There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different languages and variations of them in the world today. While many people want to assume that English is the most popular one spoken around the world, that very well may not be the case anymore. There’s also the fact that it can be difficult to determine exactly what qualifies as a “language”, as opposed to what doesn’t, because there are so many variables involved and no real guidelines set in place. Even a common language like English has at least a dozen variations around the world.
What Are the Most Popular Languages?
There are a lot of languages that are commonly known around the world. English is one of them, but it actually isn’t the single-most popular language based on population in the entire world. In fact, English actually comes in third place, behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, which is surprising to a number of people. Of course, there are a number of other familiar languages in the top-10 category, including Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Hindi.
European languages make their way into the top 20 of the most commonly spoken languages by population, with French and German taking the top spots. Italian comes in at number 22 and the list includes more than half a dozen forms of Chinese and Arabic, which are both very diverse languages with many sub-dialects. The hundreds of millions of people speaking these languages are hard to visualize, and statistics are difficult to make interesting. Check out this infographic for a visual representation of the most popular languages in the world.
Where Did Modern Languages Originate?
Modern language has not always been what it is today. Its origins are a topic of much controversy, as they have been for as many as 200 years. If you listen closely, many languages sound similar or have familiar dialects, because they are smaller subsets of larger languages, in the way that French and English are both Indo-European languages.
Of course, tracing modern language back to its roots is a relatively large undertaking. Fortunately, scientists used familiar methods from virus outbreak tracing to apply the same principles to languages, which allows them to see that all of these different languages, over 400 of them in fact, are part of the Indo-European family of languages.
Experts search languages for things known as cognates, which is just another word for a similarity that could point to common ancestry. By exploring the meaning of various basic vocabulary terms, they have been able to determine that words date back as far as the farming expansion in Anatolia around 8,000 to 9,500 years ago. There’s a lot of technical jargon involved in the process of tracing the origin of languages, but the basic process is about utilizing data to determine where language comes from much like they utilize DNA sequencing to identify people and/or remains in forensic science.
There are many theories about the origin of language, and much research is ongoing. As time goes on, it is likely that we will learn more about where modern language actually developed and how it came to evolve the way that it did around the world.
The Top Three: Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and English
Of all the languages in the world, these three are spoken by more than 1.7 billion people worldwide. Mandarin Chinese is the most popular simply due to the fact that China has such a dense population, and that many expats continue to speak their native language even when relocating to another country, unlike most who adopt the language of the country to where they relocate.
Mandarin is a simplified form of Chinese that is used throughout the majority of the southwest and northern regions of China. Mandarin also has a number of dialects, and it is spoken by as many as 70% of all native Chinese speakers. This language is part of the Sino-Tibetan family and comes from a combination of Old Chinese and Old Mandarin.
Known as a romance language, Spanish is spoken by almost 485 million people around the world and may rank either second or fourth on the list, depending on which information you use. Either way, it is among the top four and only second to Hindi on some reports. This language evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was spoken in Iberia during the fifth century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Spanish has many of its own sub-dialects and languages and has gathered many of its own words from other romance languages. This is also one of only six official languages clearly dictated by the United Nations and is used as an official language by a number of international organizations.
English is spoken by only 360-400 million people. That might still sound like a lot but remember again that it’s less than half of those who speak Mandarin Chinese. This language first appeared in England during early medieval times and has become a global language since. Part of the West Germanic family, this language is spoken primarily throughout the United States and many areas of Europe, and even as far around the world as South Africa and Australia.
English has a history of over 1,400 years, dating back to Old English and Middle English before evolving into the language that it is today. While it came from the British Isles, it has made its way around the world and back again, being adopted as an official language by the United Nations and plenty of international organizations.
Language is Continually Evolving
Language is how the world communicates. Today, the available technology makes it easier than ever for people to communicate between different languages, but there are many people who already speak one of the most popular languages in the world. As populations and countries begin to change over time, it is likely that the top three languages spoken will rearrange themselves, although it’s expected that English will remain on the list for some time. Of course, considering that more than twice as many people speak Mandarin Chinese as English, that’s going to be a sure leader for years to come, as well.
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