Language mapping in the Atlas

There is no perfect way to reflect the complexities of languages and their communities on a map. The print edition of the Atlas seeks to provide global coverage, dividing the world somewhat arbitrarily into regions; those with the greatest linguistic diversity are presented at smaller scale than those with less diversity. For the online edition, users determine the zoom level themselves, allowing a panoramic view or a very detailed one. No attempt is made to show population density or the area in which a language is spoken; we have instead selected a central point for each language. For more discussion of methodological issues and options see the 2007 Cartography meeting.

Language names

The language names used in the Atlas are those considered most appropriate by respective regional editors. Names have been indicated in English, French and Spanish transcriptions. Alternate names (spelling variants, dialects or names in non-Roman scripts) are also provided in many cases. A particular effort was made to avoid names considered pejorative by the speakers of languages.

In cases where distinct names are used by different speaker communities for the same language, the editor had to choose only one, leaving the other name in the alternate name field (e.g. languages at the border of Brazil).

Language locations

By default, languages are mapped using a single point at the relative centre of the area where the speakers live, or in certain cases, such as Canada, where the largest speaker community lives.

In the case of outlying communities, the editors had the possibility to create separate entries, indicating respective levels of endangerment and numbers of speakers. In such cases, a geographical attribute is provided in parentheses after the language name to differentiate the entries. This approach was used in the case of resettlement and migration (e.g. Judeo Berber, extinct in Morocco, severely endangered in Israel), clearly identified settlements (e.g. American Indian, as Potawatomi) and greatly separated communities (e.g. Kurux or Karaim).


The interactive online edition of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger is complementary to the print edition and may be cited as:

  • Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris, UNESCO Publishing. Online version
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