How many languages are there in the world?Print
That number is constantly in flux, because we're learning more about the world's languages every day. And beyond that, the languages themselves are in flux. They’re living and dynamic, spoken by communities whose lives are shaped by our rapidly changing world. This is a fragile time: Roughly a third of languages are now endangered, often with less than 1,000 speakers remaining. Meanwhile, just 23 languages account for more than half the world’s population.
Zoom in above to see just how many pins are packed onto each region. Myriad factors – terrain, cultural history, the spread of ancient civilizations – play into how many languages exist in a certain area. As shown in the pie chart, the majority of languages are concentrated in Africa and Asia, with the fewest belonging to Europe.
On this map, each language is shown just once, with a pin in its primary country. To see specific language names, just hover over the pins.
Above we see where languages are concentrated – most densely in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. But how many people actually speak them? The vast majority of us use Asian or European languages, which may not be surprising given the sheer population of certain areas as well as colonial expansion in recent centuries. By contrast, Pacific languages – which account for 18.5% of the world’s languages – are spoken by so few people that the region barely even registers on our population graphic below.
Pacific languages, along with North and South American, have just 1,000 speakers each on average. But together, they represent more than a third of our world’s languages. These tiny communities may not have a loud voice on the global stage, but they hold much of our shared linguistic heritage.
Some countries have hundreds of languages
Languages are spread unequally throughout the world. That trend is clear whether we’re looking at whole regions, as above, or individual countries.
To the left are the ten countries where the most languages are spoken today, including all established and immigrant languages.
If you click By Language Type, you’ll see that some countries, such as Papua New Guinea, are home to mostly indigenous languages – while others, like the United States, have many immigrant languages.