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World Languages 

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   Difficulties in defining what is a language and what is a dialect of a language

It may be surprising but it is very difficult question to answer. First of all, there are languages in some parts of the world that have not yet been studied such as in Papua New Guinea and the Amazon. Secondly, there are no clear-cut criteria for deciding what constitutes a separate language and what constitutes a dialect of a language because purely linguistic considerations can often compete with issues of statehood, culture, writing systems, political and economic power. For example, Chinese varieties such as MandarinCantoneseWu, and Hakka are as less mutually intelligible than are SpanishFrenchItalian, and Portuguese. Yet the former are considered to be dialects of Chinese, while the latter are considered to be separate languages. Why is that? The answer is that the Chinese varieties are primarily spoken within a single nation, while the latter are spoken in different countries. Hindi and Urdu are almost identical, yet considered to be different languages because they are associated with different countries (India and Pakistan), religious beliefs (Hindu and Moslem), and different writing systems (Devanagari and Arabic). However, before Pakistan became independent from India in 1947, Hindi and Urdu were considered a single language called Hindustani. Serbo-Croatian was considered to be a single language with several dialects: Orthodox Serbs used the Cyrillic alphabet, Catholic Croats used the Latin alphabet, and Muslim Bosnians used both alphabets. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 2001, these three varieties are now officially listed as three separate languages.

   How many languages?

The data below are taken from Ethnologue (16th edition), a reference that catalogs all the known living languages in the world today. Ethnologue is regarded as the most comprehensive and authoritative listing of world languages. A new edition is published every four years.

Population range Living languages Number of speakers
Number Percent Cumulative Number Percent Cumulative
100,000,000 – 999,999,999
8
0.1
0.1
2,308,548,848
38.74
38.74
10,000,000 to 99,999,999
77
1.1
1.2
2,346,900,757
39.38
78.12
1,000,000 to 9,999,999
304
4.4
5.6
951,916,458
15.97
94.09
100,000 to 999,999
895
13.0
18.6
283,116,716
4.75
98.84
10,000 to 99,999
1,824
26.4
45.0
60,780,797
1.02
99.86
1,000 to 9,999
2,014
29.2
74.1
7,773,810
0.13
99.99
1 to 999
1,510
21.9
96.1
474,4331
0.01
100
Unknown
277
4.00
100.0

 

   Languages by world area

Ethnologue lists 6,912 living languages in the world today. 389 languages (5.6% of all known languages) are spoken by at least one million people and account for almost 94.1% of the world’s population. The remaining 94.4% of languages are spoken by only 5.9% of the world’s population.

World area
Languages
Speakers
Number
Percent
Number
Percent
Median
Mean
Asia
2,322
33.6%
3,622,771,264
60.8
11,000
1,560,194
Africa
2,110
30.5%
726,453,403
12.2
25,200
344,291
Americas
993
14.4%
50,496,321
0.8
2,300
50,852
Europe
234
3.4%
1,553,360,941
26.1%
201,500
6,638,295
Pacific
1.250
18.1%
6,429,788
0.1%
980
5,144
Totals
6,909
100.0%
5,959,511,717
100.0%
7,560
862,572

 

  • Asia
    Asia has the largest number of languages and the largest number of speakers, accounting for 60.8% of all language speakers in the world. There is a striking difference between median and mean number of speakers.
  • Africa
    Africa has the second largest number of languages after Asia but it accounts for only 12.2% of all language speakers in the world.
  • Americas
    The Americas have numerous languages with small numbers of speakers.
  • Europe
    Europe has the smallest number of languages and the second-largest number of speakers after Asia, accounting for 26.1% of all language speakers in the world. Unlike Asia, the majority of Europe’s languages have a substantial number of speakers. As a result, Europe has the largest median and mean of all world areas.
  • Pacific
    The Pacific accounts for only 0.1% of all language speakers in the world and has the lowest median number of speakers of all world areas.

 

   Ten most spoken languages in the world[/fancy title]

The table below lists ten most spoken languages of the world in descending order of first-language speakers.

Rank Language Number of 1st language
speakers (in millions)
Total countries where
language is spoken
1 Chinese 1,213 31
2 English  328  112
3 Spanish 319 44
4 Arabic 221 57
5 Hindi 182 20
6 Bengali 181 10
7 Portuguese 178 37
8 Russian 144 33
9 Japanese 122 25
10 German 90.3 43

 

   

Countries with more than 100 languages

The table below lists countries with more than 100 languages in descending order. For a complete listing of all countries see Ethnologue. The table also shows the number of indigenous vs. immigrant languages in these countries. For instance, the United States ranks 5th in the total number of languages spoken which are almost equally split between indigenous and immigrant. The same is true of Canada. In all the other countries listed below, the number of indigenous languages is significantly exceeds that of immigrant languages.

Rank Country Number of languages Indigenous Immigrant
1 Papua New Guinea 830 830 0
2 Indonesia 722 719 3
3 Nigeria 521 514 7
4 India 445 438 7
5 United States 364 176 188
6 Mexico 297 292 6
7 Cameroon 289 288 1
8 Democratic Republic of the Congo 217 215 2
9 Australia 207 161 46
10 Brazil 193 181 12
11 Philippines 181 171 10
12 Canada 169 86 83
13 Malaysia 145 137 8
14 Russian Federation 135 100 35
15 Sudan 134 133 1
16 Chad 133 131 2
17 Tanzania 128 127 1
18 Nepal 127 124 3
19 Myanmar 116 115 1
20 Vanuatu 114 108 6
21 Viet Nam 108 106 2

12 Responses to World Languages

  1. BISHNU PRASAD GAUTAM

    मातृभाषामा शिक्षा

    माताको दूध शिशुलाई शिक्षा मातृभाषामा,

    प्रभाव पर्छ सृस्‍टिलाई प्रकाशको गतिमा।…. यी माथिका हरफ मेघालय शिलोंगका नेपालीभाषी पुस्तक ब्यबसायी श्री बिष्णु गौतमले बिगत ५ वर्ष देखि जोड तोडका साथ प्रचार प्रसार गर्दै आएका छन् । उनले प्रकाशन गरेका पुस्तक, बिजक, लेटर प्याड, पुस्तक सुची जताततै यी हरफ देख्न पाइन्छ । नेपाली, अंग्रेजी, खासी र बंगाली भाषामा लेखिएका यी हरफले मातृभाषाको शक्तिले सृष्टिको रक्षा र यस सुन्दर बहुरंगी विश्व-बाटिकालाइ द्रुत गतिमा सुमुन्नत बनाउन टेवा मिल्ने संदेश दिन्छ ।.

    जन्मेपछि सम्बाद गर्न सिकेको पहिलो भाषा नै मानिसको मातृभाषा हो । संसारमा ज्ञान, सोच र कल्पनाको बहुरंगी विविधता कायम राख्न पनि मातृभाषालाइ बचाईराख्न र विकास गर्न जरुरि छ । मातृभाषामा दिइने शिक्षाले सम्बन्धित भाषा त्यसको लिपि, जातीय संस्कार र संस्कृतिको विकास तथा समाजमा उत्प्रेरणा र चेतनाको अभिवृद्धि हुन्छ । यदि कुनै भाषा लोप भएर गयो भने त्यस जतिको संस्कृति पनि लोप भएर जान्छ । संस्कृतिक सम्वृद्धिमा सबैभन्दा ठूलो योगदान भाषाको नै हुन्छ । मातृभाषामा दिइने अभिव्यक्ति सबैभन्दा परिपूर्ण र सहज हुन्छ । यदि मातृभाषा सम्पन्न भयनन भने संसारमा धेरै कारोबार हुने सम्पर्क भाषाको अवस्था पनि खोक्रो हुन जानेछ । ससाना हजारौ मातृभाषाका कारणले नै संसारका सम्पर्क भाषा सम्पन्न र हराभरा भएका हुन् । यदि कारोबारी भाषामा लिप्त भएर मातृभाषाको लोप भयो भने ज्ञान बिज्ञानको संसार उराठिलो मरुभूमि जस्तो बन्ने छ । त्यसैले शिक्षा मातृभाषामै हुनु पर्छ । मातृभाषा मानिसको मौलिक ज्ञान, शिप सृजनाको खजाना हो । यस्तो महत्वपूर्ण खजानाको रक्षामा ध्यान नदिएर क्षणिक लाभको निम्ति कारोबारमा चलेका भाषामा मात्र लिप्त हुनु समाजको भविस्य माथि गरेको बेइमानी र बाल अधिकारको हनन हो ।.

    प्रसिद्ध साहित्यकार रवीन्द्रनाथ टैगोरले भनेका छन्, ‘मातृभाषामा शिक्षा पाउनु मानिसको जन्मसिद्ध अधिकार हो । हामी जसरी आमाको कोखमा जन्मेका हौं त्यसैगरी मातृभाषा पनि हाम्रो कोख हो । यी दुवै आमा हाम्रालागि सधैं सजीव र अपरिहार्य छन् ।’ उनले मातृभाषाको महत्त्वलाई बुझे र बुझाउने कोसिस गरे । प्रसिद्ध राजनीतिज्ञ नेलसन मण्डेलाले भनेका छन्- इफ यू स्पिक टु अ म्यान इन अ ल्याङ्वेज ही अन्डरस्ट्यान्डस, इट गोज् टु हिज माइन्ड बट इफ यू स्पिक इन हिज ल्याङ्वेज इट गोज टु हिज हर्ट । यदि कसैसँग उसले बुझ्ने भाषामा कुरा गर्नुभयो भने त्यो कुरा उसको दिमागमा मात्र पुग्छ । यदि उसको मातृभाषामा भन्नुभयो भने मुटुसम्म पुग्छ । मण्डेलाले मातृभाषाको द्रुत असरलाई प्रस्ट्याए ।.

    संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघको अध्ययनअनुसार यतिबेला कारोबारमा नचलेका करिब ५३०० मातृभाषा संकटमा परेका छन् । शिक्षामा मातृभाषाको महत्त्वलाई नजरअन्दाज गरेर अबको शिक्षानीति बनाइयो भने सामाजिक र राष्ट्रिय मात्र होइन मानव जातिकै अस्तित्व संकटमा आउन सक्ने स्थिति बन्नेछ । संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघमा सन् १९९९ बाट यस मुद्दाले स्थान पाइसकेको छ । अब यसलाई संसारभरि उपयुक्त कार्यान्वयनको खाँचो छ ।.

     
  2. David Irwin

    In the Ten most spoken languages table, why is Spanish listed as #2, before English, when English seems to have about 9 million more 1st language speakers?

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for catching the error. We fixed it.

       
  3. KING FAZUUL

    hey guys cant you be serious where is french??? not even in the top ten? i bet that french speakers exceed spanish speakers. hope you correct that and dont forget German speakers are more than hindi speakers………… in short French and Germany are in top 5

     
  4. Brent

    I was just comparing the numbers you have posted under the heading ‘Countries with more than 100 languages’ with those on the Ethnologue website. The numbers are not equivalent. For instance, you have stated that there are 830 living languages in Papua New Guinea whereas Ethnologue provides a number of 836.

    Also, you have forgotten to include China on your list, which, according to the Ethnologue, has 301 living languages, putting it at the number six spot on your list.

    That being said, I really enjoy your website – very informative, well-formatted and easy to navigate!

     
  5. Gilbert

    there are many ancient languages. Tamil, Sanskrit,Greek,Chinese Latin etc. in which Sanskrit latin, greek is not alive. Tamil is worlds 8th most spoken and read as 1st language. Malayalam is also an ancient classical language.chinese is spoken most. Tamil is spoken in Dravidian states Singapore malaysia Sri Lanka Mauritius upto I know. Though my mother tongue is not Tamil . I love Tamil the best.

     
    • Vickie Chan

      I appreciate you,you are right,Tamil is a one of the classical languages, so it must learn.

       
  6. AyDin

    Hi. Turkic languages ​​such as Arabic, which are written classified Turkic languages ​​and dialects are comprised of more than 200 million Do not add it to the list of most ?

     
  7. ran rajesh

    Hi. Turkic languages ​​such as Arabic, which are written classified Turkic languages ​​and dialects are comprised of more than 200 million Do not add it to the list of most ?

     

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