Frequently asked questions

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How many languages in the world are unwritten?

The exact number of unwritten languages is hard to determine. Ethnologue (17th edition) has data to indicate that of the currently listed 7,105 living languages, 3,570 have a developed writing system. We don't always know, however, if the existing writing systems are widely used. That is, while an alphabet may exist there may not be very many people who are literate and actually using the alphabet. We have data to indicate that 696 languages are unwritten. And for the remaining 2,839 languages we have no data.

What is EGIDS? How is it used?

EGIDS stands for the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale.  This is a tool that is used to measure the status of a language in terms of endangerment or development.  See Language Status for more information; see Endangerment for information on how this scale relates to endangered languages.

Endangerment

What is an endangered language?

An endangered language is one in which the child-bearing generation is no longer transmitting it to their children.  On the EGIDS scale, an endangered language would have a value of 7, 8a, or 8b.

What is the difference between a dormant language and an extinct language?

Both extinct languages and dormant languages no longer have any fully-proficient L1 users.  The Ethnologue makes a distinction between the two, however, to reflect the differences that exist in the sociolinguistic status of these languages without users. Although a dormant language is not used for daily life, there is an ethnic community that associates itself with a dormant language and view the language as a symbol of that community's identity.  Though a dormant language has no proficient users, it retains some social uses. In contrast, an extinct language is no longer claimed by any extant community as the language of their heritage identity. Extinct languages are lacking in both users and societal uses. Some extinct languages, such as Latin, may continue to be used as second-languages only for specific, restricted, often vehicular, functions, that are generally not related to ethnic identity.

What is EGIDS? How is it used?

EGIDS stands for the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale.  This is a tool that is used to measure the status of a language in terms of endangerment or development.  See Language Status for more information; see Endangerment for information on how this scale relates to endangered languages.

How many extinct languages are there in the world?

There are 381 extinct languages listed in this edition of the Ethnologue.  This number does not include long-extinct or dead languages and, more specifically, does not include languages that became extinct before 1950.  This number also does not include languages labeled as dormant which, although having no remaining speakers, are considered to have some life.

Products

Where can I find previous editions of the Ethnologue?

Previous Ethnologue editions can be found in the footer of all pages in the Other Products column.

Languages

What are the 10 largest / most spoken languages in the world?

See http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size for data on the most spoken languages of the world.

What is the difference between a dormant language and an extinct language?

Both extinct languages and dormant languages no longer have any fully-proficient L1 users.  The Ethnologue makes a distinction between the two, however, to reflect the differences that exist in the sociolinguistic status of these languages without users. Although a dormant language is not used for daily life, there is an ethnic community that associates itself with a dormant language and view the language as a symbol of that community's identity.  Though a dormant language has no proficient users, it retains some social uses. In contrast, an extinct language is no longer claimed by any extant community as the language of their heritage identity. Extinct languages are lacking in both users and societal uses. Some extinct languages, such as Latin, may continue to be used as second-languages only for specific, restricted, often vehicular, functions, that are generally not related to ethnic identity.

Why are there so many more living languages listed in the 17th edition (7106) than there are in the 16th (6909)?

This is a result of the introduction of EGIDS in the 17th edition. The 188 languages that have been placed in the Dormant category (EGIDS 9) were counted as extinct in the previous edition, but are now being distinguished from Extinct (EGIDS 10) and counted as living. In many cases there are revitalization efforts underway to preserve and even revive these languages as part of the heritage of living ethnic communities.  While there may be no fully proficient speakers, these languages cannot be accurately identified as extinct. We believe this change aligns with the general consensus of language communities themselves and with the understanding of language preservation and documentation activists.

How many languages are there in the world?

How can I learn to speak language X? Can you send me a dictionary or language learning materials?

We do not teach specific languages such as Spanish, Turkish, Mohawk, or Tok Pisin. Rather, we teach linguistics (how to analyze a language) and language learning techniques (how to learn a language on your own).

Which language is spoken in the most countries? How many countries?

English [eng].  It is spoken in 127 countries, as an indigenous language or by a substantial immigrant group.

How many languages in the world are unwritten?

The exact number of unwritten languages is hard to determine. Ethnologue (17th edition) has data to indicate that of the currently listed 7,105 living languages, 3,570 have a developed writing system. We don't always know, however, if the existing writing systems are widely used. That is, while an alphabet may exist there may not be very many people who are literate and actually using the alphabet. We have data to indicate that 696 languages are unwritten. And for the remaining 2,839 languages we have no data.

What happened to the Ethnologue's identification of "national" and "official" languages?

In the 17th edition, the Ethnologue has deliberately moved away from the official/national distinction in the description of language status, on the grounds that such distinctions are often inconsistently applied from country to country and thus lead to considerable confusion. The categorizations that we now use focus on two facets of language status: the "health" of the language as more fully described by the EGIDS scale, and the function or functions of the language within that country.

For a more complete discussion of how we categorize Language Status, please see this page: http://www.ethnologue.com/about/language-status.

What is EGIDS? How is it used?

EGIDS stands for the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale.  This is a tool that is used to measure the status of a language in terms of endangerment or development.  See Language Status for more information; see Endangerment for information on how this scale relates to endangered languages.

How many language families are there?

There are 136 language families

What is the largest language family? In terms of languages? In terms of speakers?

For number of languages, Niger-Congo with 1526 living languages.  For number of speakers, Indo-European with nearly 3 billion speakers.

Countries

Why are there some countries without a language map?

Some countries have no language map(s) for one or more of the following reasons:

1. All the languages are widespread throughout the whole country.

2. There is only one language spoken in the country.

3. The data available to us is not reliable enough to publish.

4. Map production is underway for the country but has not yet been completed.

On what basis are the countries grouped into regions?

The division of the world into 5 major areas which are subdivided into 22 regions follows the groupings of countries used by the United Nations Statistics Division in its reporting. See: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49regin.htm

Can you send me more information about country X?

Browse the Country Indexes to find the languages in which you are interested, and follow the links to available publications.

What country has the most languages?

Papua New Guinea with 837 living languages

Which countries have the most languages?

Papua New Guinea has the most languages, with 837 living languages.  Indonesia comes in second, with 706 living languages.  Third place goes to Nigeria, having 527 living languages.

Which major country has the highest density or concentration of languages?

Vanuatu, with 112 living languages and a geographic area of 12,189 square kilometers, has one language for every 109 square kilometers (42 square miles).  (Small political entities, like Vatican State and Monaco, are not included here)

Why is your total world population significantly lower than the actual population?

The total world population that Ethnologue reports is the sum of the total populations of L1 speakers of the living languages. Those population numbers come from a variety of sources and from significantly different points in time. In addition, the Ethnologue lacks population estimates for about 4% of the world's languages and also does not automatically extrapolate population estimates to the current year, but waits for reports from reliable sources. As a result our world population count varies considerably from current census estimates.

Publishing

When will the next edition of the Ethnologue be published? Is it still once every four years?

In the past, new editions of the Ethnologue were published every four years.  Beginning with this edition (17th), we will release a new edition online in the spring of each year with a range of printed volumes following.

Previously, SIL bibliographic references were listed for each language displayed on the language entry page. They are no longer there in this new edition. Where are they now, and will they be added to the new website?

The Ethnologue is published by SIL and so Ethnologue.com and SIL.org were tied together in some interesting ways in the past.  In creating the new sites (SIL has a new site too if you have not seen it – www.sil.org), some features were moved from the Ethnologue.com site to SIL.org.  These resources are now hosted at SIL.org as they are SIL publications.  Including them on Ethnologue.com was a source of confusion for some. In order to browse for those resources, you can go to this link: http://www.sil.org/resources/browse/subjectlanguage.  Find the language you are interested in and the same resources should be listed as before.

Why are there some countries without a language map?

Some countries have no language map(s) for one or more of the following reasons:

1. All the languages are widespread throughout the whole country.

2. There is only one language spoken in the country.

3. The data available to us is not reliable enough to publish.

4. Map production is underway for the country but has not yet been completed.

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