In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Languages of the World

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Languages, Language Families, and Their Locations
  • Reference Works
  • Collections with Detailed Coverage
  • Collections with Brief Coverage
  • Bibliographies
  • Book Series
  • Articles and Short Books
  • Maps
  • Highly Illustrated Popular Works
  • Beyond Linguistic Description

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Languages of the World
William R. Leben
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0076


Scholarly work on the languages of the world is aimed in three main directions: genetic classification, typological classification, and documentation. This article focuses on work documenting the language families of the world, how many there are and where they are spoken, by how many speakers, and in what contexts. This article emphasizes work aimed at the scholarly community; however, it also cites authoritative, attractive volumes and websites that target a wider audience. Included as well are a few encyclopedic works on general linguistics whose coverage of the language families of the world is so complete that it would be wrong to omit them. A few surveys aim to cover every language in the world. Other cross-linguistic surveys cover every language in a particular region, while others try for a representative sample of languages from across the globe. Works devoted to a single family or world region are not listed here; these are the subject of other articles in Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics.


Two textbooks in print cover the languages of the world. Pereltsvaig 2012 is the more recent. Lyovin 1997 is somewhat dated, and a second edition with extensive revisions is in preparation. Both books cover the diversity within and across the language families of the world, and both presuppose a modest amount of familiarity with linguistic concepts and terminology. The comparative method and linguistic typology are introduced and illustrated in both texts. Both books include maps plotting languages and language areas, and both end with a chapter on pidgins and creoles. Included in the end matter of both are glossaries of linguistic terms, a bibliography, and separate language and subject indexes. Lyovin 1997 is structured more like a conventional textbook, with exercises and suggested readings at the end of each chapter, but students may find Pereltsvaig 2012 more engaging and easier to read.

  • Lyovin, Anatole V. 1997. An introduction to the languages of the world. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Nearly five hundred pages long; discussion of the world’s languages is organized geographically by continent. The coverage of languages and language families is more comprehensive than in Pereltsvaig 2012, though even in Lyovin lesser families and languages receive only cursory treatment. Each chapter ends with highly detailed linguistic sketches of one or two important languages.

  • Pereltsvaig, Asya. 2012. Languages of the world: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139026178

    Discussion of the world’s languages is organized geolinguistically by major linguistic area. Coverage of languages and language families is more selective and less comprehensive than in Lyovin 1997, but it includes more detailed discussion of topical issues such as the Nostratic and Eurasiatic hypotheses and the Pirahã controversy; 278 pp.

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