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The imperium of languages

July, 27 2009 Leave a comment

The less we know about something, the more we see it as simple. Or, alternatively, we tend to simplify things in order to be able to conceptualise them. I say this because people don’t usually think of other countries or regions as diverse but something culturally monolithic. This is specially true when we talk about languages.

Most of people have never realised how diverse this world is in terms of cultures and languages. For instance, unless you live there, you may understand China as a place where ethnic Chinese people live speaking one single language, Chinese. Nothing closest to the reality: China is home to at least 55 ethnic groups that speak about 58 different languages, some of them mutually intelligible.

But, what is even worst is that people don’t usually know about how diverse their own states are. Take as an example Spain. Beside Spanish, there’s this many languages (not dialects!): Galician, A fala, Asturian, Leonese, Extremaduran, Basque, Aragones, Aranese, Calo and Catalan. But if you ask any spanish how many languages exist in the country you’ll receive this answer -“4: Spanish, Galician, Basque and Catalan “-, at the most!.

A visit to ethnologue is a healthy thing. There you can find some statistics regarding languages in the world:

Area Living languages Number of speakers
Count Percent Count Percent Mean Median
Africa 2,110 30.5 726,453,403 12.2 344,291 25,200
Americas 993 14.4 50,496,321 0.8 50,852 2,300
Asia 2,322 33.6 3,622,771,264 60.8 1,560,194 11,100
Europe 234 3.4 1,553,360,941 26.1 6,638,295 201,500
Pacific 1,250 18.1 6,429,788 0.1 5,144 980

Totals
6,909 100.0 5,959,511,717 100.0 862,572 7,560

With 6909 languages known, each country is home to an average of 35 languages. We all have a lot to learn … about our own neighbours.

Categories: i18n, Random Toughts