Ethnologue logo.svg
Three-volume 17th edition
OwnerSIL International, United States

Ethnologue: Languages of the World (stylized as Ethnoloɠue) is an annual reference publication in print and online that provides statistics and other information on the living languages of the world. It is the world's most comprehensive catalogue of languages.[1] It was first issued in 1951, and is now published by SIL International, an American Christian non-profit organization.

Ethnologue includes the number of speakers, locations, dialects, linguistic affiliations, autonyms, availability of the Bible in each language and dialect described, a cursory description of revitalization efforts where reported, and an estimate of language viability using the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[2][3]


Ethnologue has been published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization with an international office in Dallas, Texas. The organization studies numerous minority languages to facilitate language development, and to work with speakers of such language communities in translating portions of the Bible into their languages.[4]

The determination of what characteristics define a single language depends upon sociolinguistic evaluation by various scholars; as the preface to Ethnologue states, "Not all scholars share the same set of criteria for what constitutes a 'language' and what features define a 'dialect'." Ethnologue follows general linguistic criteria, which are based primarily on mutual intelligibility.[5] Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.[6]

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue provides listings of other name(s) for the language and any dialects that are used by its speakers, government, foreigners and neighbors. Also included are any names that have been commonly referenced historically, regardless of whether a name is considered official, politically correct or offensive; this allows more complete historic research to be done. These lists of names are not necessarily complete.


In 1984, Ethnologue released a three-letter coding system, called an 'SIL code', to identify each language that it described. This set of codes significantly exceeded the scope of other standards, e.g. ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2.[7] The 14th edition, published in 2000, included 7,148 language codes.

In 2002, Ethnologue was asked to work with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to integrate its codes into a draft international standard. The 15th edition of Ethnologue was the first edition to use this standard, called ISO 639-3. This standard is now administered separately from Ethnologue (though still by SIL according to rules established by ISO, and since then Ethnologue relies on the standard to determine what is listed as a language).[8] In only one case, Ethnologue and the ISO standards treat languages slightly differently. ISO 639-3 considers Akan to be a macrolanguage consisting of two distinct languages, Twi and Fante, whereas Ethnologue considers Twi and Fante to be dialects of a single language (Akan), since they are mutually intelligible. This anomaly resulted because the ISO 639-2 standard has separate codes for Twi and Fante, which have separate literary traditions, and all 639-2 codes for individual languages are automatically part of 639–3, even though 639-3 would not normally assign them separate codes.

In 2014, with the 17th edition, Ethnologue introduced a numerical code for language status using a framework called EGIDS (Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale), an elaboration of Fishman's GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale). It ranks a language from 0 for an international language to 10 for an extinct language, i.e. a language with which no-one retains a sense of ethnic identity.[9]

In December 2015, Ethnologue launched a metered paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven pages of data per month must buy a paid subscription.[10]

As of 2017, Ethnologue's 20th edition described 237 language families including 86 language isolates and six typological categories, namely sign languages, creoles, pidgins, mixed languages, constructed languages, and as yet unclassified languages.[11]

The early focus of the Ethnologue was on native use (L1) but was gradually expanded to cover L2 use as well.[12]

In 2019, Ethnologue disabled trial views and introduced a hard paywall.[13]

In 2021, the 24th edition had 7,139 modern languages.[14]

In 2022, the 25th edition listed a total of 7,151 living languages, an increase of 12 living languages from 24th edition.[15]

Reception, reliability, and use

In 1986, William Bright, then editor of the journal Language, wrote of Ethnologue that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world".[16] In a systematic evaluation of available information on language populations prepared for the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, computational linguists John C. Paolillo and Anupam Das noted that, as of 2006, Ethnologue and Linguasphere were the only two comprehensive sources of information about language populations, and that Ethnologue had more specific information. They concluded that: "the language statistics available today in the form of the Ethnologue population counts are already good enough to be useful"[17] In 2008 in the same journal, linguists Lyle Campbell and Verónica Grondona said: "Ethnologue...has become the standard reference, and its usefulness is hard to overestimate."[18] Linguists Lyle Campbell and Kenneth Lee Rehg wrote in 2018 that Ethnologue was "the best source that list the non-endangered languages of the world".[19] According to linguist Asya Pereltsvaig, Ethnologue is "a reasonably good source of thorough and reliable geographical and demographic information about the world’s languages"[20] and its maps "are generally fairly accurate although they often depict the linguistic situation as it once was or as as someone might imagine it to be but not as it actually is".[21] According to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Ethnologue is a "comprehensive, frequently updated [database] on languages and language families'.[22] International Encyclopedia of Linguistics describes Ethnologue as "a comprehensive listing of the world's languages, with genetic classification".[23] Linguist George Tucker Childs wrote in 2012 that: "Ethnologue is the most widely referenced source for information on languages of the world" but he added that regarding African languages "when evaluated against recent field experience [Ethnologue] seems at least out of date".[24] Linguists Lindsay J. Whaley and Lenore Grenoble consider that Ethnologue "continues to provide the most comprehensive and reliable count of numbers of speakers of the world's languages", still they recognize that "individual language surveys may have far more accurate counts for a specific language, the The Ethnologue is unique in bringing together speaker statistics on a global scale".[25] Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas describe Ethnologue as "the most comprehensive global source list for (mostly oral) languages".[26] According to The Oxford Handbook of Language and Society, Ethnologue is "the standard reference source for the listing and enumeration of Endangered Languages, and for all known and "living" languages of the world"."[27] According to quantitative linguist Simon Greenhill, Ethnologue offers "sufficiently accurate reflections of speaker population size".[28] According to linguist William Poser, Ethnologue is the "best single source of information" on language classification.[29] Linguist Lisa Matthewson deems that Ethnologue offers "accurate information about speaker numbers".[30] Linguist Charlotte Hammarström wrote that Ethnologue was of very high absolute value and consistent with specialist views most of the time.[31]

The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics uses Ethnologue as its main source for the list of languages and language maps.[32] According to linguist Suzanne Romaine, Ethnologue is also the main source for research on language diversity.[33] The World Atlas of Language Structures uses Ethnologue’s genealogical classification.[34] The Rosetta Project uses Ethnologue’s language metadata.[35]

40% of the world's top 50 universities subscribe to Ethnologue,[36] and many universities consider Ethnologue a reference in linguistics.[37][38][39]

In a review of Ethnologue’s 2009 edition in Ethnopolitics, Richard Oliver Collin, professor of politics, notes that "Ethnologue has become a standard resource for scholars in the other social sciences: anthropologists, economists, sociologists and, obviously, sociolinguists" but "some politically liberal and secular-minded scholars" are suspicious of the Christian orientation of its publisher. However, Collin adds that "it is important to note that there is no visible ideological or theological bias in the pages of Ethnologue". According to Collin, Ethnologue is "stronger in languages spoken by indigenous peoples in economically less-developed portions of the world" and "when recent in-depth country-studies have been conducted, information can be very good; unfortunately [...] data are sometimes old". He concludes that "like any other scholarly source, it needs to be used with caution."[40]

In 2015, linguist Harald Hammarström reviewed the 16th, 17th, and 18th editions of Ethnologue and described the frequent lack of citations as its only "serious fault" from a scientific perspective. He concluded: "Ethnologue is at present still better than any other nonderivative work of the same scope. [It] is an impressively comprehensive catalogue of world languages, and it is far superior to anything else produced prior to 2009. In particular, it is superior by virtue of being explicit."[41] According to Hammarström, as of 2016, Ethnologue and Glottolog are the only two global-scale continually maintained inventories of the languages of the world. The main difference is that Ethnologue includes additional information (such as speaker numbers or vitality) but lacks systematic sources for the information given, while Glottolog gives no language context information but points to primary sources.[42][43] As of 2019, Hammarström uses Ethnologue in his articles, noting that it "has (unsourced, but) detailed information associated with each speech variety, such as speaker numbers and map location".[44]


Starting with the 17th edition, Ethnologue has been published every year.[45]

Edition Date Editor Notes
1[46] 1951 Richard S. Pittman 10 mimeographed pages; 40 languages[4]
2[47] 1951 Pittman
3[48] 1952 Pittman
4[49] 1953 Pittman first to include maps[50]
5[51] 1958 Pittman first edition in book format
6[52] 1965 Pittman
7[53] 1969 Pittman 4,493 languages
8[54] 1974 Barbara Grimes [55]
9[56] 1978 Grimes
10[57] 1984 Grimes SIL codes first included
11[58] 1988 Grimes 6,253 languages[59]
12[60] 1992 Grimes 6,662 languages
13[61][62] 1996 Grimes 6,883 languages
14[63] 2000 Grimes 6,809 languages
15[64] 2005 Raymond G. Gordon Jr.[65] 6,912 languages; draft ISO standard; first edition to provide color maps[50]
16[66] 2009 M. Paul Lewis 6,909 languages
17 2013, updated 2014[67] M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons and Charles D. Fennig 7,106 living languages
18 2015 Lewis, Simons & Fennig 7,102 living languages; 7,472 total
19 2016 Lewis, Simons & Fennig 7,097 living languages
20 2017 Simons & Fennig 7,099 living languages
21[68] 2018 Simons & Fennig 7,097 living languages
22[69] 2019 Eberhard, David M., Simons & Fennig 7,111 living languages
23[70] 2020 Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 7,117 living languages
24[71] 2021 Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 7,139 living languages
25[15] 2022 Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 7,151 living languages

See also



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  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2010). "Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman's GIDS" (PDF). Romanian Review of Linguistics. 55 (2): 103–120.
  3. ^ Bickford, J. Albert; Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2015). "Rating the vitality of sign languages". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 36 (5): 513–527. doi:10.1080/01434632.2014.966827. S2CID 55788703.
  4. ^ a b Erard, Michael (July 19, 2005). "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  6. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (May 24, 2012). Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 3: Further Grammatical Topics. Oxford University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780199571093. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  7. ^ Everaert 2009, p. 204.
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  12. ^ Olson, Kenneth S.; Lewis, M. Paul (February 15, 2018). The Ethnologue and L2 Mapping. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oso/9780190657543.003.0003.
  13. ^ Rob Hess, "Changes at" Ethnologue. October 26, 2019.
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  15. ^ a b "Welcome to the 25th edition". Ethnologue. February 21, 2022. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
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Further reading