Friday, November 7, 2014

Online Linguistic Resources: The Ethnologue

Over the past two years that we've worked on The Lingua File, we've made several references to the Ethnologue as a source of information. While some of you may already have already heard of it (or took the time to Google it), we've decided to take some time today to look into this wonderful linguistic resource. 

The Ethnologue is a reference work that strives to catalog all of the living languages in the world. It was founded by Richard S. Pittman and created as a collaborative project with his work colleagues at SIL International, a Christian linguistic service organization, as well as other linguists around the world. Its first edition, published in 1951, consisted of ten pages that focused on 46 languages. While it was originally published every few years in book format, it has recently become primarily a web-based publication. Currently, you can view its seventeenth edition online at, where it provides information on an impressive 7,106 living languages.

The Ethnologue can introduce you to fascinating languages you've never heard of,
just as Wikipedia introduces you to interesting animal species like the liger.
Ethnologue: Languages of the World is highly regarded by linguists and language lovers alike due to its comprehensive information on world languages. Say, for example, that you'd like to learn more about the Swedish language. If you search "Swedish" on the Ethnologue website, you'll find an entire page dedicated to information on the language. The first fact you learn is that it's a "language of Sweden". Keep reading, and you'll learn about alternate names for Swedish (like "Svenska"), the number and locations of its speakers, as well as its status and dialects.

Another great feature of the site is that it provides information about the various languages spoken in specific countries. On the aforementioned page for Swedish, you can click on a hyperlink on the word "Sweden" which takes you to a linguistic overview of the country. It includes everything from official languages, immigrant languages, and literacy rates to the official status of various languages within the country. 

If you're fascinated by languages and are one of those people (like us) who occasionally finds themselves having spent hours reading linked Wikipedia pages, then the Ethnologue may keep you entertained for quite some time. Luckily, it is written in a very dry, factual way since its information is all displayed from a database, so you might not lose too much time to this fascinating reference material if you're not looking for something in particular.

We highly recommend that you take a look at the Ethnologue since it is an excellent linguistic resource. In addition to providing information on individual languages and countries, it also looks at language families, features interesting language maps, and so much more.