Current distribution of human language families

Human languages ranked by their number of native speakers are as follows. 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 mutually intelligible varieties, but independent national standard languages may be considered 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] While Arabic is sometimes considered a single language centred on Modern Standard Arabic, other authors consider its mutually unintelligible varieties 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 underreported in favour of a national language.[6]

Top languages by population

Ethnologue (2023)

The following languages are listed as having at least 50 million first-language speakers in the 26th edition of Ethnologue published in 2023.[7] Entries Ethnologue identifies 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
(in millions)
Language family Branch
Mandarin Chinese 939 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Spanish 485 Indo-European Romance
English 380 Indo-European Germanic
Hindi 345 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Portuguese 236 Indo-European Romance
Bengali 234 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Russian 147 Indo-European Balto-Slavic
Japanese 123 Japonic Japanese
Yue Chinese 86.1 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Vietnamese 85.0 Austroasiatic Vietic
Turkish 84.0 Turkic Oghuz
Wu Chinese 83.4 Sino-Tibetan Sinitic
Marathi 83.2 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Telugu 83.0 Dravidian South-Central
Korean 81.7 Koreanic
French 80.8 Indo-European Romance
Tamil 78.6 Dravidian South
Egyptian Arabic 77.4 Afroasiatic Semitic
Standard German 75.3 Indo-European Germanic
Urdu 70.6 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Javanese 68.3 Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian
Western Punjabi 66.7 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Italian 64.6 Indo-European Romance
Gujarati 57.1 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Iranian Persian 57.2 Indo-European Iranian
Bhojpuri 52.3 Indo-European Indo-Aryan
Hausa 51.7 Afroasiatic Chadic

CIA World Factbook (2018 estimates)

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

Top first languages by population per CIA[8]
Rank Language Percentage
of world
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


  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. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 January 2017. 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 Statistics, in Eberhard, David M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2023). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (26th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  8. ^ a b "The World Factbook. People and Society. Languages". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 29 November 2023. Retrieved 30 November 2023.