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Proportional Map of the World's Largest Languages

"There are 7 billion people on earth and about 7000 languages, but more than half of the world's population speaks one of just 23 languages. This infographic, created by Alberto Lucas Lopéz for the South China Morning Post, shows the relative size of speaker population for all the languages that have over 50 million speakers (based on data from Ethnologue). "

Full article here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/64594/proportional-map-worlds-largest-languages

June 10, 2015



For those like me who want to get a closer look at all of that tiny text, here's a link to the full resolution image: https://cdn3.scmp.com/sites/default/files/2015/05/27/languages.png

[deactivated user]

    thank you!


    Note that this map uses data that only counts the native speakers of a language! If you add in people's second languages, you can probably communicate with more than half of the world's population using less than 23 languages. I recently saw someone asking about that on Reddit, but we didn't manage to find any statistics on that. :)

    [deactivated user]

      English has almost 1 billion speakers, including the non-native, so, if you learn Chinese (+ than 1 billion), English and Spanish (almost 500 million), you could speak with more than 1/3 of the people on the planet!


      I bet if it factored both native and learned speakers combined then English would be the largest.


      I wouldn't be so sure of that! This list isn't that reliable, but still lists Mandarin significantly higher than English even when you look at the total number of speakers. Virtually everyone you know probably speaks English, but that isn't an accurate sample of the world's population - China is a huge country, for one thing, and in many countries people don't learn English by default.


      Well, that list also uses only L1 and L2 which is defined by wiki as "a language that is not the native language of the speaker, but that is used in the locale of that person". It does not cover actual foreign languages... And many people speak English as a foreign as you can see in the right column of the table in your article (1500 million (375 million L1 + 375 million L2 + 750 million FL)) as well as here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_language#Living_world_languages

      Again... It does not seem THAT reliable but at least, it accounts for the foreign language students. I somehow doubt that there are 500 mio, people who learned Mandarin as a foreign language when even Spanish, German and French combined are below 100 mio.!


      Whether it's plausible that 500,000,000 people have learned Mandarin as a foreign language depends somewhat on how you classify Chinese "dialects". By the mutual intelligibility criterion most of them would be classed as languages. Since pretty much everyone in China has to learn Mandarin in school the number 500,000,000 seems like it would be, if anything, an underestimate. Of course that's assuming we've adopted the classification I referred to earlier. If we don't then I can easily see how we still get a few hundred thousand. First of all, there are quite a few ethnic minority groups in China speaking languages which no one considers to be dialects of Chinese. They don't seem that large as a percentage of the total population, but they're still quite large in absolute terms. Those people also learn Mandarin in school. Then you have large numbers of people in other Asian countries who learn Chinese as their primary foreign language. It wouldn't surprise me at all if those two groups add up to more people than learn Spanish, German and French combined. Five times more seems somewhat unlikely, but not entirely impossible.


      500 mio as a foreign language.. So, people that live in an environment where the language is generally not used. But Mandarin is the official language of China even though not every person in China is a native speaker of Mandarin.

      People who are not native speakers but live in an environment where the language is used are already included in sheldolina's link as L2 speakers but FL speakers are not... That's the huge difference because English has so many FL speakers while Mandarin has a huge amount of L1 and L2 speakers.


      Are there really no African languages with more than 50 million speakers?


      Good point. I looked up languages of Africa to see if they gave numbers.

      Of the 1 billion Africans (in 2009), about 17 percent speak an Arabic dialect. About 10 percent speak Swahili [this is over the threshold but isn't the number of native speakers], the lingua franca of Southeast Africa; about 5 percent speak a Berber dialect; and about 5 percent speak Hausa, which serves as a lingua franca in much of the Sahel. Other important West African languages are Yoruba, Igbo and Fula. Major Horn of Africa languages are Amharic, Oromo and Somali. Important South African languages are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans.

      And then further down under number of speakers you find the top 5 most spoken languages and number of native speakers:

      Arabic 150,000,000
      French 96,200,000
      Hausa 34,000,000
      Yoruba 28,000,000
      Oromo 26,000,000

      No numbers were given for English though. So yeah, I guess there really are none with more than 50-million native speakers.


      Thanks, that's very interesting.

      I guess it is worth realizing that the major modern European languages really only became dominant within the last few centuries or so. If it had not been for the political and cultural consolidations that gave us France, Italy and Germany, we would have dozens of languages with a few million speakers, instead of French, Italian and German with over 50 million.

      Whether such a consolidation would have happened in Africa is unknown, but in any case it was prevented by European colonialism. Instead of nations coalescing around a few Western African languages, for example, they got French as a lingua franca.


      I'm actually not totally surprised by that. Colonialism has had long-lasting effects.


      That's interesting. 23 languages spoken by 4.1 billion. What's really surprising, though, is India featuring in the Portuguese map but completely missing from the English one :)


      Klingon HAS an entire planet, I don't remember the name, but thankfully it is not Earth.

      Esperanto was supposed to be Earth wide, but not yet.

      Languages with speakers with automatic weapons seem to fare better in users race than those that have only pistols and hunting rifles.

      The first word I ever learned consciously was come. ( As taught by Dick and Jane. ) Funny how the meanings of words change. Can't step in the same river twice, they say.


      I hate that Arabic is just considered one language. Grouping all the Arabic dialects under one language is just like grouping French, Spanish, Portuguese, and the other romantic languages into one.

      • 2253

      Ditto for Chinese. Just because someone living in a fishing village on the Fujian coast, or in Hong Kong for that matter, can read a newspaper printed in Beijing doesn't necessarily imply that he can speak any Mandarin or understand any spoken Mandarin.


      I agree. But we also have to recognize that the Arabic dialects are lumped together for political, ethnic, and religious reasons beyond the control of linguists who make the distinction between different languages.


      I get that, but for statistical and demographic purposes, saying that Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages is very misleading.


      Aww! Persian looks so pretty in blue !! ^_^


      Small correction : It is Telugu, not Telegu ;)


      Only 75 millions who speak french! In fact, there are more than 250-300 millions who speak it!

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