Friday, September 4, 2015

How Many Languages in This World?

To begin with our exploration of languages, we can start with this general question.

Do you know how many languages there are in this world?

If we belong to the different species like this cartoon, 
counting the languages in the world would be easier.

Unfortunately, as a human being, it may almost be a mission impossible to get the exact number of languages in this world. 
It’s mainly because in order to get the numbers of language, we have to answer this question; what is a language?, what is a dialect?

Language is like a spectrum, so there is no definite way to draw a line to give a name of other language, not a dialect.
To answer this seemingly simple question, we need to consider sensitive but important aspects in the world. It’s about power, politics and diplomacy. If we assume that there is a hidden tribe somewhere who speak a completely different language but has not been discovered yet, then the consideration should embrace another field such as anthropology. On the other hand, if we care about the extinction of a language, the sociological environment cannot be neglected either.
Let’s put the complex factors aside for here.

According to the encyclopedia of language by Crystal(2010), there are 6,000 languages spoken around the world. However, insists that 7,000 are spoken. I guess the gap, 1000, is derived from the matter of definition.  

  • up to 7,000 different languages
  • 2,200 languges in Asia, 260 in Europe

If you google the languages world map, you will get the image like above, and you may be confused why you cannot see the 7,000 different colors. It’s because 6,300 languages are used by less than 100,000 people.

How many people speak Korean?

These are the top 20 languages by the number of a certain language speakers.
This information is from, I don't think their number of 2nd language speaker is reliable, but we can get the rough idea from them.
As you can see, the rank information strongly relates to the population.

1. Mandarin Chinese: Native 873M, 2nd language 178M, Total 1.051B
2. English: Native 340M, 2nd language 170M, Total 510M
3. Hindi: Native 370M, 2nd language 120M, Total 490M
4. Spanish: Native 350M, 2nd language 70M, Total 420M
5: Russian: Native 145M, 2nd language 110M, Total 255M
6. Arabic: Native 206M, 2nd language 24M, Total 230M
7. German: Native 101M, 2nd language 128M, Total 229M
8. Bengali: Native 196M, 2nd language 9M, Total 215M
9. Portuguese: Native 203M, 2nd language 10M, Total 213M
10. French: Native 67M, 2nd language 63M, Total 130M
11. Japanese: Native 126M, 2nd language 1M, Total 127M
12. Urdu: Native 61M, 2nd language 43M, Total 104M
13. Panjabi: Native 88M
14. Vietnamese: Native 70M, 2nd language 16M, Total 86M
14. Telugu: Native 70M, 2nd language 16M, Total 86M
16. Tamil: Native 68M, 2nd language 9M, Total 77M
17. Javanese: Native 76M
18. Korean: Native 71M
18. Marathi: Native 68M, 2nd language 3M, Total 71M
20. Italian: Native 61M
Surprisingly, Korean is ranked 18th language. 
If you think about the size of land in Korea from the world map, I think it's quite interesting.

So, I think it's enough for today's post.
If you want to correct any information in this post, please be my guest. :)

Now, it’s your turn, so please tell me.

What do you think makes a language an official language or a dialect?

* Reference
Crystal, D. 2010. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd edition.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sohn, H.1999. The Korean Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University press


  1. I did not know there are so many languages in the world. It's so amaziang!

  2. Wow, I didn't know that! It's very interesting

  3. "Oh great. This book's in Cow". I really like this cartoon and think it helps explain the frustration people feel when they can't read something because of the language it is printed in. You are writing about a very interesting topic-- I LOVE language and languages-- so I look forward to reading more.

  4. I'd like to know more about politics' role in defining languages. I bet there are some interesting stories.