Ethnologue logo.svg
Three-volume 17th ion
OwnerSIL International, United States
Alexa rankIncrease 92,650 (global; 03/2017)

Ethnologue: Languages of the World is an annual reference publication in print and online that provides statistics and other information on the living languages of the world. It was first issued in 1951, and is now published annually by SIL International, a U.S.-based, worldwide, Christian non-profit organization. SIL's main purpose is to study, develop and document languages to promote literacy and for religious purposes.

As of 2018, Ethnologue contains web-based information on 7,097 languages in its 21st ion,[1] including 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]


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.[3]

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.[4] Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.[5]

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue provides listings of the 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.[6] The 14th ion, 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 ion of Ethnologue was the first ion 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).[7] 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 ion, 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.[8]

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.[9]

As of 2017, Ethnologue's 20th ion 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.[10]


In 1986, William Bright, then or of the journal Language, wrote of Ethnologue that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world".[11] 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."[12]

In 2015, Harald Hammarström, an or 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 balance, "Ethnologue is an impressively comprehensive catalogue of world languages, and it is far superior to anything else produced prior to 2009."[13]


Starting with the 17th ion, Ethnologue has been published every year.[14]

Edition Date Editor Notes
1[15] 1951 Richard S. Pittman 10 mimeographed pages; 40 languages[3]
2[16] 1951 Pittman
3[17] 1952 Pittman
4[18] 1953 Pittman first to include maps[19]
5[20] 1958 Pittman first ion in book format
6[21] 1965 Pittman
7[22] 1969 Pittman 4,493 languages
8[23] 1974 Barbara Grimes [24]
9[25] 1978 Grimes
10[26] 1984 Grimes SIL codes first included
11[27] 1988 Grimes 6,253 languages[28]
12[29] 1992 Grimes 6,662 languages
13[30][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 ion to provide color maps[19]
16[35] 2009 M. Paul Lewis 6,909 languages
17 2013, updated 2014[36] 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[37] 2018 Simons & Fennig 7,097 living languages

See also[]


  1. ^ Ethnologue 21st ion website
  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F. (2010). "Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman's GIDS" (PDF). Romanian Review of Linguistics. 55 (2): 103–120.
  3. ^ a b Erard, Michael (July 19, 2005). "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Scope of denotation for language identifiers". SIL International. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  5. ^ Dixon, R. M. W. (May 24, 2012). Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 3: Further Grammatical Topics. Oxford University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780199571093. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  6. ^ Everaert 2009, p. 204.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Language status". Ethnologue. 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-24.
  9. ^ M. Paul Lewis, "Ethnologue launches subscription service." Ethnologue. December 6, 2015
  10. ^ "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  11. ^ Bright, William. 1986. "Book Notice on Ethnologue", Language 62:698.
  12. ^ Campbell, Lyle; Grondona, Verónica (January 1, 2008). "Ethnologue: Languages of the world (review)". Language. 84 (3): 636–641. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0054. ISSN 1535-0665.
  13. ^ Hammarström, Harald (2015). "Ethnologue 16/17/18th ions: A comprehensive review". Language. 91 (3): 723–737. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0038. ISSN 1535-0665.
  14. ^ M PaulLewis (February 21, 2015). "Welcome to the 18th ion!". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-04-28.
  15. ^ "[SIL01] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  16. ^ "[SIL02] 1951". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  17. ^ "[SIL03] 1952". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  18. ^ "[SIL04] 1953". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  19. ^ a b "Pinpointing the Languages of the World with GIS". Esri. Spring 2006. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  20. ^ "[SIL05] 1958". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  21. ^ "[SIL06] 1965". Glottolog. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  22. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  23. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  24. ^ Barbara F. Grimes; Richard Saunders Pittman; Joseph Evans Grimes, eds. (1974). Ethnologue. Wycliffe Bible Translators. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  25. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  26. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  27. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  28. ^ Ethnologue volume 11. SIL. April 28, 2008. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  29. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  30. ^ "Glottolog 2.3". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  31. ^ "Ethnologue, 13th ion, 1996". Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  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 16, Web Version". Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  36. ^ "Check out the new Ethnologue". Ethnologue. April 30, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  37. ^ "Ethnologue 21, Web Version". Retrieved 2018-02-22.


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