I've read that between 3000 and 6000 languages are spoken on Earth. My question is the following: how do people calculate that number?

  • 3
    Very roughly, as you can tell by the 100% markup. It's calculated by reports from travellers, linguists, governments, aid groups, missionaries, etc, etc. Which are out of date, and often erroneous for various reasons. What's clear is that the number is going down fast. At the end of this century we'll be lucky to have 1000 languages spoken natively.
    – jlawler
    Mar 2, 2013 at 20:25
  • You may want to check this.
    – edominic
    Mar 2, 2013 at 20:30
  • A tangential problem is that the distinction between "language" and "dialect" is notoriously arbitrary.
    – acattle
    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:31

1 Answer 1


The Ethnologue is a common source of reference for language classification and documentation. It uses the ISO 639-3 standard, which classifies languages using a three-letter coding system. The basic criteria that Ethnologue uses to identify languages (as opposed to, for example, dialects) are (i) mutual intelligibility between speakers of variants of a language; and (ii) existence of a common literature or of a common ethnolinguistic identity. The criterion for including a language in the ethnologue is that it must be “known to have living speakers who learned [it] by transmission from parent to child as the primary language of day-to-day communication”.

  • And Ethnologue currently states "7,139 known living languages."
    – WGroleau
    Nov 29, 2021 at 20:09

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