What are the largest language families?

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The six largest language families by language count are Niger-Congo, Austronesian, Trans-New Guinea, Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, and Afro-Asiatic.

Of the 142 different language families, these six stand out as the major language families of the world. They can be found throughout the world, spreading uniquely to different regions and countries. See the map below to picture where each language family is found – countries are colored if they are the primary country1 for at least one language in the family.

Each of these families has at least 5% of the world’s languages, and together account for two-thirds of all languages. Niger-Congo and Austronesian are the two largest from this perspective, each with over 1,000 languages due to the incredible language diversity in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, respectively.

These six families also make up five-sixths of the world’s population. Based on speaker count, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan are the largest two language families, with over 1.6 billion speakers between them. The two most spoken languages are in these families – English is classified as Indo-European, and Mandarin Chinese is classified as Sino-Tibetan.

  1. When a language is spoken in more than one country, we designate one of the countries as primary. Usually this is the country of origin of the language or the country where most of the language users are located.


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