On Feb. 21, SIL, Wycliffe’s key field partner, released the 22nd edition of its authoritative catalogue of world languages, the Ethnologue.

“Our knowledge about languages is dynamic–and constantly improving,” SIL notes on its website. “In 2009, the 16th edition of Ethnologue recorded 6,909 living languages. The 22nd edition (released 21 February 2019) records 7,111.”

The article goes on to explain that language numbers have increased for several reasons. For one, dormant languages are now viewed differently than they once were.

Graphic by Kirby O’Brien

“A dormant language no longer has fluent speakers, but the people still use a few words and think of their language as sleeping, not dead. Some languages in this category were previously counted as extinct. Now we count them as living.

“We are also discovering new languages—both spoken and signed. New sign languages have been recorded. Some languages are now classified as dialects of other languages, while some previously listed as dialects are now considered languages.”

Increasing knowledge about the world’s languages has led SIL to revise the way it counts living languages as well.

“Our growing knowledge and the changing world context means the number also constantly changes.”

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