We summarize the status of each language in each country where it is used in the Status
element of a language entry by reporting two types of information. The first is an estimate of the overall development versus endangerment of the language using the EGIDS scale (Lewis and Simons 2010). The second is a categorization of the Official Recognition
given to a language within the country.
The EGIDS consists of 13 levels with each higher number on the scale representing a greater level of disruption to the intergenerational transmission of the language. Table 1 provides summary definitions of the 13 levels of the EGIDS.
Table 1. Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale
The EGIDS levels are designed to largely coincide with Fishman’s Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale, or GIDS (Fishman 1991). We refer users to Fishman’s work for an orientation to this approach to evaluating endangerment and to the original work on EGIDS (Lewis and Simons 2010) for the rationale behind the development of the expanded framework. The descriptions of the levels presented here have been adjusted to take into account significant feedback on the scale that has been received since its initial development. Most notably, the EGIDS level descriptions have been reworded to take into account signed languages (Bickford et al 2014). Like the GIDS, the EGIDS at its core measures the level of disruption of intergenerational transmission. Therefore, stronger, more vital languages have lower numbers on the scale and weaker, more endangered languages have higher numbers.
In comparison to GIDS, the EGIDS includes some additional factors at both the stronger and weaker levels of the scale and thus adds some levels not included in the original scale. As a result, the EGIDS can be applied to all of the languages of the world. In addition, two of the levels in the GIDS (6 and 8) have been split (6a, 6b, 8a, 8b) in the EGIDS in order to allow for a finer-grained description of the state of intergenerational transmission in the presence of language shift (or revitalization). The EGIDS uses letters to distinguish these divided levels in order to maintain numbering alignment with Fishman’s better-known GIDS. Each number on the EGIDS has also been assigned a one or two word label that summarizes the state of development or vitality of the language. The labels are intended to provide mnemonics for those who prefer to use words rather than numbers. In a few cases, alternative labels are assigned to a level in order to distinguish significantly different situations that are associated with the same level on the scale. Table 2 lists the alternative labels that are used.
Table 2. Alternative labels for other special situations
How the EGIDS Works
The EGIDS is a multi-dimensional scale which focuses on different aspects of vitality at different levels. Like Fishman’s GIDS, the EGIDS, at its core, measures disruption in use. At the weakest levels of vitality, EGIDS 9 (Dormant) and EGIDS 10 (Extinct) the primary factor in focus is the function of the language as a marker of identity. If no one still associates the language with their identity, the language can be considered to be Extinct. If there is an ethnic group that associates its identity with the language but uses the language only for symbolic purposes to remind themselves of that identity, the language can be categorized as Dormant (EGIDS 9).
At EGIDS levels 6a (Vigorous), 6b (Threatened), 7 (Shifting), 8a (Moribund), and 8b (Nearly extinct) the primary factor in focus is the state of daily face-to-face use and intergenerational transmission of the language. Each successively weaker level on the scale represents the loss of use, generation by generation.
EGIDS 4 (Educational) and EGIDS 5 (Developing) bring into focus the degree to which the ongoing use of the language is supported and reinforced by the use of the language in education. This largely focuses around issues of standardization and literacy acquisition and the degree to which those are institutionally supported and have been adopted by the community of language users.
EGIDS 3 (Wider Communication) focuses primarily on the notion of vehicularity. If a language (whether written or not) is widely used by others as a second language and as a means of intergroup communication, it has greater vitality than a language with a smaller number of users and which is seen as being less useful by outsiders. Where we have data, we report the use of each language by speakers of other languages.
EGIDS 2 (Provincial) and EGIDS 1 (National) focus on the level of recognition and use given to the language by government. Beyond purely official use, however, the focus includes the widespread use of the language in media and the workplace at either the provincial (sub-national) or national levels. EGIDS 0 (International) is a category reserved for those few languages that are used as the means of communication in many countries for the purposes of diplomacy and international commerce. Because the Ethnologue organizes the language entries by country, EGIDS 1 (National) is the strongest vitality level that we report.
The EGIDS levels are hierarchical in nature. With only one exception, the scale assumes that each stronger level of vitality entails the characteristics of the levels below it. Thus, for example, a language cannot be characterized as EGIDS 5 (Developing) if it cannot also be characterized as being at EGIDS 6a (Vigorous). A language with written materials which is not used for day-to-day communication by all generations and which is not being passed on to all children cannot be categorized as EGIDS 5 (Developing). The one exception to this principle is EGIDS 3 (Wider Communication) where the vehicularity of languages of wider communication is counted as being weightier than the existence of an orthography and the use of the language in education. Some languages that are widely used for intergroup communication are not used in formal education and have no written materials. Were these languages to lose that vehicularity, they would drop directly to EGIDS 6a (Vigorous).
The EGIDS levels reported in the Ethnologue were initially arrived at by inspecting our database and analyzing the factors that we categorized as indicators of vitality. In many cases, we had sufficient data to allow an initial EGIDS evaluation. Where the data were not sufficient, we set the EGIDS default value at EGIDS 6a. The initial estimates were then distributed to a large number of correspondents who were asked to review the data and make corrections based on their knowledge of specific countries, regions, language families and individual languages. This review process resulted in many corrections and revisions. Any remaining unreviewed or uncertain estimates were more closely scrutinized and, after soliciting additional commentary from knowledgeable sources, decisions were made as to how best to evaluate the EGIDS level in each case. These initial EGIDS estimates, though based on the best information available to us at that time, were preliminary and the review process has been ongoing. We encourage users of the Ethnologue to provide us with comments and corrections that will lead to a more accurate assessment for inclusion in future editions.
The existence of an EGIDS estimate for every known language in every country provides a useful resource for the assessment of language vitality globally, regionally, and country-by-country. For instance, this site includes histograms that use this information to plot summary profiles of the language situation in each of the major geographic areas, UN regions, and countries of the world. The existence of such data opens up the possibility for other kinds of analysis, such as the evaluation of the vitality of language families (see, for example, Whalen and Simons 2012).
If a language has an official function within a country or is specifically recognized in legislation, the entry for the language includes a description of the nature of its recognition. When that recognition is by statute, the specific law is also cited. Table 3 lists and defines (with examples) the fourteen language recognition categories that are used.
In developing these recognition categories, we have adapted the general framework described by Cooper (1989:99–103). Following Stewart’s (1968) identification of the official function of languages in a country, Cooper further distinguishes between statutory, working, and symbolic official languages. To that we have added a further distinction between those same functions at either the national or the provincial level. This descriptive framework identifies the legal foundation (if any) for the recognition, the nature of the official use of the language, and the geopolitical scope of that use and recognition. The combination of these three parameters (legal status, nature of use, and scope of application) results in the first twelve function categories that are listed in table 3. The final two categories represent any other kind of statutory recognition for a language, either for some designated purpose or by the association of the language with an officially recognized ethnic group.
The distinction between statutory and de facto functions is relatively straightforward. When a language function is described as statutory, it means that there is a legal document such as the constitution of the country, language or diversity policy legislation, or the like, that specifies the functions for which the language will be used. Whenever the function is identified as statutory, we provide the name of the relevant statute. We are unable at this time to distinguish in all cases between legislation that is in force and legislation which may not be enforced though it is still legally viable. As for de facto status, in many countries languages are commonly used for governance functions but there is no formal legislative mandate for that use. In those cases, we identify the function as de facto.
Table 3. Official recognition categories and definitions
The nature of the use of a language in government operations is specified using the term “working” or “identity” or the absence of these terms. When a language is identified as a working language, it means that the operations of the government (debate in parliament, the language of the laws, the language used in government offices, on official forms) may be carried out in the language, but the language is not the language of identity of the majority of the citizens. There are many countries where an international language or the language of a colonial power is used for day-to-day operations of the government, but national (or provincial) identity is linked to a different language. On the other hand, when a language is identified as a language of identity, the reverse is true. The majority of citizens identify that language as being closely associated with their identity but for practical reasons the language is not generally used for governmental operations. In these cases, the language often has a very strong symbolic use to reinforce a common identity and to build national or provincial unity. In the final case, in which the language functions both as the working language of the government and as the language of identity for the majority of the citizens, the label for the category is simply “national language” or “provincial language”, implying both the working function and the identify function.
In terms of geopolitical scope, we distinguish between the national and provincial levels of recognition and use. When a language is identified as performing a particular function at the provincial level, we describe the geopolitical regions involved. If there are many, that description may be reduced to a summary statement.
Some languages are not used or recognized for all of the functions of governance as described above, but may instead be granted only partial or limited recognitions by law. Those languages have been identified more generically as a “recognized language”. Though our data are admittedly incomplete, we attempt to describe the nature of the recognition and its geopolitical scope in as many cases as possible. In addition, in some countries, ethnic groups or nationalities are given official recognition rather than their languages. In some cases these recognized nationalities speak multiple languages. We attempt to identify the languages of such officially recognized nationalities using the label “language of recognized nationality”.
The recognition category for each language is based on the best research available to us. As with all Ethnologue information, we welcome corrections and updates from informed users.
This web edition of the Ethnologue may be cited as: Eberhard, David M., Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2021. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-fourth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.