So many languages

There are 7,151 languages spoken in the world today. You might think that this number is just one of many dubious statistics that come you way. I wouldn’t blame you. But the number of 7,151 comes from the Ethnologue which is recognized by the International Standards Organization as an official list of the languages of the world. The Ethnologue supplies the codes your phone and computer use to properly display Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Arabic, Hebrew and all other languages. Governments, tech companies, schools, researchers and many more rely on it and find it reliable.

But you might ask if there are really that many languages or if we are just counting dialects. The ethnologue lists dialects too, at least many of them. They number at least ten times more than the 7,000+ languages. For example, English as it is spoken in the UK and North America is listed as one language with many dialects.

Or you might ask if these languages are related to each other. They are – the same way English, German, Romanian, Hindi and Pashtune are related to each other. Actually, those languages are very closely related. But being related does not mean that by understanding one you can understand another.

People have long asked why there are so many languages. There are several theories, but no one really knows. I think that it has to do with identity. For many people their language is part of their identity or status, so they jealously guard it. A bit like English teachers who rail against bad English to preserve what they consider the real thing. Whatever theory is right, we have many languages.

You may have heard that many languages are dying. That’s true. UNESCO says that 2,500 are endangered. Even if all of them became extinct, we would still be left with about 4,500 languages. That’s still a lot of languages

2 thoughts on “So many languages

  1. Ed, of the remaining languages, is there a figure for those who do not have the Bible in the language (or even an alphabet.


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