Welcome to the 23rd edition

As our contribution to the celebration of International Mother Language Day, we are pleased to announce the release of the 23rd 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 new edition is the result of over 18,000 updates that have been made to the Ethnologue database since the 22nd edition was released one year ago. The descriptions of 3,618 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.

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 7,117 living languages worldwide—a net increase of 6 living languages since the 22nd 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 6 languages that were listed as living in the previous edition (1 being changed in status from living to extinct, 1 having been merged in the ISO standard into another language, and 4 having been removed because they were duplicates or could not be substantiated as ever having been a language). Conversely, 12 languages are newly listed as living (1 having been shifted in status from extinct to dormant,1 having been shifted from unattested to living, and 10 having been added by the ISO standard as not being previously identified).

In recognition of the increasing influence of human migration on the world language situation, this edition introduces one major innovation. In place of the simple listing of “immigrant languages” that was given in the country-level information in past editions, those languages are now reported with a full entry in the main alphabetical listing of languages. In making this change the total number of language-in-country entries across the world has grown from 9,583 to 11,373.

Previously only languages that were considered to be “established” within a country were given full entries. This included all languages that are indigenous to the country, plus any languages originating from elsewhere that have become rooted in that country. We judge a non-indigenous language to have become established in a country when it meets the following two characteristics. First, it is being acquired by the next generation. This can take place by various means—in the home, through mandatory schooling, or in the work place. Second, its use is a norm (whether as L1 or L2) within a language community or a community of practice. The community of practice may include students who learn it as an L2 in a widespread, mandatory educational system.

The major innovation in this edition is to add the category “Unestablished” as a possible value for the language status. Languages identified as such are those that have not yet become rooted in the host country and thus do not share the characteristics described above of being transmitted to the next generation within the country as a norm for a language community or a community of practice. These include the first languages of refugees, newly arrived immigrants, temporary foreign workers, or immigrants who are so scattered as not to form significant speech communities within the host country. These may also include languages learned as an L2 by a significant number of people in the country through elective classes in education.

Along with these updates and improvements to the website, we have updated all of the country digests to reflect the 23rd edition data. The Global Dataset is similarly updated.  The 23rd edition of the three print volumes will be released in short order.

And the job is not finished yet!  As we work diligently to research the language situation 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 we encourage you to join our Contributor Program. With a contributor account you will be entitled to complimentary access to the website and will be able to use the Feedback tab on the page for a language or country in order to propose corrections and additions.

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 enriches our world.