Humans of the world come from all kinds of diverse and disparate environments. Nothing highlights this fact more than the study of linguistics. Through this study, one can discover the total number of languages in the world by region.
As our understanding and knowledge of the world has increased we have discovered just how little we know. The simple question of “how many spoken languages in the world are there?” is not an easy one to answer. In the early 20th century it was estimated that this number was about 1,000. It is now currently estimated that the number of languages in the world is 7,099 (this changes frequently).
Did over 6,000 new languages begin in the last century? It’s not likely. What’s more likely is that our understanding and documentation of all these disparate languages became more advanced. Complex cultures in far flung locations have been detailed, with their languages being recognized as unique to their civilization.
Total Number of Languages in the World by Region
The total number of existing languages is not spread evenly throughout the world. Asia and Africa account for a combined 62% of the worlds languages. On the other hand, Europe only accounts for a tiny 4%.
The Americas and Pacific Islands account for 15% and 18% respectively, though both these regions have the lowest average number of speakers for their languages. Both the regions average around 1,000 speakers, compared to over 30,000 speakers for Africa and Europe.
An interesting fact about the number of world languages is that this figure is declining. Almost 40% of the worlds languages are considered endangered. This classification arises when a culture begins to stop teaching the language to children in favor of teaching a more dominant language (such as English for example).
Once this occurs, it’s only a matter of time before the language disappears with the current native speakers. While the death of a language is not the same as the death of a species, it still carries some enormous implications. Cultures and traditions are formed around languages. When that disappears a community’s connection to the past is lost and with it a treasure trove of history and knowledge.