photo: krockenmitte/photocase

Geographical distribution of languages worldwide

English is spoken in England. German in Germany. But how far has which language actually spread?

English and French are often considered "world languages" in the Western world, but due to the high population figures in China and India, the national languages there are instead by far the most frequently spoken mother tongues in the world.

Although Spanish has only been taught in schools for a few decades, the language is even more widespread than English. The latter spread through the British Commonwealth globally, but primarily in small countries. Spanish, on the other hand, is extremely widespread in Central and South America.
Mother tongueSpokenOfficial languageWorldwide percentageWorldwide total
Chinese25 countries5 countries17.1 %1,350 M
Hindi8 countriesIndia7.3 %578 M
Spanish34 countries21 countries5.8 %455 M
English58 countries39 countries5.2 %412 M
Arabic33 countries22 countries4.7 %371 M
Bengali2 countriesBangladesh3.5 %279 M
Portuguese18 countries10 countries2.9 %228 M
Russian22 countries3 countries2.0 %157 M
Punjabi3 countries-1.9 %151 M
Japanese4 countriesJapan1.6 %126 M
Javanese1 country   -1.4 %108 M
Telugu1 country   -1.3 %101 M
Marathi1 country   -1.2 %99 M
French46 countries39 countries1.2 %98 M
German20 countries6 countries1.2 %96 M
Urdu3 countriesPakistan1.1 %89 M
Tamil5 countries2 countries1.1 %89 M
Vietnamese4 countriesVietnam1.1 %86 M
Korean6 countries2 countries1.0 %79 M
Turkish11 countries2 countries1.0 %78 M
Gujarati1 country   -0.8 %63 M
Italian16 countries3 countries0.8 %62 M
Persian3 countries2 countries0.8 %60 M
Hausa2 countries-0.7 %58 M
Malay7 countries4 countries0.7 %57 M
Kannada1 country   -0.7 %52 M
Pashto2 countriesAfghanistan0.7 %51 M
Yoruba2 countries-0.6 %47 M
Oriya1 country   -0.6 %45 M
Malayalam1 country   -0.6 %45 M

Decreasing linguistic diversity

There are currently around 6,500 languages in the world. The country with the most languages and dialects is probably Papua New Guinea, a country on the border between Asia and Australia with historically numerous trade relations in large parts of Asia, Australia and Oceania. There are said to be over 800 individual languages there. In the U.S. alone, over 300 different languages are spoken, about 170 of which originated in the Americas.

photo: krockenmitte/photocase It is noticeable that the density of languages around the equator is increasing significantly. In Central Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Northern South America, there are numerous different languages and dialects, the diversity of which does not occur in other regions. The reasons for this are primarily of a social and ecological nature. In regions with higher ecological risks and thus greater dependence on fellow human beings, there are more numerous and closer social ties. This results in a much smaller number of different languages. Conversely, this means that in small and fertile countries, more independent peoples with less economic dependence are formed.

Only 1,000 years ago, the number of languages worldwide was about 9,000. Due to increasing globalization, however, this number is steadily decreasing and is leading to linguistic homogeneity. It is assumed that in 2050, there will be only about 4,500 languages left, only 3,000 in 2100 and only 100 by the beginning of the 23rd century.

Language families

Not all languages are independent. Many languages are based on the same language family. For example, English as well as Dutch, Swedish and German belong to the Germanic languages, which in turn belong to the Indo-European language family. Depending on the interpretation, there are about 90-180 such language families. In addition, there are around 120 isolated languages that have actually developed independently.