Current distribution of human language families
Current distribution of human language families

This article ranks human languages by their number of native speakers.

However, all such rankings should be used with caution, because it is not possible to devise a coherent set of linguistic criteria for distinguishing languages in a dialect continuum.[1] For example, a language is often defined as a set of varieties that are mutually intelligible, but independent national standard languages may be considered to be separate languages even though they are largely mutually intelligible, as in the case of Danish and Norwegian.[2] Conversely, many commonly accepted languages, including German, Italian and even English, encompass varieties that are not mutually intelligible.[1][better source needed] While Arabic is sometimes considered a single language centred on Modern Standard Arabic, other authors describe its mutually unintelligible varieties as separate languages.[3] Similarly, Chinese is sometimes viewed as a single language because of a shared culture and common literary language.[4] It is also common to describe various Chinese dialect groups, such as Mandarin, Wu and Yue, as languages, even though each of these groups contains many mutually unintelligible varieties.[5]

There are also difficulties in obtaining reliable counts of speakers, which vary over time because of population change and language shift. In some areas, there is no reliable census data, the data is not current, or the census may not record languages spoken, or record them ambiguously. Sometimes speaker populations are exaggerated for political reasons, or speakers of minority languages may be under-reported in favour of a national language.[6]

Top languages by population

Ethnologue (2022, 25th edition)

The following languages are listed as having at least 50 million first language speakers in the 2022 edition of Ethnologue, a language reference published by SIL International.[7] Entries identified by Ethnologue as macrolanguages (such as Arabic, Lahnda, Persian, Malay, Pashto, and Chinese, encompassing all their respective varieties) are not included in this section.

Languages with at least 50 million first-language speakers[7]
Language Native speakers
(millions)
Language family Branch
Mandarin Chinese
(incl. Standard Chinese, but excl. other varieties)
920 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Spanish 475 Indo-European Romance
English 373 Indo-European Germanic
Hindi
(excl. Urdu)
344 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Bengali 234 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Portuguese 232 Indo-European Romance
Russian 154 Indo-European Balto-Slavic
Japanese 125 Japonic Japanese
Yue Chinese
(incl. Cantonese)
85.2 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Vietnamese 84.6 Austroasiatic Vietic
Marathi 83.1 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Telugu 82.7 Dravidian South-Central
Turkish 82.2 Turkic Oghuz
Wu Chinese
(incl. Shanghainese)
81.8 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Korean 81.7 Koreanic language isolate
French 79.9 Indo-European Romance
Tamil 78.4 Dravidian South
Standard German 75.6 Indo-European Germanic
Egyptian Spoken Arabic
(excl. Saʽidi Arabic)
74.8 Afroasiatic Semitic
Urdu
(excl. Hindi)
70.2 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Javanese 68.3 Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian
Western Punjabi
(excl. Eastern Punjabi)
66.4 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Italian 64.8 Indo-European Romance
Gujarati 57.0 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Iranian Persian
(excl. Dari and Tajik)
56.4 Indo-European Iranian
Bhojpuri 52.3 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Hausa 50.8 Afroasiatic Chadic

CIA (2018 estimates)

According to the CIA, the most-spoken first languages in 2018 were:[8]

Top first languages by population per CIA[8]
Rank Language Percentage
of world
population
(2018)
1 Mandarin Chinese 12.3%
2 Spanish 6.0%
3 English 5.1%
3 Arabic 5.1%
5 Hindi 3.5%
6 Bengali 3.3%
7 Portuguese 3.0%
8 Russian 2.1%
9 Japanese 1.7%
10 Western Punjabi 1.3%
11 Javanese 1.1%

See also

Notes

References

  1. ^ a b Paolillo, John C.; Das, Anupam (31 March 2006). "Evaluating language statistics: the Ethnologue and beyond" (PDF). UNESCO Institute of Statistics. pp. 3–5. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  2. ^ Chambers, J.K.; Trudgill, Peter (1998). Dialectology (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-59646-6.
  3. ^ Kaye, Alan S.; Rosenhouse, Judith (1997). "Arabic Dialects and Maltese". In Hetzron, Robert (ed.). The Semitic Languages. Routledge. pp. 263–311. ISBN 978-0-415-05767-7.
  4. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-521-29653-3.
  5. ^ Norman, Jerry (2003). "The Chinese dialects: phonology". In Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.). The Sino-Tibetan languages. Routledge. pp. 72–83. ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  6. ^ Crystal, David (1988). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 286–287. ISBN 978-0-521-26438-9.
  7. ^ a b "Summary by language size". Ethnologue. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Most spoken languages in the World". Retrieved 1 January 2022.