Dr. Kai Gehring
University of Zurich


What is Ethnologue?

Ethnologue: Languages of the World is an annual reference publication providing information on the living languages (i.e. languages that are still currently being spoken) in the world. It identifies languages, gives information about the prevalence, development and possible endangerment of all known languages and provides statistics of the world language situation in terms of distribution by world areas, language size, language status, language family, and country. All languages of the latest version are identified through the ISO 639-3 standard. The ISO 639-3 standard classifies languages according to three criteria in relation to varieties which may be considered dialects:

  1. Two related varieties are usually understood as variations of the same language if speakers of each variety can understand speakers of the other one, based on knowledge of their own variety and without needing to learn the other one.
  2. The existence of a common literature or ethnolinguistic identity with a central variety that both understand can be, even if spoken intelligibility between varieties is marginal, considered a strong indicator that they should nevertheless be understood as varieties of the same language.
  3. Where at least some communication is possible between different varieties, the existence of long-standing distinctly named ethnolinguistic identities in combination with well-developed standardization and literature that are distinct indicate that they should nevertheless be considered to be different languages.*

The minister coding project is based on the language profiles, language family trees and country profiles created by Ethnologue on the basis of their ISO 639-3 language identification and further socio-economical information.


Each language profile contains information on the ISO code given to the language in question, alternate names, the population which speaks the language and general classification information. You may find an example of such a language profile further below or by clicking here.

Image 1: Example of a language profile


Family trees give information about the relation of a given language to other languages and language groups and allow for an overarching categorization. You may find an example of such a language profile further below or by clicking here.

Image 2: Example of a family tree, unexpanded

Image 3: Example of a family tree, expanded



Lastly, country profiles show information on the language situation in a given country. They list e.g. the country’s principal language and the number of languages spoken in that country. To find an example for a country profile, consult the picture below and click here.

Image 4: Example of a country profile


For further information about Ethnologue, click here (see the “further information” box on the top right for information about specific parts of the project).

For further information about the language identification and classification provided by Ethnologue, please click here.

Links to individual information on language families and a map showing the locations of language homelands will be provided in the form

Please bear in mind that you are only able to click on three items for free.


*[Source: Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twenty-first edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.]