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The number of languages around the globe is huge. However, they are not limited to natural human languages and not all of them are used anymore. So if one is wondering how many languages are there, the wording of this inquiry is not very accurate. Probably some dead languages that have disappeared in the days of yore should not be taken into account. Rather, the question is about how many living languages are there in the world”. It was estimated that the number of languages spoken in the world now is 7,117. Considering that the number of countries varies from 195 to 207, it is surprising and very impressive. However, once you find out that, according to some linguistic studies, there are 297 languages spoken in China, the idea that there are over 7000 languages globally becomes pretty logical.
Lingua franca is a term that describes a language of international communication most frequently used by speakers whose native languages are different. Since communication in general, and international communication, in particular, are extremely important for the development of trade and economic ties, the language which is preferred as a lingua franca globally becomes extremely influential.
Nowadays globally lingua franca is English due to the political and cultural influence of the USA and the United Kingdom and the process of globalization observed in most parts of the world.
The second on this list is French which used to be the global language for many Europeans before the twentieth century and currently is the official language in 25 countries.
The next most influential language is Spanish. It is the most widespread in Latin America and Mexico apart from Spain itself. The fourth one is Arabic, which often is an official language and lingua franca for many North African and Middle East countries.
Another language that gains extreme popularity since the last decade is Mandarin or Simplified Chinese. Because China has become the world’s biggest exporter and manufacturer, many businesses now sign contracts with Chinese companies, and their communication often takes place in Mandarin with the help of translation services and interpreters. Some other most influential languages are Portuguese, Russian, and German.
The majority of the popular languages belong to the Indo-European family. Namely, the eight Indo-European languages in the top ten world language according to Ethnologue study are Spanish (480 million speakers), English (379 million), Hindi (341 million), Bengali (228 million), Portuguese (221 million), Russian (154 million), Western Punjabi (92.7 million), and Marathi (83.1 million). However, the most widespread language in the world is not Indo-European. It is Mandarin Chinese and it belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Surprisingly, but the number of Mandarin speakers is almost twice as much as that of the number two on the list, Spanish. In total there are about 918 million speakers of Simplified Chinese and they comprise over 11% of the world’s population.
The number of languages in each country is different and it does not depend on the population or its density. The primary factor that determines the diversity of languages in a certain area is the main social pattern established there. In countries where the majority of the population lives in small tribal communities the number of languages is more likely to be higher because, as a rule, each of those communities has their language or dialect spoken only by its members. Thus, even in small countries where the low density of the population the number of languages can be very high.
One such is Papua New Guinea which, according to the World Bank, has a population of 8.606 million people who speak over 830 languages. Historical circumstances are another important factor that determines language diversity in a country. For example, as a result of colonization, many languages of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders became endangered but to preserve them Australian government design policies to save and promote indigenous culture. The same is true about the linguistic situation in the USA, where natives spoke over 300 languages before the New World was discovered.
There are 7,117 living languages globally. However, there are still some aspects that need to be clarified. This number does not actually answer the question of how many written languages are there. It is because most of the popular have their own sign language. Sign language cannot be counted together with a corresponding oral and written one because it does differ in many respects from it. One of them is grammar.
Since gestures do not allow to represent the conventional grammatical categories that exist in a particular language such as case, grammar in sign languages is often modified and simplified to be readable from gestures, which does not mean that they are less complex. In fact, the complexity of sign languages is the same as in natural spoken ones but the means to represent grammatical meanings are different. The sign language does share the lexicon of the corresponding language which makes them connected. Still, the differences between them are very distinct which is the reason why they are counted separately.
Is the number of languages in the world expected to grow? Most likely, it does not. The Earth is vast and so is the variety of languages that people who inhabit it speak. However, due to the growing cultural, economic, and political influence of developed countries over developing ones widely known as globalization, many languages spoken in some small communities become endangered. It is often because learning a widespread influential language often provides many opportunities for young people in education and work while mastering a mother tongue is often the effort to preserve the native culture and gives a moral satisfaction only. There are also no particular efforts of international companies such as Google to provide every world language translations of their products.
UNESCO has compiled a list of languages that are vulnerable to extinction and estimated the degree of this risk. Surprisingly, but among this list, there are languages of communities that are not very small. As reported, the number of speakers of Romani, Breton, Crimean Tatar, Irish, and many other languages is significantly decreasing. It means that considerable support from governments and organizations is required to preserve them.
Linguists often view languages as live organisms that are born, growing, changing, and dying. When does a language die? With its last native or second-language speaker, as commonly believed scientists in the field. Unfortunately, nowadays many languages are on the edge of disappearing. As reported by Ethnologue, there are over 900 dying languages, which is a rather worrying number. Sadly, but in the next several years, some of them will become extinct. With the help of translation industries and education of younger generations, this process can be slowed down. However, oftentimes such efforts are not met with much enthusiasm.
Vandalic and Ancient Cappadocian languages died by the 6th century CE. Gothic and Pictish by the 9th century. Hundreds of languages are now extinct and this process has begun even before the common era. All languages have their life cycle but what poses a great concern is the speed with which languages are dying in the 21st century – in 2016 five languages became extinct. The latest case of extinction took place in 2019 when Dora Manchado, the last native speaker of Tehuelche, a language spoken in Patagonia, Argentina died.
The diversity of languages is what makes nations unique. However, sometimes it causes obstacles in communication. Hopefully, there are reliable certified translation online services that can help to break barriers. The Word Point is a translation company that can help with the translation of any language pair. We have a wide international network of professional translators to help anyone get in touch around the globe.