About this Edition


About the 22nd Edition


Over 20,000 updates have been made to the Ethnologue database since the 21st edition was released one year ago. As a result, the descriptions of 5,164 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 put an emphasis on soliciting review of information on the languages of the Americas and the Pacific.

Not only are languages constantly changing, so is what we know about them. Therefore the total number of living languages in the world cannot be known precisely. That number changes as knowledge of the world’s languages improves. This edition lists a total of 7,111 living languages worldwide—a net increase of 14 living languages since the 21st 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 28 languages that were listed as living in the previous edition (19 being changed in status from living to extinct, 4 having been merged in the ISO standard into another language, and 5 having been removed because they were duplicates or could not be substantiated as ever having been a language). Conversely, 42 languages are newly listed as living (28 having been shifted in status from extinct to dormant and 14 having been added by the ISO standard as not being previously identified).

In an effort to bring attention to the plight of indigenous languages, 2019 has been declared by the United Nations to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages. This declaration motivated our editorial staff to work toward contributing an authoritative picture of the global trends with respect to language loss (see Simons 2019 for the result). This editorial focus in the run up to this new edition has resulted in three new features in our products. First, for dormant and extinct languages there is now a statement as to when the last fluent speakers of the language died. Second, the reporting on the age range of language users has been normalized through the introduction of a picklist of values. Since this is one of the most crucial pieces of information for assessing the vitality and likely longevity of threatened indigenous languages, using a picklist fosters greater consistency in reporting and turns the information into actionable data that can be used in statistical analysis. For a full description of the picklist, see the Language use section under Language Information . Finally, in the reporting of language status, we have introduced the use of an asterisk as a marker on certain EGIDS estimates to indicate that they are an editorial best guess as opposed to being based on definitive reported data. This point warrants further discussion.

Since the 17th edition we have used an EGIDS estimate (Lewis and Simons 2010) to report a vitality level for every language. From the point of view of sustaining language use, the single most significant break in the EGIDS scale is the divide between 6a and 6b. For languages that are 6a and higher, it is the norm that the language is being passed on to all the children within its user community. But at level 6b and below, this is no longer the norm and intergenerational transmission is being disrupted. For cases in which there was no explicit reporting about the loss of speakers, we followed the editorial policy of keeping the level at 6a until such time as we received information about the presence of language shift. Now, five editions later, we are disappointed at how slowly such information has been coming in and are sure that our conservative posture has resulted in overreporting of the number of vigorous languages. We have therefore adopted a new editorial policy beginning with this edition.

We are introducing the use of an asterisk as a modifier on an EGIDS estimate to indicate that it represents our editorial best guess in the absence of explicit information about the presence or absence of language shift. Thus 5* or 6a* indicates a language that we think is most likely to be vigorous, while 6b* indicates a language that we believe is most likely to be losing speakers. These judgments have been made by comparing the population of the language in question to the populations of all the other languages in the same country or region for which there was explicit data for assessing the language as being vigorous or as beginning to shift. The end result of this reanalysis is that some 400 of the languages previously assessed at level 5 or 6a have been moved down to 6b* in this edition. This impacts the worldwide picture as the gap between the larger 6a category and the smaller 6b category is now considerably narrower. We believe this to be more in line with the reality of the status of the world’s languages and the growing rate of language shift occurring in all corners of the globe. This change in editorial policy constitutes an important step towards avoiding what we feel was an unduly optimistic tone in our previous reporting.

In addition to living languages, Ethnologue also contains data on languages which have gone out of use in recent history. This edition lists 348 such languages. Previous editions of Ethnologue have said that we only list languages that have become extinct since we began publication in 1951. In the research to find the estimated year of death of the last speaker, we discovered that many extinct languages we list go back further than that. Rather than removing them, we have left them in and will endeavor in the next editorial cycle to add more so that the coverage will be complete for languages that have gone extinct in the last two centuries. 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.”

This edition also incorporates a number of improvements to the language maps. These include the addition of new maps for Serbia and Slovakia, and the expansion of the former map for Central Myanmar into a pair of maps for East Central Myanmar and West Central Myanmar.