How Many Languages Are There in the World? The Number May Surprise You (2021)
Jun 03, · Countries with Hundreds of Languages Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. It has more than twice the Indonesia. Indonesia has languages spoken. The Indonesian language is the country’s official language. Here, most Nigeria. There are. 92 rows · The following table contains the top languages by estimated number of native speakers in the edition of the Swedish encyclopedia medattr.com census methods in different countries vary to a considerable extent, and given that some countries do not record language in their censuses, any list of languages by native speakers, or total speakers, is effectively based on estimates.
There are about 7, languages spoken in the world. These languages are dynamic and living. With modernization, a third of these languages face the risk of extinction. Many factors such as languwges spread of old civilizations, terrain, and cultural history determine the number of languages spoken in a particular region.
About 2, languages are spoken across how many different languages in the world today continent. There are an estimated 2, languages spoken on the continent of Africa. Pacific is third with Throughout the world, languages are manj equally distributed. Some countries record a higher number of spoken languages than others. They include:. Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country in the world.
It has more than twice the number of languages spoken across Europe. It is a multilingual nation with over languages spoken, with twelve of them lacking many speakers. The popular language what is jad and jar file spoken by overpeople.
Some of the languages have less than 1, speakers. Indonesia has languages spoken. Here, most how many different languages in the world today are Austronesian. Other regional languages spoken include Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, and Musi. There are languages spoken in Nigeria. However, Nigeria has many other unclassified languages. The languages in Nigeria fall under families such as Niger-Congo family differentt and Afro-Asiatic family language. However, the official language is English.
Regional languages include Hausa, Igbo, and sign language. There are languages spoken in Indiawith English and Hindi being official. The Hindi language is profoundly spoken and it is the fourth widely spoken in the world. Today there are , speakers of Hindi in India. Other languages in India include Bengali, Telugu, and Odia among others. India has how to brass plate something most official languages of any country at There are languages spoken in the United States with the English language being supreme.
The immigrants from other countries like Mexico, Germany, Arabia, Spain, and Russia have greatly influenced demographic patterns in the United States of America. China has more than languages spoken. The popular language is Mandarin Chinese spoken by more than million people. However, Standard Chinese is the official language. Cantonese is also an official language with other regional ones such as Wu Chinese, sign language, and English.
There are other countries with diverse spoken languages. These include Mexico withCameroon withAustralia withand Brazil with yhe Spanish is the popular language in Mexico but Amerindian is the original language. On the other hand, in Brazil the official language is Portuguese. The Portuguese spoken also goes by the name Brazilian Portuguese. Some countries speak hundreds of languages.
Sarah Michaels June 3 in Society. The Inuit People.
45 rows · Feb 12, · This is a list of languages by the total number of speakers. It is difficult to . The edition lists 6, living languages -- this is not because languages were created in the intervening 9 years, but because of a combination of a more complete inventory and some decisions about how many speech communities to distinguish as "languages". Aug 25, · Listed here—in order by number of native speakers—are the world’s top 20 languages (according to Ethnologue, a global catalog of the languages currently in use worldwide). .
Download this document as a pdf. One might suppose, therefore, that linguists would have a clear and reasonably precise notion of how many languages there are in the world. It turns out, however, that there is no such definite count—or at least, no such count that has any status as a scientific finding of modern linguistics. The reason for this lack is not just that parts of the world such as highland New Guinea or the forests of the Amazon have not been explored in enough detail to ascertain the range of people who live there.
Rather, the problem is that the very notion of enumerating languages is a lot more complicated than it might seem. There are a number of coherent but quite different answers that linguists might give to this apparently simple question. When people are asked how many languages they think there are in the world, the answers vary quite a bit. When we look at reference works, we find estimates that have escalated over time.
The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, implies a figure somewhere around 1,, a number that climbs steadily over the course of the twentieth century. That is not due to any increase in the number of languages, but rather to our increased understanding of how many languages are actually spoken in areas that had previously been underdescribed.
Much pioneering work in documenting the languages of the world has been done by missionary organizations such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics , now known as SIL International with an interest in translating the Christian Bible.
As of , at least a portion of the bible had been translated into 2, different languages, still a long way short of full coverage. Did you know that most languages belong to a family?
A family is a group of languages that can be shown to be genetically related to one another. The best known languages are those of the Indo-European family, to which English belongs. Languages are not at all uniformly distributed around the world.
Just as some places are more diverse than others in terms of plant and animal species, the same goes for the distribution of languages. One area of particularly high linguistic diversity is Papua-New Guinea, where there are an estimated languages spoken by a population of around 3. That makes the average number of. Photo credit: Minna Sundberg. These languages belong to between 40 and 50 distinct families.
Of course, the number of families may change as scholarship improves, but there is little reason to believe that these figures are radically off the mark. We do not find linguistic diversity only in out of the way places. Multilingualism in North America is usually discussed apart from the status of French in Canada in terms of English vs.
Spanish, or the languages of immigrant populations such as Cantonese or Khmer, but we should remember that the Americas were a region with many languages well before modern Europeans or Asians arrived. In pre-contact times, over languages were spoken in North America.
Of these, about half have died out completely. All we know of them comes from early word lists or limited grammatical and textual records. Once we go beyond the major languages of economic and political power, such as English , Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and a few more with millions of speakers each, everywhere we look in the world we find a vast number of others, belonging to many genetically distinct families. When a language ceases to be learned by young children, its days are clearly numbered , and we can predict with near certainty that it will not survive the death of the current native speakers.
The situation in North America is typical. Of about indigenous languages, only eight are spoken by as many as 10, people. About 75 are spoken only by a handful of older people, and can be assumed to be on their way to extinction.
While we might think this is an unusual fact about North America, due to the overwhelming pressure of European settlement over the past years, it is actually close to the norm.
Some would say that the death of a language is much less worrisome than that of a species. After all, are there not instances of languages that died and were reborn, like Hebrew?
And in any case, when a group abandons its native language, it is generally for another that is more economically advantageous to them: why should we question the wisdom of that choice? But the case of Hebrew is quite misleading, since the language was not in fact abandoned over the many years when it was no longer the principal language of the Jewish people.
During this time, it remained an object of intense study and analysis by scholars. And there are few if any comparable cases to support the notion that language death is reversible. Where there is no one dominant local language, and groups with diverse linguistic heritages come into regular contact with one another, multilingualism is a perfectly natural condition. This is not a necessary step, however, for them to become participants in a larger economic or political order.
It might seem that any remaining imprecision is similar to what we might find in any other census-like operation: perhaps some of the languages were not home when the Ethnologue counter came calling, or perhaps some of them have similar names that make it hard to know when we are dealing with one language and when with several; but these are problems that could be solved in principle, and the fuzziness of our numbers should thus be quite small.
But in fact, what makes languages distinct from one another turns out to be much more a social and political issue than a linguistic one , and most of the cited numbers are matters of opinion rather than science.
They are not mutually intelligible, but their status derives from their association with a single nation and a shared writing system, as well as from explicit government policy. Although varieties in use in India and Pakistan by well-educated speakers are somewhat more distinct than the local vernaculars, the differences are still minimal—far less significant than those separating Mandarin from Cantonese, for example.
For an extreme example of this phenomenon, consider the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian, spoken over much of the territory of the former Yugoslavia and generally considered a single language with different local dialects and writing systems. Within this territory, Serbs who are largely Orthodox use a Cyrillic alphabet, while Croats largely Roman Catholic use the Latin alphabet.
Within a period of only a few years after the breakup of Yugoslavia as a political entity, at least three new languages Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian had emerged, although the actual linguistic facts had not changed a bit. What is mutual intelligibility and can it help us identify different languages? One common-sense notion of when we are dealing with different languages, as opposed to different forms of the same language, is the criterion of mutual intelligibility : if the speakers of A can understand the speakers of B without difficulty, A and B must be the same language.
But this notion fails in practice to cut the world up into clearly distinct language units. In some instances, speakers of A can understand B, but not vice versa, or at least speakers of B will insist that they cannot. Bulgarians, for instance, consider Macedonian a dialect of Bulgarian, but Macedonians insist that it is a distinct language.
Somewhat less fancifully, Kalabari and Nembe are two linguistic varieties spoken in Nigeria. The Nembe claim to be able to understand Kalabari with no difficulty, but the rather more prosperous Kalabari regard the Nembe as poor country cousins whose speech is unintelligible.
Another reason why the criterion of mutual intelligibility fails to tell us how many distinct languages there are in the world is the existence of dialect continua. To illustrate, suppose you were to start from Berlin and walk to Amsterdam, covering about ten miles every day. You can be sure that the people who provided your breakfast each morning could understand and be understood by the people who served you supper that evening.
Nonetheless, the German speakers at the beginning of your trip and the Dutch speakers at its end would have much more trouble, and certainly think of themselves as speaking two quite distinct if related languages. In some parts of the world, such as the Western Desert in Australia, such a continuum can stretch well over a thousand miles, with the speakers in each local region able to understand one another while the ends of the continuum are clearly not mutually intelligible at all.
How many languages are represented in such a case? Related to this is the fact that we refer to the language of, say, Chaucer , Shakespeare , Thomas Jefferson and George W. Shakespeare might have been able, with some difficulty, to converse with Chaucer or with Jefferson, but Jefferson and certainly Bush would need an interpreter for Chaucer.
Languages change gradually over time, maintaining intelligibility across adjacent generations, but eventually yielding very different systems. The notion of distinctness among languages, then, is much harder to resolve than it seems at first sight. Political and social considerations trump purely linguistic reality, and the criterion of mutual intelligibility is ultimately inadequate. So does the science of Linguistics provide a better basis for measuring the number of different languages spoken in the world?
When we address the question of just when forms of speech differ systematically from a linguistic point of view, we get answers that are potentially crisp and clear, but rather surprising.
If we try to distinguish languages from one another simply in terms of their words and the patterns we can observe in sentences, problems arise. Different languages may display the same sentence patterns, while a single language may display a great variety of patterns. In general, linguists have found that the analysis of the external facts of language use gives us at best a slippery object of study.
Rather more coherent, it seems, is the study of the abstract knowledge speakers have which allows them to produce and understand what they say or hear or read: their internalized knowledge of the grammar of their language.
We might propose, then, that instead of counting languages in terms of external forms, we might try to count the range of distinct grammars in the world. How might we do this? What differentiates one grammar from another? Some aspects of grammatical knowledge, like the way pronouns are interpreted with respect to another expression in the same sentence, seem to be common across languages.
In She thinks that Mary is smart, the pronoun she can refer to any female in the universe with one exception: she here cannot refer to the same individual as Mary. This seems to be a fact not about English, but about language in general, because the same facts recur in every language when the structural relations are the same. On the other hand, the fact that adjectives precede their nouns in English we say a red balloon, not a balloon red is a fact about English, since the opposite is true, for instance, in French.
If we had a complete inventory of the set of parameters that can serve in this way, we could then say that each particular collection of values for those parameters that we could identify in the knowledge of some set of speakers should count as a distinct language. But let us see what happens when we apply this approach to a single linguistic area, say Northern Italy. Consider the facts of negative sentences, for example.
The functioning of negation here establishes a parameter that distinguishes these and other grammars. This is only the beginning, though. When we look more closely at the speech of various areas in Northern Italy, we find several other parameters that distinguish one grammar from another within this area, such that each of them can vary from place to place in ways that are independent of all of the others.
Still staying within Northern Italy, let us suppose that there are, say, ten such parameters that distinguish one grammar from another. This is really quite a conservative estimate, in light of the variation that has in fact been found there. But if each of these can vary independently of the others, collectively they define a set of two to the tenth, or 1, distinct grammars, and indeed scholars have estimated that somewhere between and of these distinct possibilities are actually instantiated in the region!
Of course, the implications of this result for the world as a whole must be based on a thorough study of the range and limits of possible grammatical variation. Since the number of possible grammatical systems expands exponentially as the number of parameters grows, if we have only about 25 or 30 of these, the number of possible languages in this sense becomes huge: well over a billion, on the assumption of thirty distinct parameters.
When we look at the languages of the world, they may seem bewilderingly diverse. From the point of view of communication systems more generally, however, they are remarkably similar to one another. Human language differs from the communicative behavior of every other known organism in a number of fundamental ways, all shared across languages. By comparison with the communicative devices of herring gulls, honey bees, dolphins or any other non-human animal, language provides us with a system that is not stimulus bound and ranges over an infinity of possible distinct messages.
It achieves this with a limited, finite system of units that combine hierarchically and recursively into larger units. The words themselves are structured from a small inventory of sounds basic to the language, individually meaningless elements combined according to a system completely independent of the way words combine into phrases and sentences.
The particular linguistic system that each individual controls goes far beyond the direct experience from which knowledge of it arose. And the principles governing these systems of sounds, words and meanings are largely common across languages, with only limited possibilities for difference the parameters described above.
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