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Three-volume 17th edition
Web address
Commercial? yes
Owner SIL International
Launched 29 March 2000; 15 years ago (2000-03-29)[1]
Alexa rank
Increase 145,018 (global; 12/2014)

Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web-based publication that contains statistics for 7,469 languages and dialects in its 18th edition, which was released in 2015. Of these, 7,102 are listed as living and 367 are listed as extinct[2] 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 each language and dialect described, and an estimate of language viability using the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[3]

The publication is well respected and widely used by linguists. In December 2015, it launched a soft paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven languages pages per month can buy a paid subscription.[4]


Ethnologue is published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization based in Dallas, Texas. The organization studies numerous minority languages in order to facilitate language development and work with the speakers of such language communities in translating portions of the Bible into their language.[5]

What counts as a language depends upon socio-linguistic evaluation; as the preface to Ethnologue says, "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.[6] Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.[7]

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue gives some of the names that its speakers, governments, foreigners and neighbors use for it, and also describes how the language has been named and referenced historically, regardless of whichever designation is considered official, politically correct or offensive.

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 previous standards, e.g. ISO 639-1.[8] 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, and since then Ethnologue relies on this standard to determine what is a language.[9] There are still a very small number of cases, however, where Ethnologue and the ISO standard treat languages slightly differently. For example, ISO 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).

With the 17th edition, Ethnologue introduced a numerical code for language status using a framework called EGIDS (Extended Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), an elaboration of Fishman’s GIDS (Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), which 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.[10]

Language families[edit]

Ethnologue's 18th edition describes 228 language families (including 96 language isolates) and six typological categories (deaf sign languages, creoles, pidgins, mixed languages, constructed languages, and as yet unclassified languages).[11]


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".[12] In 2008 in the same journal, Lyle Campbell and Verónica Grondona said: "Ethnologue...has become the standard reference, and its usefulness is hard to overestimate."[13]

In 2015, also in Language, Harald Hammarström, an editor of Glottolog, criticized the publication for frequently lacking citations and failing to articulate clear principles of language classification and identification. However, he concluded that, on the balance, "Ethnologue is an impressively comprehensive catalogue of world languages, and it is far superior to anything else produced prior to 2009."[14]


Starting with the 18th edition, new editions of Ethnologue are to be published every year.[15]

Edition Date Editor Notes
1[16] 1951 Richard S. Pittman 10 mimeographed pages; 40 languages[5]
2[17] 1951 Pittman
3[18] 1952 Pittman
4[19] 1953 Pittman first to include maps[20]
5[21] 1958 Pittman first edition in book format
6[22] 1965 Pittman
7[23] 1969 Pittman 4,493 languages
8[24] 1974 Barbara Grimes [25]
9[26] 1978 Grimes
10[27] 1984 Grimes SIL codes first included
11[28] 1988 Grimes 6,253 languages[29]
12[30] 1992 Grimes 6,662 languages
13[31] 1996 Grimes 6,883 languages
14[32] 2000 Grimes 6,809 languages
15[33] 2005 Raymond G. Gordon, Jr.[34] 6,912 languages; draft ISO standard; first edition to provide color maps[20]
16[35] 2009 M. Paul Lewis 6,909 languages
17 2013, updated 2014[36] Lewis, Simons, & Fennig 7,106 living languages
18 2015 Lewis, Simons, & Fennig 7,102 living languages; 7,472 total

See also[edit]


  1. ^ " Whois Lookup & IP". Whois. 2000-03-29. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  2. ^ Ethnologue, 18th edition website
  3. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2010). "Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS" (PDF). Romanian Review of Linguistics 55 (2): 103–120. 
  4. ^ M. Paul Lewis, "Ethnologue launches subscription service." Ethnologue. 6 December 2015
  5. ^ a b Erard, Michael (July 19, 2005). "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  7. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (2012-05-24). Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 3: Further Grammatical Topics. Oxford University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780199571093. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  8. ^ Everaert 2009, p. 204.
  9. ^ Simons, Gary F.; Gordon, Raymond G. (2006). "Ethnologue". In Brown, Edward Kenneth. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (PDF) 4 (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 250–253. ISBN 978-0-08-044299-0. 
  10. ^ "Language status". Ethnologue. 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  11. ^ "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 
  12. ^ Bright, William. 1986. "Book Notice on Ethnologue", Language 62:698.
  13. ^ Campbell, Lyle; Grondona, Verónica (2008-01-01). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world (review)". Language 84 (3): 636–641. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0054. ISSN 1535-0665. 
  14. ^ Hammarström, Harald (2015). "Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review". Language 91 (3): 723–737. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0038. ISSN 1535-0665. 
  15. ^ "Welcome to the 18th edition!". Ethnologue. 2015-02-21. Retrieved 2015-04-28. 
  16. ^ "[SIL01] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  17. ^ "[SIL02] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  18. ^ "[SIL03] 1952". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  19. ^ "[SIL04] 1953". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  20. ^ a b "Pinpointing the Languages of the World with GIS". Esri. Spring 2006. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  21. ^ "[SIL05] 1958". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  22. ^ "[SIL06] 1965". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  23. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  24. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  25. ^ Barbara F. Grimes; Richard Saunders Pittman; Joseph Evans Grimes, eds. (1974). Ethnologue. Wycliffe Bible Translators. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  26. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  27. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  28. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  29. ^ Ethnologue volume 11. SIL. 2008-04-28. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  30. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  31. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  32. ^ "Ethnologue Fourteenth Edition, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  33. ^ "Ethnologue 15, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  34. ^ Everaert 2009, p. 61.
  35. ^ "Ethnologue, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  36. ^ "Check out the new Ethnologue". Ethnologue. 2014-04-30. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]