About this Edition

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About the 20th Edition

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Over 22,000 updates have been made to the Ethnologue database since the 19th edition was released one year ago. As a result, the descriptions of 4,877 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 Asia.

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 7,099 living languages worldwide—a net increase of 2 living languages since the 19th edition of Ethnologue was published one year ago. This is the result of changes in the extinction status of some languages and of updating Ethnologue to keep it aligned with the ISO 639-3 inventory of languages. This edition drops 11 languages that were listed as living in the previous edition (4 being changed in status from living to extinct, 3 having been merged in the ISO standard into another language, and 4 having been removed from the standard because they were duplicates or could not be substantiated as ever having been a language). Conversely, 13 languages are newly listed as living (2 being shifted out of the status of extinct and 11 having been added by the ISO standard as not having been previously identified).

In addition to living languages, Ethnologue also contains data on languages which have gone out of use since the first appearance of the publication 66 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”.

Three new data elements make their debut in this edition. First, the country-level information now lists relevant international conventions to which the country is a signatory. We have identified 9 conventions within the body of international law that affirm the language and culture rights of indigenous and minority peoples. Ethnologue now indicates which of these conventions each country has subscribed to. It is hoped that this information will be of use to those advocating for indigenous and minority languages within the country. Second, the language-level information includes a new element for the autonym, or “self name”, of the language. This is the name of the language in the language itself. Furthermore, the form given is a standard spelling within the writing system of the language. This element is therefore never reported for an unwritten language. Thus far we have been able to ascertain the autonym for 1,011 of the languages listed in Ethnologue. When the script is non-Roman or contains unusual characters, a romanization of the name is given in parentheses. In order for these names to appear properly, your browser will need to be configured to display the Unicode character set. Finally, the discussion of language development within a language entry contains a new element for revitalization efforts. When formalized efforts to revitalize an endangered language have been reported, a cursory description of those efforts is given.

This edition also incorporates a number of improvements to the language maps. The single page map for southern China has been replaced by a one-page map for south central China and a two-page map for southeastern China. The map for central Mali is supplemented by a new map that zooms in on an area along the southern border. The map for eastern Papua (Indonesia) is supplemented by a new two-page map that zooms in on the northeastern coast.