The World Atlas of Languages


The World Atlas of Languages is an interactive and dynamic online tool that documents different aspects and features of language status in countries and languages around the world.  It aims to provide  a detailed record of languages as communicative tools and knowledge resources in their sociocultural and socio-political contexts.

According to the World Atlas of Languages’ methodology, there are 8324 languages, spoken or signed, documented by the governments, public institutions and academic communities; out of 8324, around 7000 languages are still in use.  On the World Atlas of Languages, every language is marked distinctly according to its type, structure and affiliation, its situation, state and status and, finally, their functions, users and usage.

The World Atlas of Languages relies on a survey to collect information about languages in country from UNESCO’s Member States. These languages in country profiles are built on the official information provided by governments, national departments of statistics, public language harmonization and standardization organizations, and higher educational organizations, which are mandated to carry out fundamental research and collect official data.

The World Atlas of Languages (WAL) effects a shift from a mono to a multidimensional approach and allows the demonstration of linguistic diversity in a multi-layered manner, taking advantage of technological and scientific progress. It applies a wide definition of language that includes and embraces all communication systems created, defined, described and used. However, the prime focus is on natural human signed/spoken languages, used across and within countries, regions, and communities. This change of paradigm brings forth the implications that: 

  • language is a carrier of human heritage (in identity, historical, cultural and linguistic material);
  • language is a local knowledge repository system (in identity and ethnic issues, traditional knowledge, biodiversity);
  • language is a system for communicating between people (including in the political, sociocultural and economic domains); 
  • language is a regional, national and global economic-political resource to be managed as an asset along with natural, human, financial and other resources, as part of good governance and societal development.

Why is the World Atlas of Languages important? 

The World Atlas of Languages is an online platform that reflects the dynamism and depths of the global linguistic diversity. It provides accurate, reliable, up-to-date and robust data on the world’s languages. By taking advantage of scientific and technological progress and drawing from data offered by trusted providers, including national governments, academia and language communities, the World Atlas of Languages is able rapidly to capture linguistic diversity shifts. More importantly - and building on the good experiences from the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing published in 1996, 2001 and 2010 - the World Atlas of Languages represents a major step towards a more inclusive, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary understanding of linguistic diversity.

It is vital to protect linguistic diversity as a requirement for equal participation, social cohesion and sustainable development. A prerequisite to enable the international community to meet this objective is the documentation of the languages of the world, which allows the drawing of conclusions on the situation of each particular language. Only a sound situational analysis of languages and their specific linguistic ecosystems guarantees the development of policies able to protect linguistic diversity adequately.


For whom is the World Atlas of Languages intended?

The World Atlas of Languages is a methodology and policy tool which can inform, assist, and support relevant decisions, policy making, and results monitoring. As a fact-based analysis of languages and their specific ecosystems, relying on up-to-date data collected from different sources, it can underpin the development of policies able to protect linguistic diversity. The World Atlas of Languages aims to stimulate research and innovation, towards new language policies, resources and tools, by providing evidence of create concrete actions focused on preserving, revitalizing, and promoting languages, to meet the needs, challenges and aspirations of language users (speakers and signers) around the world. Finally, the World Atlas of Languages offers an open online space for forging new partnerships, collaboration, participation, and knowledge sharing among multiple actors. Users are invited to explore linguistic diversity in its multiple aspects, including diversity, type and affiliation, state and status, users and usage. The World Atlas of Languages intends to serve and involve the broader public — interested individuals, language users, stakeholder groups and decision-makers.