Language Maps


Maps showing the locations of language homelands are available for most countries of the world. Mapped language areas show the first-language (L1) distribution of speakers of languages, unless explicitly stated on the map. The few second-language (L2) distributions we show are all in separate insets, distinct from the main map. Where the data are available, we typically use the convention of showing a language in an area if at least 25% of the population in that area speak the language fluently as an L1. However, a minority language will be shown on a map even if the speakers do not comprise more than 25% of the population in any given area. In other cases, the language locations have been plotted after research has been completed by language surveyors or by other linguists. We do not map the locations of immigrant language populations until the language groups are recognized as established in the country and thus receive a full entry in the Ethnologue.

Most of the maps make use of polygons to show the approximate boundaries of the language groups. No claim is made for precision in the placement of these boundaries, which in many instances overlap with those of other languages. Reference numbers are used on maps where space does not allow the placement of language names. For some maps where the language boundaries are not known, the names or numbers appear alone.

The earliest maps in Ethnologue were hand drawn. Maps of Central and South America were commissioned for the 10th edition, and some maps of Africa were added in the 11th. For the 12th edition computer-generated maps were developed as part of the Language Mapping Project carried out jointly with Global Mapping International (GMI). For the 16th edition, all of the maps were redrawn with a new and clearer design. The capabilities afforded to us by a new generation of mapping software made it possible to improve the way that we show the family association of each language and the overlap of languages. The current maps are drawn using ArcGIS® software published by Esri®. We continue to increase the level of geographic detail included in the maps to aid in locating the language groups within a country, especially adding state or province boundaries and administrative centers to many more maps.

Many of the maps in this publication include the use of geodata from Esri®. You can see a list of specific data sources here: Esri Data and Maps ( ). Other maps are drawn against the backdrop of the Seamless Digital Chart of the World (SDCW) that was published by GMI. The Esri geodata has a finer level of resolution than the base map used for the maps in earlier editions. In 2020, all the language polygons were repositioned to fit the greater detail of geographic features offered by that new dataset. This improved data will be incorporated into the remainder of the maps over the next several editions. We continue to improve the accuracy and precision with which the language areas are plotted, particularly with the increased use of location data collected by GPS units and satellite imagery, such as Google Maps and the Esri® Living Atlas. We acknowledge use of some Esri® feature services published in conjunction with Michael Bauer Research GmbH for the development of the language polygons for some European countries.

The introduction of GPS data and the increasing use of census data have also meant that the data are becoming increasingly detailed. Smooth generalized curves are being replaced by more complex features and, in some countries, we are now able to provide a more accurate representation of the complexity where speakers from several language groups live in the same area. We continue to look for ways to improve the depiction of the language groups on the maps. The change to a primarily online format and multiple print volumes has given greater freedom to increase the number of maps. We continue to take advantage of this to redesign the maps of some countries at larger scales. Also we continue to add to the maps the changes in the ISO 639-3 inventory of languages.

We acknowledge use on some maps of national park data adapted from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and United Nations Environment Program — World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) (2015). The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is available at . Some toponymic information is based on the Geographic Names Database, containing official standard names approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names and maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. More information is available at the products and services link at . We also gratefully acknowledge the use of resources shared by the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU, ) in developing the maps for Myanmar.

The maps use a variety of map projections: African equatorial countries use the Sinusoidal projection. Other equatorial countries use the Mercator (cylindrical) projection. Maps of countries in higher latitudes use the Lambert Conformal Conic projection.

As with all of the content of the Ethnologue, no political statement is intended by the identification of any territory separately in a map or in the language listings nor by the placement of any boundary lines for any languages or countries on any map.