The Ethnologue deals with the languages of the world, so it would seem to be important that we be able to say what we mean when we refer to "a language." What is a language?  Well, Webster has 14 different definitions of the noun, not counting two for "language" as a verb (I language, you la

We sometimes are asked for information about a language or we see a language mentioned in the news and, of course, we go to the Ethnologue to see if it is listed and what we have to say about it.

Sign languages are not in the same category as all the other languages in Ethnologue, people say to me. What is the reason they are included right along with spoken languages?

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

Since 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

See for data on the most spoken languages of the world.

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

For number of languages, Niger-Congo with 1524 living languages.  For number of speakers, Indo-European with nearly 3 billion speakers.

How many language families are there?

There are 141 language families


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