Saturday, 25 May 2013

How many languages are spoken in the world?

Cayapas natives, Ecuador
(Photo: UNHCR)
It is impossible to give a precise answer to the question - not even approximately. However, experts calculate that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 extant languages on the planet, of which only 600 are used by 100,000 or more people, this being the minimal number it is thought necessary to guarantee a language's medium-term survival. The languages that are at the top of the most-used list are: Mandarin Chinese (900m speakers), English (470m), Hindi (420m), Spanish (360m) and Russian (almost 300m). Studies show that the geographical distribution of language is far from equal: 32% of them are in Asia; America, North and South, holds 15%, while Europe and the Middle East, only 4%.>>>
There are many estimates, but among the more probable it is said that over 1,500 different tongues are used in Africa. One country on that continent, Cameroon, has 12 million inhabitants speaking no les than 270 languages. Nigeria registers almost 450. However, the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea communicate in 850 different languages, with a population of only 7.2 m.

Languages threatened with extinction, about 90% of the total, include Cayapa, of Ecuador, with just under 5,000 speakers, and Walmajari, spoken by under 1,000, and Zuni, of North America, used by some 6,000.

Dramatically closer to extinction, though, are Miwok, spoken by just 4 people in India, and Yidiny, of Australia, and used by about a dozen people. Kamas, once spoken only in the Ural mountains, disappeared with the death of the last man to use it, a 92 year old man who died in 1982. No other speakers have since appeared.

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