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Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web and print publication of SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization, which studies lesser-known languages, primarily to provide the speakers with Bibles in their native language.

The Ethnologue contains statistics for 7,358 languages in the 16th edition, released in 2009 (up from 6,912 in the 15th edition, released 2005 and 6,809 in the 14th edition, released 2000) and gives the number of speakers, location, dialects, linguistic affiliations, availability of the Bible and so forth. It is currently the most comprehensive existing language inventory, along with the Linguasphere Observatory Register. However, some information is dated.

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.'"

In 1984, the Ethnologue released a three-letter coding system, called a 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 Summer of 2009.

In addition to choosing a primary name for the language, it also gives some of the names by which a language is called by its speakers, by the government, 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 or by whom.

William Bright, then editor of Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, wrote that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world" (1986:698).


Language families

Following are the language families listed in the Ethnologue language family index of the 16th 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. In addition to language families, Ethnologue lists 1 artificial language, 82 creoles, 17 pidgins, 130 Deaf sign languages, 23 mixed languages, 50 language isolates, and 73 unclassified languages.

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