Welcome to the 20th edition

As our contribution to the celebration of International Mother Language Day, we are pleased to announce the release of Ethnologue, 20th edition. Mother Language Day, February 21, reminds the world of the importance of the lesser-known languages of the world. Because knowledge about lesser-known languages has been a focus of the Ethnologue since its inception in 1951, we are happy to be able to provide our most up-to-date information about the languages of the world each year on this day.

This edition is the result of more than 22,000 individual changes to our database since the 19th edition was released one year ago.  As a result, the descriptions of 4,900 languages contain at least one update. These include both substantive changes to the data, as well as stylistic ones (and typos) 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. 

The most commonly cited statistic from the Ethnologue is the tally of living languages.  This edition lists a total of 7,099 living languages worldwide—a net increase of 2 living languages since the 19th edition 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 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).

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 nine 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 using 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. A map for Bulgaria is included for the first time. A new map for southcentral China has been added. 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 map that zooms in on the northeastern coast. 

Along with these updates and improvements to the website, we have updated all of the country digests. The Global Dataset is similarly updated.  The three regional print volumes, which will be released in short order, will also be updated to include all of the 20th edition data and additional features described above.

And we're not done yet!  As we work diligently to research the languages of the world, we will continue to benefit from the knowledge of our users who are familiar with specific countries and languages. We value your input and feedback and we encourage you to register, create a profile, and provide us with corrections, suggestions, and updates using the Feedback tab that appears on each country and language page.

On Mother Language Day, we hope you will be able to find your mother language (or perhaps that of one of your ancestors) in the Ethnologue and celebrate the linguistic diversity that surrounds us.