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Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web-based publication that contains statistics for 7,105 languages and dialects in the 17th edition, released in 2013.[1] Up until the 16th edition in 2009, the publication was a printed volume. Ethnologue provides information on the number of speakers, location, dialects, linguistic affiliations, availability of the Bible in the language, and an estimate of language viability using EGIDS.[2] As of July 2013, it is the most comprehensive and accessible language catalog, although some information is dated or spurious. A project with similar goals that is still in development is the Linguasphere Observatory Register.

William Bright, then editor of Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, wrote of Ethnologue that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world."[3] According to Ole Stig Andersen on Danmarks Radio, although "Ethnologue has grown to become the world's most complete and authoritative survey of the world's languages," the data has many errors.[4] For example, cross-references can link to the wrong ISO 639 codes, while the family trees are generated automatically, resulting in problematic cladistic cascades that may distort language relationships.


The Ethnologue is published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization, which studies numerous minority languages, to facilitate language development and to work with the speakers of such language communities to translate portions of the Bible in their language.

In 1984, the Ethnologue released a three-letter coding system, called an "SIL code", to identify each language that it describes. This set of codes significantly exceeded the scope of previous standards, e.g., ISO 639-1. The 14th edition, published in 2000, included 7148 language codes which generally did not match the ISO 639-2 codes. In 2002 the Ethnologue was asked to work with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to integrate its codes into a draft international standard. The Ethnologue now uses this standard, called ISO 639-3.[5] The 15th edition, which was published in 2005, includes 7299 codes. A 16th edition was released in the middle of 2009, and a 17th in 2013.

What counts as a language depends on socio-linguistic evaluation: see Dialect. As the preface says, "Not all scholars share the same set of criteria for what constitutes a 'language' and what features define a 'dialect.'" Ethnologue follows the criteria used by ISO 639-3,[6] which are based primarily on mutual intelligibility. Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence agreed upon by experts. Typological analysis of language leads experts to generally agree (or not) on some language relationships. If new supporting expert evidence for a language is found and the Ethnologue editors receive the information, they may reclassify a language, changing its identifiers. The ISO classification decisions are made by a different process and team.

In addition to choosing a primary name for the language, Ethnologue also gives some of the names by which a language is referred to by its speakers, by governments, by foreigners and by neighbors, as well as how it has been named and referenced historically, regardless of which designation is considered official, politically correct or offensive. Naming of a people by external groups remains controversial.


New editions of Ethnologue are published approximately every four years. The publishing history is as follows:[7]

Edition Date Editor Notes
1 1951 Richard S. Pittman 10 pages, mimeographed
2 1951 Pittman
3 1952 Pittman
4 1953 Pittman
5 1958 Pittman first edition in book format
6 1965 Pittman
7 1969 Pittman 4,493 languages
8 1974 Barbara Grimes [1]
9 1978 Grimes
10 1984 Grimes SIL codes first included
11 1988 Grimes [2]
12 1992 Grimes
13 1996 Grimes
14 2000 Grimes 6,809 languages
15 2005 Raymond G. Gordon, Jr. 6,912 languages; draft ISO standard
16 2009 M. Paul Lewis 6,909 languages
17 2013 Lewis, Simons, & Fennig 7,105 living languages

Language families[edit]

Ethnologue classification is based on Bright (1992),[8] but has evolved with input from many individual researchers. The information on classification in the individual language articles is based on this information. However, the family trees are computer-generated and strongly dependent on consistency in the formatting of the classification data; consequently they are inconsistent and frequently show spurious groupings.

Following are the 225 language families (including 95 language isolates) and 6 typological categories listed in the Ethnologue language family index of the 17th edition.[9] The first column gives the Ethnologue name for the group, followed by the location by continent and Ethnologue's count of the number of languages in the family.[9]

Family Continent Count
Afro-Asiatic Africa/Asia 374
Algic North America 42
Altaic Europe/Asia 65
Amto-Musan Oceania 2
Andamanese Asia 14
Arafundi Oceania 3
Arai (Left May) Oceania 6
Arauan South America 5
Australian Oceania 299
Austro-Asiatic Asia 170
Austronesian Asia/Oceania 1253
Aymaran South America 3
Barbacoan South America 4
Bayono-Awbono Oceania 2
Border Oceania 15
Bororoan South America 3
Botocudoan South America 1
Caddoan North America 5
Cahuapanan South America 2
Cariban South America 32
Central Solomons Oceania 4
Chapacuran South America 5
Chibchan South America 20
Chimakuan North America 1
Chinookan North America 2
Chipaya-Uru South America 2
Chocoan South America 8
Cholonan South America 2
Chon South America 2
Chukotko-Kamchatkan Asia 5
Chumashan North America 6
Cochimí-Yuman North America 9
Coosan North America 1
Dravidian Asia 85
East Bird’s Head-Sentani Oceania 8
East Geelvink Bay Oceania 12
East New Britain Oceania 7
Eastern Trans-Fly Oceania 4
Eskimo-Aleut North America 11
Eyak-Athabaskan North America 43
Fas Oceania 2
Guajiboan South America 5
Guaykuruan South America 5
Haida North America 2
Harákmbut South America 2
Hmong-Mien Asia 38
Huavean North America 4
Indo-European Europe/Asia 443
Iroquoian North America 9
Jabutian South America 2
Japonic Asia 12
Jean South America 16
Jicaquean North America 1
Jivaroan South America 4
Kamakanan South America 1
Karajá South America 1
Kartvelian Asia 5
Katukinan South America 2
Kaure Oceania 4
Kaweskaran South America 2
Keresan North America 2
Khoisan Africa 28
Kiowa-Tanoan North America 5
Kwomtari Oceania 3
Lakes Plain Oceania 20
Lencan North America 1
Lower Mamberamo Oceania 2
Maiduan North America 4
Maipurean South America 60
Mairasi Oceania 3
Mapudungu South America 2
Mascoyan South America 5
Matacoan South America 7
Maxakalian South America 2
Mayan North America 31
Maybrat Oceania 2
Misumalpan North America 5
Miwok-Costanoan North America 8
Mixe-Zoquean North America 17
Mongol-Langam Oceania 3
Mosetenan South America 1
Muran South America 1
Muskogean North America 6
Nambiquaran South America 6
Niger-Congo Africa 1539
Nilo-Saharan Africa 205
Nimboran Oceania 5
North Bougainville Oceania 4
North Caucasian Europe 34
Otomanguean North America 177
Paezan South America 8
Palaihnihan North America 2
Panoan South America 27
Pauwasi Oceania 5
Piawi Oceania 2
Pomoan North America 7
Puinavean South America 7
Purian South America 2
Quechuan South America 46
Ramu-Lower Sepik Oceania 32
Sahaptian North America 5
Salish North America 26
Sálivan South America 3
Senagi Oceania 2
Sepik Oceania 55
Sino-Tibetan Asia 460
Siouan-Catawban North America 14
Skou Oceania 8
Somahai Oceania 2
South Bougainville Oceania 9
South-Central Papuan Oceania 22
Tacanan South America 6
Tai-Kadai Asia 95
Takelman North America 1
Tarascan North America 2
Tequistlatecan North America 2
Tiniguan South America 1
Tor-Kwerba Oceania 24
Torricelli Oceania 57
Totonacan North America 12
Trans-New Guinea Oceania 481
Tsimshian North America 3
Tucanoan South America 25
Tupian South America 75
Uralic Europe/Asia 38
Uto-Aztecan North America 61
Wakashan North America 6
West Papuan Oceania 23
Wintuan North America 3
Witotoan South America 7
Yaguan South America 2
Yanomaman South America 4
Yele-West New Britain Oceania 3
Yeniseian Asia 2
Yokutsan North America 1
Yuat Oceania 6
Yukaghir Asia 2
Yukian North America 2
Zamucoan South America 2
Zaparoan South America 5
83 other language isolates 83
Typological group Count
Deaf sign language 137
Creole 93
Pidgin 17
Mixed language 23
Constructed language 1
Other Count
Unclassified 65

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ethnologue 17th edition website
  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul & Gary F. Simons. 2010. Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue Roumaine de linguistique 55(2). 103–120. Online version
  3. ^ Bright, William. 1986. "Book Notice on Ethnologue", Language 62:698.
  4. ^ Review of the 15th edition, by Ole Stig Andersen (Danmarks Radio)
  5. ^ Simons, Gary F.; Gordon, Raymond G. (2006). "Ethnologue". In Brown, Edward Kenneth. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics 4 (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 250–253. ISBN 978-0-08-044299-0.  (preprint)
  6. ^ "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  7. ^ History of the Ethnologue
  8. ^ Bright, William (ed.), 1992, Oxford international encyclopedia of linguistics, vol. 1–4. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ a b Browse by Language Family

External links[edit]