How Many Languages Are There in the World?
By: Sehar Khan
Do you know that there are approximately 7102 known languages spoken around the world today? Out of these languages, 9.2% of the languages have fewer than 10 speakers and there are 46 languages that now have only a single speaker left.
These languages are distributed across countries and continents in different proportions and spoken by different nations in the world in varied dialects.
But first, let’s define what a language is.
What is a Language?
A language is basically a collection of dialects that are mutually intelligible and each of the dialects is a collection of idiolects (a single speaker’s version of the language) similar enough to be grouped together.
It is said that nearly every language uses a similar grammatical structure, even if they are not linked in vocabulary or origin. This is due to the origin of languages and the linguistic links all languages share because of geographical proximities. Conversely, those communities which are usually isolated from each other through mountains and deserts have developed multiple languages that are different from each other e.g Papua New Guinea has more than 832 different languages owing to the variations in geographical landscapes found there.
The Current Scenario of Languages in the World:
#1: Division Across Continents
The languages spoken across continents are distributed unevenly across continents and countries as well as regions. Not all continents are equally diverse in the number of languages spoken and Asia leads the other continents with 2,301 languages, Africa follows closely behind with 2,138 while there are 1,300 and 1,064 languages in the Pacific and Americas, respectively. Europe comes last with only 286 languages despite the vast number of nation-states.
#2: Division Across Countries
Although Asia boasts of the maximum number of languages, they are not necessarily divided that way by country. If we zoom in further on the countries, it becomes evident that many of the popular languages are spoken not just in one, but across multiple countries. That is the reason that English, French, and Arabic are the bosses with a large number of countries where their speakers reside. Take a look at the number of countries and the languages are spoken there.
English is spoken across 101 countries, with Arabic and French being spoken in 60 and 51 countries, respectively. Other languages follow suit with Malaysian and Portuguese having the least number of countries to their name.
Languages on the Decline!
With every passing day and month, fewer and fewer languages see the light of the day. It is a fact that when a language ceases to be learned, it ceases to survive, and a language dies with the death of the native speakers.
Around a quarter of the world’s languages have less than a few thousand remaining speakers, and there is a general estimate that within the next century, nearly half of the 7102 languages spoken in the world will be endangered or on the verge of extinction. The threat to the languages of the world, therefore, is very real.
How to Save a Dying Language?
The death of a language is not just a loss of the spoken language, it is a loss of culture, traditions, norms, and customs of a community or tribe. With the death of a language, a small unit of civilization ceases to exist, with the customs and traditions of that unit lost and forgotten. When so many languages are endangered and so many of them are already on the verge of extinction, what can be done to preserve them?
Not much. A language can survive only when it is taught to the youngsters of a particular community. When an old person is the sole survivor and speaker of an endangered language and fails to pass that language to his youngsters, that language is bound to die with the death of that person. On the other hand, when the youngsters of a community learn a new language, speak it and spread it out, that language is more likely to make it to the next generation.
Languages are the medium of communication and without these languages, no common understanding or comprehension will prevail among communities. It is, therefore, important to understand which languages are the most spoken and which of them are in danger.