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How Many Languages Are There in The World? Most spoken languages?

There are 196 countries, but how many languages are there in the world today? According to Ethnologue, there are currently 7,102 languages spoken around the world.

As a translations company, working with every language around the globe, we often get asked this question. How many languages are there in the world? The answer is, quite a lot! Many more than most people would think, in fact. With around 196 countries, depending on whose classification you go by, you might imagine that there were at least as many languages. Even taking into account that many countries share the same language, there are others with several languages inside one geographic region. India, for example, has 22 official languages and hundreds more spoken by pockets of the population.

Wondering how many languages there are in the world today? There are currently 7,102 known languages spoken by people around the world, according to Ethnologue, widely considered to be the most extensive catalogue of the languages of the world. Sadly, this number declines every month. Of these languages, 90% are spoken by less than 100,000 people.

Roughly 150 to 200 languages are spoken by more than million people. Conversely, there are around 46 languages which only have a single speaker!

In Asia alone, there are 2,296 languages spoken, in Africa 2,139, Americas 1,062, the Pacific 1,313, and Europe with 287 languages.

The exact number of languages spoken has always been surrounded by uncertainty. This is partly due to the fact that there are still many parts of the world that have not yet been fully explored, including the Amazon and the highlands of New Guinea.
What is a Language?
A language is, fundamentally, a collection of dialects that are mutually intelligible. Each dialect is a collection of idiolects that are similar enough to be classified together. An idiolect is a single speaker’s version of a language. For example, as an Australian, I speak my own idiolect of English, just as you speak with a slightly different one. Yet, since we can understand each other, it can be defined as a single language.

The Origin of Languages
Researchers are still baffled as to how and when these numerous languages were invented.  While there are only a few references mentioned in the Holy Bible and other religious texts, the origin of languages still remains a mystery. The language spoken in the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve is still unknown.

One such reference as to the origin of languages comes from the Book of Genesis. According to the story, humanity was united after the Great Flood and began speaking a single language. Migrating from the east and thus arriving at the land of Shinar, they agree to build a city and tower. Upon seeing this, God confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and commences to scatter everyone around the world.

The Invention of Writing
The invention of writing can be traced back to 4000 BC. The Sumerians who lived in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day southern Iraq) introduced the first writing system to the world. Their descendants known as Sumero-Babylonians developed the timing system that we still use today, whereby an hour divided into 60 minutes is in turn divided into 60 seconds.

Dying Languages
As mentioned earlier, ta number of known languages is constantly declining. But why? A key factor is in education. When a language ceases to be taught to young children, its rate of survival is very bleak. It can then be predicted with near certainty that it will not survive the death of the present native speakers.

An example of this can be seen in North America where 165 indigenous languages exist. Only eight of these languages are spoken by 10,000 people and approximately 75 are spoken by a handful of mature aged people. What else can be concluded but that they will soon become extinct.

This rapid decline in indigenous languages is due to the overwhelming presence and pressure of the European settlement over the past 500 years. In Australia, more than 100 aboriginal languages have become extinct since European settlers arrived.

Based on current circumstances, linguists are now able to estimate that at least 3,000 languages will be lost within the next century. That’s almost half of today’s known languages!

How many languages are extinct?
Way back in the past (second millennium BC back), just seven languages became extinct. It’s quite easy to see why, as there was little or no movement of people between countries, much less continents and oceans. But as we move into modern times, languages become extinct far more quickly. At an alarming rate, in fact. As the years pass, the number of dead languages increases like wild fire. How many languages have been wiped outt? In the 20th century alone, at least 110 languages were declared extinct. In 2017, we’ve already lost another five languages.
Most widely spoken languages?
While English may top the list for being the most widely used language around the world, it’s not the most widely spoken. Mandarin Chinese comes in first, with around 1.2 billion speakers. Next up is Spanish, with 400 million speakers. Pretty useful if you want to travel around the majority of Latin America, or spend some time in Spain. But if you want to venture further afield, English is the new Esperanto; the language of travel, business and international negotiations. Many countries are making English obligatory on schools, or parents encouraging their children to learn it, as English is often synonymous with a better quality of life. Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian are all next on the list by number of speakers.

Can you save a language from certain death?
Here are two ways in which you can learn more and help indigenous people protect their languages and traditional knowledge.

Preventing language extinction is hard. Especially as global tastes are merging and we become more homogeneous. But there are a few steps you can take if you're interested in the plight of languages. You can check out the Cultural Survival’s website to see ways to get directly involved in a language preservation project. This could be through monthly donations, volunteering in communities, or helping stand up for indigenous rights. You can also go to the Linguistic Society of America’s Committee on Endangered Languages website. In a similar style to the Cultural Survival, you’ll be notified when there are opportunities to support political action on endangered languages.

The Linguistic Society of America’s Committee on Endangered Languages and allows you to sign up in order to be alerted of opportunities for political action in support of endangered languages.

If you’re learning a language, I recommend checking out my 10 best ways to learn plus, check out the latest and my favourite language tools.


Finally, if you want to play your part in keeping languages alive, you could dedicate some time to learning a rarer language. Language learning has many benefits, beyond communicating better and advancing your resume. If you have some free time and want to try your hand, why not start learning an Asiatic or native American language? Apart from keeping culture and societies alive, you’ll reap the cognitive benefits of greater concentration and improved memory as well. Let’s keep the number from declining and help preserve global heritage for generations to come.

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