The function of the Registry of Languages (ROL) is to document standardized codes for languages spoken in the world today. Rather than devising its own system of codes, HIS makes use of the three-letter codes for identifying languages defined by the ISO 639:2007 International Standard and published by Ethnologue (now in its 26th edition).

The Registration Authority for ISO 639-3 is SIL International. Contact the ISO 639-3 Registrar with questions or to request a change at

Each three-letter code uniquely identifies one of the more than 7,000 living languages documented in the Ethnologue. Any database application that makes use of these language codes is just one click away from access to the full language descriptions that are available at That is, for any language identifier xxx that may be stored in a database, an application may present a link to the following URL in order to give the user access to the Ethnologue’s description of that language:

The definition used in the Ethnologue for identifying languages is based on a criterion of shared literature. If varieties of speech are similar enough to use the same literature, they are considered the same language; if they would need different literatures, they are considered different languages. Where there is no existing literature, a judgment as to whether literature might be shared is based on the presence of shared identity and shared intelligibility.

The code set (with documentation) may be downloaded from:

Any party is welcome to incorporate the download tables into its own database application on condition that it is done in accordance with SIL’s Terms of Use statement.

From the point of view of the HIS registry conventions, the download file contains a code table, a country codes table, and a supplementary table as follows: The complete list of three-letter language identifiers (ROL) used in the current Ethnologue (along with name, primary country, and language status). The list of two-letter country codes from ISO3166 that are used in the main language code table. An index for finding languages by country and by all known names (including primary name, alternate names, and dialect names).

ROL Documents