Languages World Language Mapping System

Buy now button.pngWorld Language Mapping System

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


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 6,900 language groups.


The WLMS is the result of over 20 years of collaborative work between GMI and SIL International (SIL), to map the languages described in SIL's 16th edition Ethnologue. The data is provided in ESRI shapefile (.shp) format for GIS systems with substantially all of the data from the 16th edition Ethnologue in a .DBF 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.
  • Attribute information from Ethnologue (.dbf format)
  • Polygons for mixed language areas
  • Designed to overlay with the Digital Chart of the World / VMAP0 basemaps
  • Layer files and project files for ArcView 9.3 or above

New Features in Version 16

  • Data updated to Ethnologue, 16th edition
  • When used in combination with Seamless Digital Chart of the World and ArcGIS 9.3, a mapping wizard allows control of several language themes.
  • Widespread language polygons have now been provided for nearly all areas with substantial population density and a predominant language (see below).WLMS_sample4_WidespreadLangAdd_1000px.png

System requirements

  • GIS software capable of reading ESRI shapefile format (.shp)
  • Shapefiles have been tested on ESRI's ArcView 8.2-10.0
  • 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).