Languages World Language Mapping System

World Language Mapping System

Language area and point data for Geographic Information Systems (GIS)


If you would like to purchase, please contact us at info(at)


The World Language Mapping System (WLMS) is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and trusted geographic dataset of the point and area (polygon) locations of the world's 7,100 living language groups.


The WLMS is the result of over 25 years of collaborative work between GMI and SIL International (SIL), to map the languages described in SIL's 17th edition Ethnologue. The data is provided in ESRI shapefile (.shp) format for GIS systems with substantially all of the data from the 17th edition Ethnologue in a .DBF and file geodatabase data table for use in further analysis. 


Linguists, cultural geographers, and other researchers will find this data valuable in understanding the locations and distribution of languages throughout the world. Innovative uses have included ecology (studies of the relationship between human cultural diversity and biodiversity), political science (studies of relationship between armed conflict and linguistic boundaries), and military/counterterrorism (assignment of appropriate linguists/translators to operations in specific locations).

Major features:

  • Language locations both as points and polygons (of language homelands), in ESRI shapefile (.shp) format and file geodatabase.
  • Attribute information from Ethnologue (.dbf and file geodatabase format)
  • Polygons for mixed language areas
  • Designed to overlay with the Digital Chart of the World / VMAP0 basemaps
  • Layer files and mxd files for ArcView 9.3 or above

New Features in Version 17

  • All point, polygon and attribute data have been updated to correspond with the 17th Edition Ethnologue, with greatly improved detail for language mapping in India, Myanmar and other locations.
  • Most languages have been assigned SIL language vitality estimate codes using EGIDS (Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale). This data is available as a field in all feature classes and most tables.
  • A file geodatabase, WLMS.gdb is also included, which contains all files except raster elevation colors and hillshades, as well as three additional tables (immigrant languages, extinct/dormant languages, sign languages).
  • Metadata for files was entered using the ISO 19139 Metadata Implementation Specification. This now includes descriptions of the data in each field, along with tags and other reference information.

For other new features click here.

System requirements

  • GIS software capable of reading ESRI shapefile format (.shp)
  • Shapefiles have been tested on ESRI's ArcView 8.2-10.3
  • Full use of project and layer files requires ArcView 9.3 or above
  • Wizard requires ArcGIS 9.3 or 9.3.1
  • Windows system to run self-extracting .exe installation files. This need not be the computer running the GIS system, but must be able to write data to a location accessible by the GIS system.

All other technical specifications can be found in the following PDF document:

pdficon_small.gif WLMS documentation

Article from ESRI's ArcNews

Read the article by ESRI from Spring 2006, outlining the details of the World Language Mapping System.

Related Products

Most customers prefer to bundle the World Language Mapping System with the high-quality basemap Seamless Digital Chart of the World (SDCW).