Monday, February 21, 2011

Number of Languages Spoken in the World

Linguists and scholars from all over the world agree that there are 6909 known living languages in our planet. A language is considered living as along as there is at least one person that speaks it as a mother tongue.
However, 80% of the population uses only 83 languages. Here is a table of languages spoken in the world in different geographic areas:

Geo. areas   Spoken Lang.   No. of speakers
Africa                2110           726 453 403
America              993             50  496 321
Asia                   2322         3 622 771 264
Europe                 234        1 553 360 941
Pacific                1250               6 429 788
Total                  6909        5 959 511 717

I should add that half of the world's languages have fewer than 10 speakers. It is estimated that one language dies every two weeks, thus by the end of the 21st century over 50% of the languages spoken will disappear.
473 languages are nearly extinct as only a few elderly speakers are still living in:
Africa  46,  The Americas  182,  Asia  84,  Europe  9,  The Pacific  152.


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog of Feb. 21 on the "census" of languages. It made me think of when I was studying Romance Historical Linguistics at LSU and we learned that, of the ten Romance Languages (West to East--Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Provençal, French, Sardinian, Rhaeto-Romansch, Italian, Dalmatian, and Rumanian), Dalmatian, also known as Vegliotte, was extinct even though an ample body of transcribed records of it are in existence and available. It became extinct as the last speaker of it, Tony Udina, died in a mine accident on Christmas Day in 1898.

    Language is usually defined as a set of arbitrary speech patterns mutually agreed upon by the speakers of an area and used to operate and interact. The area is separated from other speech areas by a bundle of isoglosses. As you can see, the definition leaves much wiggle room and separating languages from dialects is practically impossible, especially if one decides to disregard non-linguistic features such as political identity and intelligibility. Furthermore, no one is willing to establish how many isoglosses form a bundle so that speech areas can be properly isolated and identified.

  2. Very interesting post, Anthony.
    I had no idea of the statistics you show here. I also find interesting, if not ironic, that "one language dies every two weeks," in the age of globalization. Thanks to technology and modern communication most languages should be kept alive, and isntead we're losing them at a fast rate.