Did you know there ismore than 7,000 languages currently spoken worldwide?
This means that there are several languages that are widely used in each country – and several hundred in some countries!
Let’s take a look at the four most spoken countries: Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India.
Papua New Guinea
Official languages: 3 (Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, English)
Total languages: 840
Total Population: An estimated 8.7 million people
Papua New Guinea, an island nation in the southwestern Pacific, is the multilingual country on earth. Nearly 9 million people speak 840 active languages every day!
Of these, around 550 are “Papuan” languages. These are the oldest language group in Papua New Guinea and have been developing for about 40,000 years. These languages have no common root and are instead divided into dozens of unrelated families. Many of these languages have small language communities – the largest are Engan, Melpa, and Kuman, each with over 100,000 speakers.
There are also around 200 “Austronesian” languages that came to Papua New Guinea about 3,500 years ago, most likely from Taiwanese sources. Austronesian speakers generally inhabit the coastal regions and barrier islands, including the Trobriands and Buka, while Papuan speakers live mainly inland.
The arrival of English- and German-speaking colonists in the 19th century added further complexity to the country’s linguistic diversity. After independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea adopted three official languages:
- Tok Pisin: a Creole that combines the grammatical elements of several indigenous languages with German and English
- Hiri Motu: a simplified version of Motu, an Austonesian commercial language originally used by the people of the Port Moresby area
Official languages are selected and used by a country’s government. In Papua New Guinea, these and other common languages can facilitate communication between different language communities. However, their increasing popularity also carries the risk of losing the ancient languages that are still used across the country.
Official languages: 1 (Bahasa Indonesia)
Total languages: 712
Total Population: An estimated 270 million people
Indonesia is made up of almost 18,000 islands, of which around 6,000 are inhabited. The distribution of the population on these islands has resulted in a great linguistic diversity!
The official language is Bahasa Indonesia, a descendant of a Malay trade dialect that was adopted in the 1930s. About 20 million people speak Bahasa Indonesia as a first language and 140 million as a second language.
Indonesia is home to 270 million people and many ethnic groups, which accounts for the existence of over 700 languages across the country. Javanese or Jawa is the most common primary language spoken by over 30% of the population. There are hundreds of local dialects used across Indonesia and other commonly spoken languages are English and Dutch.
Official languages: 1 (English)
Total languages: 522
Total Population: An estimated 201 million people
Nigeria is a country on the west coast of Africa with over 200 million inhabitants and 500 different languages!
The languages of Nigeria are divided into three major language groups:
- Niger-Congo: divided into nine main branches, including the Kwa sub-group, the Ijoid sub-group, the Atlantic sub-group, the Benue-Congo sub-group (the Tiv, Jukun, Edo, Igbo, Igala, Idoma, Nupe, Gwari, Yoruba, Efik, Ibibio includes, Anang and Ekoi) and the Adamawa-Ubangi languages (such as Awak, Waja, Waka and Tula).
- Nilo Sahara: Kanuri, Bagirmi and Zerma
- Afro-Asian: Hausa, Margi and Bade
Most Nigerian languages, especially the Kwa subgroup, have been spoken in roughly the same places for about 4,000 years. Another member of the Niger-Congo language family, Igbo is spoken by approximately 24 million people, mainly in southeastern Nigeria.
Although English is the official language of Nigeria, Hausa is the most widely spoken language with around 35 million native speakers and 15 million speakers who have learned it as a second language.
Hausa belongs to the Afro-Asian language family and is also spoken by many people outside of Nigeria (as opposed to Igbo or Yoruba). Native speakers of the language are primarily located in northern Nigeria, Niger, and Chad.
Official languages: 2 (Hindi and English)
Total languages: 454
Total population: an estimated 1.3 billion people
India has the largest population on the list, with more than 1.3 billion people. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 languages belonging to four language families:
- Indian: Assamese, Bengali (Bangla), Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmir, Konkani, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi and Urdu
- Dravidian: Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu belong to the Dravidian language family; and of the three remaining languages,
- Tibetan-Burmese: Manipuri (Meitei) and Bodo
- Munda: Santali
Hindi is the official language of the central government in India, with English being the temporary official language. In addition, there are two official classical languages: Tamil and Sanskrit.
Hindi is the fourth most common mother tongue in the world and is spoken by 528 million people in India, or about 41% of the country’s population. Hindi, a descendant of Sanskrit, has been influenced by several languages over the centuries, including Dravidian languages, Arabic, Portuguese, English, Persian, and Turkish.
After Hindi, the most widely spoken languages in India are Bengali (97 million speakers), Marathi (83 million speakers), Telugu (81 million speakers) and Tamil (67 million speakers).
A multilingual world
In countries where so many different languages are spoken, people often learn a second and even a third language in order to communicate with others. In India, for example, more than a quarter of the population is bilingual – and in urban areas the numbers are even higher: 44% are bilingual and 15% are trilingual.
Speaking multiple languages has been shown to have tremendous benefits for the brain, including improving language and communication skills and even reducing cognitive decline due to aging. This is good news because around half of the world’s people speak at least two languages!
And while Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India are the four countries with the highest number of different languages, each country has a unique combination of languages to discover.
No matter where you live, there are many different languages around you. If you wanted to improve your language skills, now is a good time to start! Learn more at rosettastone.com.