About the Ethnologue


Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a comprehensive reference work cataloging all of the world’s known living languages. Since 1951, the Ethnologue has been an active research project involving hundreds of linguists and other researchers around the world. It is widely regarded to be the most comprehensive source of information of its kind.

The information in the Ethnologue will be valuable to anyone with an interest in cross-cultural communication, bilingualism, literacy rates, language planning and language policy, language development, language relationships, endangered languages, writing systems and to all with a general curiosity about languages.

Language descriptions in the Ethnologue

  • are organized by world area, UN region, and country

  • indicate region of use within countries

  • list alternate language and dialect names

  • specify the three-letter code from ISO 639-3

  • estimate speaker populations

  • give genetic classification of the language

  • describe language use and viability

  • identify writing scripts used

  • cite availability of literature and other products of language development

Other key features of the site:

  • statistical summaries by world area, language size, language status, language family, and country

  • extensive bibliography of references cited

  • over 200 color language maps

About the 19th edition

Over 19,000 updates have been made to the Ethnologue database since the 18th edition was released one year ago.  As a result, the descriptions of 5,438 languages contain at least one update. These include both substantive changes to the data, as well as stylistic ones as we continually seek to improve the presentation of the data. While we are always processing any feedback received from users, every year we also give proactive attention to some part of the data. In this edition we have focused on soliciting review of information on the languages of the Americas and the Pacific.

Because languages are constantly changing and demonstrate significant internal variation, the total number of living languages in the world cannot be known precisely. Therefore that number changes as knowledge of the world’s languages improves. This edition lists a total of 7,097 living languages worldwide—a net decrease of 5 living languages since the 18th edition of Ethnologue was published one year ago. This is the result of changes in extinction status of some languages and of updating Ethnologue to keep it aligned with the ISO 639-3 inventory of languages. This edition drops 30 languages that were listed as living in the previous edition (9 being changed in status from living to extinct, 11 having been merged in the ISO standard into another language, and 10 having been removed from the standard because they were duplicates or could not be substantiated as ever having been a language). Conversely, 25 languages are newly listed as living (4 being shifted out of the status of extinct or unattested, 15 having been added by the ISO standard as not having been previously identified, and 6 being former additions to the standard that should have been added in a previous edition).

In addition to living languages, Ethnologue also contains data on languages which have gone out of use since the first appearance of the publication 65 years ago. This edition lists 360 such recently extinct languages. Ancient, classical, and long-extinct languages are not listed (even though the ISO 639-3 standard assigns codes to them), unless they are in current use, such as in the scriptures or liturgy of a faith community. Such languages are included as Dormant (EGIDS 9) languages but labeled as Second Language Only.

Two improvements in the reporting of language data make their debut in this edition. First, the distinction as to whether a language is indigenous or non-indigenous in each country is a new addition to the database. When a language is not indigenous, this fact is noted in the Other comments section of the language entry. Also the summary count of living languages given in the Language counts element of each country now provides a breakdown of indigenous versus non-indigenous. Second, for a language that is used in multiple countries, the reporting of total user population at the end of the Population element now includes the second language users (with a breakdown of L1 users versus L2 users being given when the total involves both).

This edition also expands our coverage of the world by adding a separate entry for the Faroe Islands—a self-governing country within the Danish kingdom. In addition, there are a number of improvements to the language maps that appear in this edition. Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro are placed on a new map and the map for Greece has been enlarged. There are also new maps covering zoomed areas of southeastern Colombia, eastern Ghana, the Milne Bay region of Papua New Guinea, and the regions surrounding Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa. The maps of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia have been expanded from single pages to double pages.