Welcome to the 22nd edition

As our contribution to the celebration of International Mother Language Day, we are pleased to announce the release of the 22nd edition of Ethnologue on this day. 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 pleased 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 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.

The most commonly cited statistic from the Ethnologue is the tally of living languages.  This edition lists a total of 7,111 living languages worldwide—a net increase of 14 living languages since the 21st 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 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. 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.

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 22nd 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.