There are 7.2 billion people living on earth and 7,102 languages between them. But what’s the breakdown of speakers per language? South China Morning Post journalist and graphic artist Alberto Lucas López created an eye-opening infographic on what we claim as our mother tongue.
Twenty-three languages top out the list by a large margin, claiming 4.1 billion of the Earth’s speakers and a minimum of 50 million native speakers each. Of course, within these macro-languages, very specific dialects are included; Chinese, most notably, contains 13 distinct dialects. (For this, the infographic has been criticized– the two most prevalent Chinese dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese, are so vastly different that respective speakers couldn’t actually understand each other.)
One of the coolest parts of the graphic is the breakdown of exactly how many countries speak the top 23 languages. We may think of English as the world’s language, but Arabic and Spanish have the greatest diversity with 22 and 21 countries, respectively. Interestingly, they share the most equitable distribution between them, unlike, say, French, English or Russian which have several countries represented but a very clear majority in the most populous country (i.e.: France, United States and Russian Federation).
What’s most interesting is the differentiation between languages learned and languages that native speakers consider a spoken “mother tongue.” Or to put it a different way, English is currently the most studied language globally, but it ranks third in a speaker’s first language.
Kinda makes you want to renew those efforts to parle français again, doesn’t it?
Photo Credit: South China Morning Post