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Monday, June 20, 2011


It´s difficult to give an exact figure of the number of languages that exist in the world, because it is not always easy to define what a language is. The difference between a language and a dialect is not always clear-cut. It has nothing to do with similarity of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation. Sometimes, the distinctions are based purely on geographical, political, or religious reasons. It is usually estimated that the number of languages in the world varies between 3,000 and 8,000.
There is a list of the world's languages, called "Ethnologue". There are 6,500 living languages listed. Of these, 6,000 have registered population figures. 52% of the 6,000 languages are spoken by less than 10,000 people, and 28% are spoken by less than 1,000 people. 83% of them are limited to single countries.
The ten largest languages in the world are the first languages for nearly half of the world's population.
Here is a list of the top 10 languages according to Ethnologue:
1. Mandarin Chinese - 885 million speakers
2. Spanish - 332 million speakers
3. English - 322 million speakers
4. Bengali - 189 million speakers
5. Hindi - 182 million speakers
6. Portuguese - 170 million speakers
7. Russian - 170 million speakers
8. Japanese - 125 million speakers
9. German - 98 million speakers
10. Wu (also spoken in China) - 77 million speakers

The figures refer to the number of people who have the language as their first language. If those speakers who have learnt the language as a foreign language were to be included, English might be at the top of the list.
Arabic would be among the 10 most widely spoken languages, if it were to be counted as one language. Ethnologue lists ten variants of spoken Arabic among its top 100. The biggest of these is Egyptian Arabic with 42.5 million speakers. If they were to be counted as one and the same language, Arabic would come out sixth with 175 million speakers, and Wu would drop out of the top ten. 
The branch of linguistics which is called comparative philology, has classified the world's languages into different families. All of the relationships within the families are not yet clear, and therefore the classification must be seen as preliminary.
The languages within a family usually share a common language, from which they developed. However, sometimes languages are considered to be related just because they happen to be geographically close to one another.

         Adapted by Milton França 
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