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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.

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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.

Voices of the world

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.

Voices of the world

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.

  • Survival of Native American Languages Today

  • The arrival of European culture was not kind to the indigenous cultures of the Americas. The population of the native civilizations of the current territory of the United States fell from about 20 million to the present level of less than 2 million. Beyond the shrinking size of the ethnic populations, the languages have also suffered due to the prevalence of English among those of Native American ancestry. Most Native American languages have ceased to exist, or are spoken only by older speakers, with whom the language will die in the coming decades.

  • Only 8 indigenous languages of the area of the continental United States currently have a population of speakers in the U.S. and Canada large enough to populate a medium-sized town. Only Navajo still has a population of greater than 25,000 within the U.S.

  • Voices of the world

    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.

    American indian meso
    American Indian - Meso Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000

    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.

    Voices of the world

    The most widely spoken Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000Sino-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.

    Mandarin sample

    I am a teacher.

    Wǒ shì lǎoshī


    Voices of the world

    African languages Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000 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.

    Voices of the world

    Austro-Asiatic languages distribution Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000

    Voices of the world

    major divisions of Austronesian languages Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 2000

    Voices of the world

    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 include language isolates such as

    Basque is a language with no known linguistic relatives spoken by about 660,000 people in Spain and France, mainly in the Basque country

    Australian indigenous languages
    Australian-Indigenous Languages include language isolates such as

    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.


    Top ten world languages
    Top Ten World Languages include language isolates such as

    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.