Voices of the World. Language Families of the World Today, the people of the world speak more than 6,000 distinct languages, which are grouped into language families.
Today, the people of the world speak more than 6,000 distinct languages, which are grouped into language families.
The Indo-European family represents about 1.6 billion people and includes most of the languages of Europe and northern India, Australia, the United States, and parts of South America. Seeded around the world by Colonialism, this family sprang from a tongue spoken on the Russian steppes approx. 6000 years ago. This influence continues to grow with widespread adoption of English as a second language.
Native American languages are spoken throughout the Americas, although the precise number of languages in this classification is not known. More than 300 native languages were once spoken in the U.S. and Canada. Two-thirds survive, but the few speakers left are aging. Even as native languages fade, their sounds echo in place-names such as Chicago and Massachusetts.
Distribution of North American language families and isolates north of Mexico
American Indian Languages Spoken at Home by American Indian Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. The American Indian languages shown above are the major languages. NOTE: Data are estimates based on a sample.
Quiche (or K’iche’) and Yucatec, Mayan languages, are the region’s strongest indigenous
tongues. Most languages faded after European contact, but a few were documented by missionaries.
The most widely spoken Sino-Tibetan language is Chinese, with over 1 billion speakers.
This family includes eight mutually unintelligible Chinese languages, often mistakenly called dialects. The Chinese government promotes the standard use of Mandarin.
I am a teacher.
Wǒ shì lǎoshī
African languages are grouped into four families: Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Khoisan, and Afro-Asiatic.
Niger-Congo: With more than 1400 languages – almost one-fourth of the world’s total – Niger-Congo is one of the largest language families. It includes Swahili, used by 35 million East Africans as a lingua franca.
Swahili: Where are you going?
Nilo-Saharan: About 200 Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken by ethnic minorities in their home countries. Only Dongolawi, a Nubian language of the southern Nile in Sudan, has a long written record.
Khoisan: Famous for clicking sounds, Africa’s Khoisan languages may be the continent’s oldest. Several have vanished; most have fewer than a thousand speakers.
Afro-Asiatic: The languages of ancient Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and Palestine belonged to this family. Still thriving, the largest living Afro-Asiatic language, Arabic, spreads in tandem with Islam.
Languages that do not belong to any of these families include language isolates such as Korean and Japanese, the languages of New Guinea, and the Athabascan and Algonquian languages of sub arctic Canada. There are dozens of other rare languages, such as Basque in Spain and France, Burushaski in Pakistan, persist as linguistic islands. Despite decades of research, links to known language groups have yet to be verified. Chukchi, spoken in Siberia, is an example of a member of an isolated small language family. Kam-Tai, now mostly spoken by Thai and Laotians, may have come from southwest China.
Korean and Japanese: Both of these languages may be related. Both were influenced by Chinese. Many words are Chinese loans, and Japanese writing still uses Chinese characters.
Basque is a language with no known linguistic relatives spoken by about 660,000 people in Spain and France, mainly in the Basque country
As many as 250 of Australia’s Aboriginal languages may have slipped into
Extinction since Europeans arrived. Only five of the remaining 250 languages
have more than a thousand speakers.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE WHO SPOKE AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE OR CREOLE AT HOME,1996.
Chinese Mandarin – 845 billion (1.2 billion if all Chinese dialects are included)
Spanish – 329 million
English – 328 million
Hindi – 240 million
Arabic – 232 million
Bengali – 181 million
Portuguese – 178 million
Russian – 144 million
Japanese – 122 million
Punjab – 109 million
German – 90 million
Seven of the ten languages with the most native speakers are Indo-European.
They are dwarfed by Mandarin, the mother tongue of nearly one in six humans.
The top ten languages account for more than half the world’s population.