Welcome to the 21st edition

As our contribution to the celebration of International Mother Language Day, we are pleased to announce the release of Ethnologue, 21st 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 20,000 individual changes to our database since the 20th edition was released one year ago.  As a result, the descriptions of 3,875 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 Africa and Europe. 

The most commonly cited statistic from the Ethnologue is the tally of living languages.  This edition lists a total of 7,097 living languages worldwide—a net decrease of 2 living languages since the 20th 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 19 languages that were listed as living in the previous edition (16 being changed in status from living to extinct, 1 having been merged in the ISO standard into another language, and 2 having been removed because they could not be substantiated as ever having been a language). Conversely, 17 languages are newly listed as living (6 having been shifted in status from extinct to dormant and 11 having been added by the ISO standard as not being previously identified).

A new addition to the database in last year's edition was an element for the autonym, or “self name,” of the language. This is the name of the language in the language itself. Furthermore, the name is written in a standard spelling using the writing system of the language. This element is therefore never reported for an unwritten language. The number of languages for which we have been able to ascertain the autonym is 1,710 (up from 1,011 in the previous edition). When the script used for the language is non-Roman or contains unusual characters, the autonym is encoded in Unicode. In such cases, you will either see a name or a sequence of empty boxes, depending on whether your browser is configured to display the Unicode character set and your system has a font that can display those characters. 

This edition adds new country sections for five smaller political dependencies: Aland Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Falkland Islands, and Saint Helena (including Ascension and Tristan da Cunha). The editorial policy of Ethnologue is to follow the ISO 3166 standard in determining which geopolitical entities to list as "countries". Not every geopolitical entity identified in ISO 3166 is listed in Ethnologue. We list a geopolitical entity only if it is deemed to have a significant language situation. Specifically not included are historically uninhabited places which are now only the site of research stations or military bases.

This edition also incorporates a number of improvements to the language maps. Maps are included for the first time for: the Arabian peninsula (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE), Armenia, Greenland, Mongolia, Oklahoma (USA), Turkey, and the western Balkan region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia).

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 21st edition data.

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.