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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. 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. 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." 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. 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. 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, 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:
|1||1951||Richard S. Pittman||10 pages, mimeographed|
|5||1958||Pittman||first edition in book format|
|10||1984||Grimes||SIL codes first included|
|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|
Ethnologue classification is based on Bright (1992), 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. 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.
|Arai (Left May)||Oceania||6|
|East Bird’s Head-Sentani||Oceania||8|
|East Geelvink Bay||Oceania||12|
|East New Britain||Oceania||7|
|Yele-West New Britain||Oceania||3|
|83 other language isolates||—||83|
|Deaf sign language||137|