where reported, and an estimate of language viability using the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[2][3]


Ethnologue has been published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization with an international office in Dallas, Texas. The organization studies numerous minority languages to facilitate language development, and to work with speakers of such language communities in translating portions of the Bible into their languages.[4]

The determination of what characteristics define a single language depends upon sociolinguistic evaluation by various scholars; as the preface to Ethnologue states, "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.[5] Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.[6]

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue provides listings of other name(s) for the language and any dialects that are used by its speakers, government, foreigners and neighbors. Also included are any names that have been commonly referenced historically, regardless of whether a name is considered official, politically correct or offensive; this allows more complete historic research to be done. 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.[7] 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).[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.

In 2014, with the 17th edition, Ethnologue introduced a numerical code for language status using a framework called EGIDS (Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale), an elaboration of Fishman's GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale). It 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 metered paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven pages of data per month must buy a paid subscription.[10]

As of 2017, Ethnologue's 20th edition described 237 language families including 86 language isolates and six typological categories, namely sign languages, creoles, pidgins, mixed languages, constructed languages, and as yet unclassified languages.[11]

In 2019, Ethnologue disabled trial views and introduced a hard paywall.[12]


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".[13] 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."[14]

In 2015, 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."[15]


Starting with the 17th edition, Ethnologue has been published every year.[16]

1[17]1951Richard S. Pittman10 mimeographed pages; 40 languages[4]
4[20]1953Pittmanfirst to include maps[21]
5[22]1958Pittmanfirst edition in book format
7[24]1969Pittman4,493 languages
8[25]1974Barbara Grimes[26]
10[28]1984GrimesSIL codes first included
11[29]1988Grimes6,253 languages[30]
12[31]1992Grimes6,662 languages
13[32][33]1996Grimes6,883 languages
14[34]2000Grimes6,809 languages
15[35]2005Raymond G. Gordon Jr.[36]6,912 languages; draft ISO standard; first edition to provide color maps[21]
16[37]2009M. Paul Lewis6,909 languages
172013, updated 2014[38]M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons and Charles D. Fennig7,106 living languages
182015Lewis, Simons & Fennig7,102 living languages; 7,472 total
192016Lewis, Simons & Fennig7,097 living languages
202017Simons & Fennig7,099 living languages
21[39]2018Simons & Fennig7,097 living languages
22[40]2019Eberhard, Simons & Fennig7,111 living languages
23[41] 2020 Eberhard, David M., Simons & Fennig 7,117 living languages

See also



  1. Ethnologue 23rd 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. Bickford, J. Albert; Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2015). "Rating the vitality of sign languages". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 36 (5): 513–527. doi:10.1080/01434632.2014.966827. S2CID 55788703.
  4. Erard, Michael (July 19, 2005). "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". The New York Times.
  5. "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  6. Dixon, R. M. W. (May 24, 2012). Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 3: Further Grammatical Topics. Oxford University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780199571093. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  7. Everaert 2009, p. 204.
  8. Simons, Gary F.; Gordon, Raymond G. (2006). "Ethnologue". In Brown, Edward Kenneth (ed.). Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (PDF). 4 (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 250–253. ISBN 978-0-08-044299-0.
  9. "Language status". Ethnologue. 2014. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  10. M. Paul Lewis, "Ethnologue launches subscription service." Ethnologue. December 6, 2015
  11. "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  12. Rob Hess, "Changes at" Ethnologue. October 26, 2019.
  13. Bright, William (1986). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world Ed. by Barbara F. Grimes, and: Index to the Tenth edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the world Ed. by Barbara F. Grimes (review)". Language. 62 (3): 698. doi:10.1353/lan.1986.0027. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 143911105.
  14. Campbell, Lyle; Grondona, Verónica (January 1, 2008). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world (review)". Language. 84 (3): 636–641. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0054. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 143663395.
  15. Hammarström, Harald (2015). "Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review". Language. 91 (3): 723–737. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0038. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0014-C719-6. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 119977100.
  16. M PaulLewis (February 21, 2015). "Welcome to the 18th edition!". Ethnologue. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  17. "[SIL01] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  18. "[SIL02] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  19. "[SIL03] 1952". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  20. "[SIL04] 1953". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  21. "Pinpointing the Languages of the World with GIS". Esri. Spring 2006. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  22. "[SIL05] 1958". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  23. "[SIL06] 1965". Glottolog. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  24. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  25. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  26. Barbara F. Grimes; Richard Saunders Pittman; Joseph Evans Grimes, eds. (1974). Ethnologue. Wycliffe Bible Translators. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  27. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  28. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  29. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  30. Ethnologue volume 11. SIL. April 28, 2008. ISBN 9780883128251. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  31. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  32. "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  33. "Ethnologue, 13th edition, 1996". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  34. "Ethnologue Fourteenth Edition, Web Version". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  35. "Ethnologue 15, Web Version". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  36. Everaert 2009, p. 61.
  37. "Ethnologue 16, Web Version". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  38. "Check out the new Ethnologue". Ethnologue. April 30, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  39. "Ethnologue 21, Web Version". Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  40. "Ethnologue 22, Web Version". Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  41. "Ethnologue 23, Web Version". Retrieved February 23, 2020.


Further reading

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