https://www.duolingo.com/jzsuzsi

What languages were the most spoken 100 years ago?

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Hello,

I read a nice post here a few weeks ago: "What language will we be speaking in a 100 years?" https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/30303550

I was thinking I would swap the question :)

If you look up which languages are the most spoken now, there are two options: 1. Number of native speakers. 2. Number of total speakers. Both ways English, Spanish and Mandarin take the top 3 places. (But in different order) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG3r5N6ES3M

Do you have data for older times? It does not have to be exactly 100 years, I am also interested in 130, 150, 200 years ago...

5 days ago

26 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/TheLord2k1
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well, reversing the question was a brilliant idea to find an answer to the first question !

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pkaragoulis
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From "Immigration and Language Diversity in the United States": "According to the 1910 census, which counted a national population of 92 million, 10 million immigrants reported a mother tongue other than English or Celtic (Irish, Scotch, Welsh), including 2.8 million speakers of German, 1.4 million speakers of Italian, 1.1 speakers of Yiddish, 944,000 speakers of Polish, 683,000 speakers of Swedish, 529,000 speakers of French, 403,000 speakers of Norwegian, and 258,000 speakers of Spanish."

Link to paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4092008/

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FredrikVC
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So the USA (which is not the world) had about 11% of the population not speaking English as their primary language. According to a very quick Google search, that percentage has increased to 21% now.

Actually, the 10 million didn't include people who spoke Irish, Scotch, or Welsh. Those languages are not near cousins to English, they're just from the British Isles. Interesting display of bias there.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WweirdohH

that's where you're wrong buddo. The USA is the world.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jerbear347645

...and that is why the rest of the world hates americans!

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tatonka71
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I'm 90% sure it was sarcasm.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Revan899782

Yeah... I'm pretty sure that was a joke. No need to get so offended because of it. Not everything is 100% serious.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AniChan159

That's an oof there pal

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mike111251
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By "Scotch" I'm guessing you mean Scottish Gaelic (Celtic language, closely related to Irish and Manx) and not Scots (Germanic language, closely related to English)?

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Judit294350

"Scotch" is a drink not a language

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/odish42
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I don't know. If you drink enough of it, the slurring can become it's own language. :)

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mike111251
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lol

3 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/merkavar

I would guess 100 years ago it would likely be very similar with English spanish and mandarin.

The thing that made these languages so popular globally happened hundreds of years early with colonisation by the British and spanish. Also China was most populated country at that time also.

I think you would have to go back 300-500 years to see changes to the top 3 languages.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ash.Purple

All I can do is compare population sizes of countries since 1950, which is likely correlating closely to the main language of each country:

https://i.imgur.com/hp5koQk.gif

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FredrikVC
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The top twenty list of languages by speaker according to Babel is:

  • English
  • Mandarin
  • Spanish
  • Hindi-Urdu
  • Arabic
  • Bengali
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Malay
  • French
  • German
  • Swahili
  • Japanese
  • Punjabi
  • Persian
  • Javanese
  • Turkish
  • Tamil
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese

Interestingly, this also comes up to about half of the world's population. The rest speak the other approximately 5,980 languages.

I don't think the positions have changed all that much, but that's just a guess. Further down there were probably some changes in rankings. (For instance, I think Russian has been dropping since the end of the Cold War.)

I chose the language I'm working on based on the number of counties that use it as an official language: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_the_number_of_countries_in_which_they_are_recognized_as_an_official_language

If I followed that list, my next language would be Arabic. But subsequently I found the article on Power Languages, which has modified my approach: https://travels.fredrikvladimircoulter.com/2019/01/28/what-language-should-you-take-my-two-cents/

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Firetrix

That might be true today but do you think it’s the same for 100 years ago?

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/baerghest
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I suspect both Hindi and Mandarin have grown disproportionally, largely because of vast improvements in universal education in China and India. Many internal immigrants in both countries may also have adopted their local Koiné. The populations of native English, German, French and Russian speakers have not grown much in the past 100 years, most of the population growth in those areas being late 1800s. I am uncertain how much Latin American Spanish and Portuguese have grown, but Latin America has seen a significant population increase. South-East Asia and much of Africa saw significant population growth in the second half of the 20th century, meaning that Vietnamese, Bengali, Malay, Javanese and Swahili have probably grown disproportionally in recent decades. If we reconstruct the situation cirka 1919 on this logic, the top 10 should include English, French and Russian, probably Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi, but quite possibly with French and Russian higher up than today. I suspect German and Japanse may also have been in the top 10, but barely.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FredrikVC
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One hundred years ago? French would have been a little higher in the number of people that spoke it because at the time, it was the lingua franca. Russian might have been lower.

The biggest issue would have been the lack of easily accessible language classes. Second languages would have been for the elites and those involved in international trade, which also was much less one hundred years ago. Hindi-Urdu would probably have dropped a lot since a lot of it's current power is based on the existence of a country called India. I'm also not sure if the language we call Turkish even existed in its current form with the spread that it has now. The Ottoman Empire would have just fallen, so that part of the world would have been in flux.

But the first three would have been the same one hundred years ago and now.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Judit294350

And German a smidgeon higher.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Maria_321-

This link is also interesting. According to it, Hindi is third most spoken language, ahead of Spanish. It ranks them as: English, Mandaran Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian. This doesn’t answer for the past, but is still interesting.

List of languages by total number of speakers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Firetrix

I didn’t find much from a quick search but if I had to guess I would imagine English and German would be among the most widely spoken languages 100 years ago.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hubert802318
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100 years ago?

or even further?

I can only talk about europe, but it was quite complicated.

  1. the local population spoke their local dialect of the regional common languages. there are maps for france, germany, austria-hungaria, etc.

  2. clerics spoke latin. the whole catholic church was using latin and to a certain extent, italian.

  3. the lawyers and solicitors: they spoke latin aswell, even the lawyers and barristers in the US need to have a basic understanding in latin for many of the juridical terms.

  4. the kings, queens, emperors, etc: it was standard to speak french, aswell as the local languages (was quite challenging in austria-hungary).

  5. the langugages used in science: latin, french, german, english, italian, with french and german as the most important ones. russia was quite important too, but the other slavik languages not so much.

that system worked quite well for many centuries, english was rather unimportant, even in england, latin and french were quite important.

it was WW1, that ended much of that, and paved the way for english.

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Xia267
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I know that French was one of the top most spoken ones about 100 years ago....

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/alpha3099

I feel like 100 years ago, one can get some pretty basic guesses based on world colonization, which was still very much a major portion of the world, and how brutal each colonizing country was in wiping out local languages and in some cases populations, either intentionally or accidentally. At that point, colonization was coming to the end and the world was being divided back into control of the local people. Though not very well thought out due to the colonizers splitting up by their control, rather than the natural borders of culture, natural geography, and other considerations.

There would be many instances, like South America, where Spanish came to dominate and all other languages are not nearly as commonly used. There would also be instances like Senegal, where French only took hold in about 15% of the local population. But still 15% of the local population of Senegal speaking French is a lot of people, who don't live in France speaking the colonial language.

So just judging based on colonial maps and knowledge of the local dialects that can be different in countries like India and China that are still major issues today, it makes sense that those dialect differences were much bigger then than they are now, and someone speaking Mandarin in Shanghai would not be understood by someone speaking in the western portion of China.

So the natural rough guess would be that the European languages were spoken at a much higher percentage as a whole than languages originating on other continents, and I would guess English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Dutch, and German were all probably in the highest portions of the lists.

4 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BlakeLang4

Latin!

5 days ago
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