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Languages of the World

  • 6,912 languages in the world (Ethnologue)

  • Most widely spoken languages (approximate numbers of first and second language speakers):
    • Mandarin Chinese, over 1 billion
    • English, 500-750 million
    • Hindi, 500 million
    • Spanish 400-500 million
    • Russian 250-300 million
    • Arabic, 250-300 million
    • Bengali, 150-250 million
    • Portuguese 150-250 million
    • Malay-Indonesian, 150-250 million
    • French 130 million
    • German, 130 million
    • Japanese, 130 million

  • Over 1000 different languages spoken in Africa

  • Over 800 different languages spoken in Papua New Guinea

  • About 600 different Native-American languages

  • Some 200 different Australian Aborigine languages (about half of them have less than 10 speakers; some two dozen have only one speaker)

  • About 165 different languages spoken in the United States

 

LANGUAGE FAMILIES

  • Language Family: a group of languages related by a common origin; members of a family are said to be cognate languages (Latin co-gnatus 'born together'). There are about 300-400 language "families" in the world. Some of the main language families with examples of languages belonging to them:

    • INDO-EUROPEAN: English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Latin, Greek, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Assamese, Urdu (Pakistan), Nepali, Singhalese, Sanskrit, Farsi, Kurdish, Persian, Avestan, Romanian, Romany (Gypsy), Rhaeto-Romansch (Switzerland-Italy), Latvian, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Ukranian, Czech, Slovak, Sorbian, Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Old Church Slavonic (Old Bulgarian/Old Macedonian)

    • URALO-ALTAIC
      • URALIC: Finnish, Estonian, Lapp, Hungarian
      • ALTAIC: Turkish, Manchu, Mongolian, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Uzbeq, Japanese, Korean

    • NORTHERN CAUCASIAN:Circassian, Abkhasian, Chechen/Chechnian, Avar

    • KARTVELIAN (SOUTHERN CAUCASIAN): Georgian

    • AFRO-ASIATIC (HAMITO-SEMITIC): Arabic, Hebrew, Berber, Tuareg, Somali, Hausa (a Chadic language), Amharic (Ethiopia), Coptic, Ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, Akkadian (Chaldean), Babylonian, Aramaic, Assyrian

    • NIGER-KORDOFANIAN (NIGER-CONGO)
      • BANTU: Swahili (in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, etc), Zulu (in parts of South Africa)
      • OTHER (Western Africa): Yoruba (in Nigeria), Ewe (in Ghana) Igbo (Nigeria), Akan, Ashanti, Fanti (Ghana), Mandingo/Maninka (Ivory Coast), Wolof (Senegal)

    • NILO-SAHARAN: Maasai (Kenya), Nubian, Dinka (Sudan)

    • KHOISAN (spoken in southwestern Africa): Kxoe (Black Bushman), !O!ung, Nama (Hottentot)

    • SINO-TIBETAN: Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese

    • AUSTROASIATIC (MON-KHMER): Cambodian, Vietnamese

    • AUSTRONESIAN (MALAYO-POLYNESIAN): Malagasy (Madagascar), Indonesian, Javanese, Malay, Tagalog, Maori, Samoan, Hawaiian

    • DAIC: Thai, Lao

    • MIAO-YAO: Hmong, Mien

    • DRAVIDIAN: Tamil, Telugu (southern India), Brahui (Pakistan)

    • AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINE: Mabuiag (3000-4000 speakers), Warlpiri (3000 speakers),Warumungu, Gooniyandi, Gungabula (2 speakers), Djiwarli (1 speaker)

    • INDO-PACIFIC (PAPUAN) (languages spoken in Papua New Guinea): Buin, Nasioi, Tok Pisin (a pidgin/creole language), Hiri Motu (creole influenced by Tok Pisin, English and Motu, an Austronesian language)

    • BASQUE, only one language, Basque (in northern Spain) (a language isolate)

    • ETRUSCAN, only one language in this family (language isolate), Etruscan (now extinct but once spoken in northern Italy)

    • SOME NATIVE-AMERICAN LANGUAGE FAMILIES:
      • ESKIMO-ALEUT: Inuit
      • NA-DENE (ATHABASCAN): Navajo, Apache, Tlingit, Haida
      • ALGONQUIAN/ALGIC: Mohican, Mic-Mac, Abenaki, Delaware, Cree, Ojibwa/Chippewa, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Shawnee, Potowatomi, Arapaho, Illinois
      • IROQUOIS: Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cherokee, Tuscarora, Onondaga
      • MUSKOGEAN: Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw
      • SIOUAN: Iowa, Omaha, Dakota, Winnebago, Crow, Lakota
      • SALISHAN: Salish, Spokane, Coeur d'Alene
      • ZUNI: Zuni
      • PENUTIAN: Chinook
      • UTO-AZTECAN: Hopi, Shoshone, Nahuatl, Comanche
      • MAYAN: Maya, Quiché, Yucatec, Huastec, Tzotzil, Chontal, Chol
      • QUECHUA: Quechua (in parts of Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina)
      • ARAWAK: Arawak (in Surinam and Guyana)
      • CARIB: Carib (in Venezuela), Wayana (in Surinam)
      • TUPI-GUARANI: Guarani (in parts of Paraguay, Argentina)
      • ARAUCANIAN: Huilliche, Mapudungun


    SUPER-FAMILIES AND MACRO-FAMILIES

  • Ultimately all languages issued from the first human language, Proto-World, spoken about 60,000 years ago in Africa -- hence all languages belong to a common Super-Family which includes all the past and current languages of the world. The common origins hypothesis was first proposed by the Italian linguist Alfredo Trombetti.

  • Because all languages ultimately have common origins, it is possible to group them together into Macro-Families which include several related language families. Examples of Macro-Families:

    • NOSTRATIC: languages issuing from a common language spoken about 15,000 years ago and giving rise to the languages in families like INDO-EUROPEAN, AFRO-ASIATIC, URALO-ALTAIC, KARTVELIAN, DRAVIDIAN, ESKIMO-ALEUT. Names of scholars supporting the Nostratic Hypothesis include Holger Pedersen, Aron Dolgopolsky, Vladislav Illich-Svitych, Vitaly Shevoroshkin

    • EURASIATIC: a hypothesis similar to Nostratic proposing the relations between INDO-EUROPEAN, URALO-ALTAIC, ESKIMO-ALEUT (Joseph Greenberg)

    • DENE-CAUCASIAN: BASQUE, CAUCASIAN, SINO-TIBETAN, NA-DENE (scholars associated with this grouping include Edward Sapir, Sergei Starostin, Sergei Nikolaev and John Bengston)

    • AMERIND: including all the Native-American families except Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene (Joseph Greenberg)

    • AUSTRIC: includes AUSTROASIATIC, AUSTRONESIAN, DAIC, and MIAO-YAO


PIDGIN AND CREOLE LANGUAGES

  • Pidgins and creoles are hybrid languages which develop as means of communication at points of contact between peoples who speak different languages (a pidgin is the initial stage of such developments, a creole is a pidgin that has become the native language of its speakers). The word "pidgin" is derived from the pronunciation of the English word "business" among some Chinese speakers, Examples:

    • Sabir: a pidgin which is mix of Italian, Spanish, French, Occitan, Portuguese, Greek, and Arabic -- used primarily in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance among traders in the Mediterranean.

    • Chinook: a pidgin spoken in the Pacific Northwest area of North America involving Native American, English and French elements

    • Lingua Geral: a pidgin spoken in Brazil in the 17th and 18th centuries -- a mix of Portuguese and Native American languages

    • Gullah: a creole language of the United States (Georgia, South Carolina) involving English and African languages like Yoruba, Igbo and Ewe. The word "Gullah" might be derived from "Angola"

    • Bislama ("Beach-la-Mar"): a creole language of the South Pacific (Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu) involving Austronesian languages, English, French

    • Kreyol: a creole language of Haiti -- a mix of French and African languages like Wolof, Mandingo and Ewe

    • Papiamento: a creole of the Caribbean (Aruba, Curaçao) involving African languages, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish

    • Afrikaans: a creole of South Africa including Dutch and African languages of the Bantu and Khoisan families

    • Tok Pisin: a creole of Papua New Guinea with elements of English, Austronesian languages, Spanish, German, and Portuguese

    • Hiri Motu: a creole language of Papua New Guinea including elements from Austronesian languages like Motu, Tok Pisin and English.


  • References & Links:

    Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue (1994).

    Joseph Greenberg. Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family, Vol 1 Grammar (2000), Vol 2 Lexicon (2002)

    Joseph Greenberg, Language in the Americas (1987)

    Joseph Greenberg, The Languages of Africa (1963)

    Ethnologue: Languages of the World: http://www.ethnologue.com/web.asp

The San-Bushman of Southern Africa: http://www.swaziweb.net/bushman/

Aboriginal Languages of Australia: http://www.dnathan.com/VL/austLang.htm

Numbers from 1 to 10 in 4500 languages

 

 

 

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