World Language Phyla/Family Mapping, created by Dr. Stephen Huffman (creator also of the Unknown Language Identification page), shows samples of truly beautiful language maps (the complete maps are large pdf files).

Dr. Huffman has classified the languages of the Ethnologue into broader groupings following Merritt Ruhlen’s A Guide to the World’s Languages (published 1987, 1991 by Stanford University Press), and has produced a series of maps of language phyla and families using this classified data and GMI’s World Language Mapping System and Seamless Digital Chart of the World geographic datas sets. PDF versions of the maps [are] available for download, as are Dr. Huffman’s data and ArcGIS project files.
For additional discussion of both language classification , see Dr. Huffman’s paper describing this work: Mapping The Genetic Relationships of the World’s Languages (pdf).

Thanks, Laurent!


  1. I have the bad habit of typing gibberish in these identifiers just to see what it makes of it. This time rkjdrioe fldhf lkdj drkjl j… was identified as Czech! Previously Dutch has been a favorite – perhaps I hit too few vowels this time. It’s silly, but I can’t help myself.
    Those maps are indeed beautiful. They are worth the long download times.

  2. The maps are indeed beautiful but I am dismayed to see depicted on them the utterly worthless pseudoscientific classification of Merritt Ruhlen.

  3. Yeah, I know, that bugs me too.

  4. Which aspects of these maps can we rely on if they are based on ‘pseudoscience’? The distribution of specific languages, for example, or the classification at lower levels of language relationships? I have merely an amateur interest in philology, I mean the history of languages, and understand that Ruhlen’s conjectures concerning the shared ancestry of the world’s large language groups are disputed, but what about his discussion of (at least some of the) sub-groups or families?

  5. Is there a map someplace that shows language or political areas in their native script? Like the Omniglot lists but as a map and not just a table.

  6. I’m curious about the three islands of non-Japanese/Korean (better watch out calling them part of the same language family here in Korea ;) ) in North Korea, on the NEAsia map…

  7. Ilmarinen says:

    Beautiful maps (I want to get some high quality print-outs and hang them on the wall), but what’s the deal with Norwegian Bokmaal? It’s one of the two written languages, yes, but it could best of all be described as a dialect (although it wouldn’t be correct either) – why couldn’t he only use Norwegian? And why, if he insited on using Bokmaal, didn’t he use Nynorsk as well?

  8. I’m curious about the three islands of non-Japanese/Korean
    Huh. Me too. According to Ethnologue, only Korean is spoken in Korea (implausible as that seems). Anybody know?

  9. Cryptic Ned says:

    I’m curious about the three islands of non-Japanese/Korean
    Um…..Russian? Chinese? Albanian?
    Training camps for brainwashed supersoldiers who developed their own language à la Nicaraguan Sign Language?

  10. I’ve got a lovely large map of the Uralic languages on my wall that the Finno-Ugrian Society produced– pretty cheap too, so I’d imagine a printout of these wouldn’t be too costly!

  11. I’m looking forward to seeing mapping in scalable vector graphics hit the web. I’m don’t really know a whole lot about it, but my impression is that collaborative (wiki-style, one might say) annotation of maps will become possible. (With Unicode!)
    That will be a frabjous day.

  12. Paul Clapham says:

    “According to Ethnologue, only Korean is spoken in Korea (implausible as that seems).”
    Ethnologue doesn’t even mention that Russian is spoken by anybody in Ukraine.

  13. You’re kidding!
    You’re right! What the hell? Anybody know what’s up with that? My respect for Ethnologue just went way down.

  14. Mike Maxwell says:

    > Ethnologue doesn’t even mention that Russian
    > is spoken by anybody in Ukraine.
    Actually, it DOES mention that, and gives a population figure for Russian speakers of ~11 million. This is in the “header” paragraph up at the top; Russian is not in the list of languages below. The reason for this apparent disparity is given in the “Introduction” to the Ethnologue (, in the sxn entitled “Layout of country headers”, see “Nonindigenous languages”. (Too long to repeat here…)
    Likewise, the header for North Korea lists Chinese (variety unspecified), and the header for South Korea lists Sherpa, English and Chinese.
    This isn’t the first time that Ethnologue users have been confused over that distinction, and it seems rather arbitrary (why Greek and Hungarian, but not Russian?). There was some discussion at SIL recently about how helpful that distinction is, so maybe it will change.

  15. Thanks for that — at least I know they’re not completely nuts, even if their layout is confusing as hell. I hope they change it.

  16. Mike Maxwell says:

    There is a form for submitting suggestions to the Ethnologue. I think their principle problem is lack of funding–it’s been run on a shoestring its entire life, and it’s hard for SIL to get someone to work on it, despite the fact that it’s probably SIL’s best-known resource to the general linguistic community. I’ve encouraged them to look for NSF funding (or some such).

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