In honor of International Mother Language Day—created to promote linguistic diversity and preservation—check out this beautiful and very detailed chart of the world’s languages. A lot of the data might surprise you!
It’s too big too fit here, but below is a little snapshot to give you an idea.
Here are some fun and colorful language infographics that do fit here!
As the name suggests, the massive Indo-European family includes every language from northern India through Iran and nearly all of Europe between Portugal and Russia (with Hungarian, Estonian, and Finnish being notable exceptions).
The language with the most speakers is, probably not surprisingly, English; about 15 percent of humanity can speak!
However, the vast majority of people who speak English learn it as a second language (as you might have noticed with the top infographic). Here are the languages with the most native speakers compared to second language (2L) speakers:
Here’s an interesting breakdown from the source:
Nearly 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, with the ability to switch between two languages with ease.
From the data, second language (L2) speakers can be calculated by looking at the difference between native and total speakers, as a proportion of the total. For example, 66% of English speakers learned it as a second language.
Swahili surprisingly has the highest ratio of L2 speakers to total speakers—although it only has 16 million native speakers, this shoots up to 98 million total speakers. Overall, 82% of Swahili speakers know it as a second language.
Swahili is listed as a national or official language in several African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s likely that the movement of people from rural areas into big cities in search of better economic opportunities, is what’s boosting the adoption of Swahili as a second language.
Indonesian is another similar example. With a 78% proportion of L2 speakers compared to total speakers, this variation on the Malay language has been used as the lingua franca across the islands for a long time. In contrast, only 17% of Mandarin speakers know it as a second language, perhaps because it is one of the most challenging languages to learn
Tragically, the U.N. has good reason to dedicate a day for the preservation of languages: The 100th most common language is “Sanaani Spoken Arabic”, spoken primarily in Yemen by around 11 million people. Yet there are a total of 7,111 languages still spoken today, meaning the vast majority of them—all but 100—have less than 11 million speakers.
In fact, approximately 3,000 all languages (40 percent) are at risk of being lost, or are already in the process of dying out today. (By one estimate, a language dies every two weeks.) Fortunately, growing awareness and advanced technology are helping to document and preserve these unique aspects of human existence, and all the unique ideas, stories, and concepts they each contain.