The numbers of languages in
There are about 6,000 to 7,000
languages on earth today. Maybe more,
maybe fewer, it depends on the way we
count, on what we consider as a
language, as a dialect…
3,000 about to be extinct
• Language existed long before writing.
• With the exception of the Sign Languages used
by the deaf, and written languages,
the languages with which most of us are
familiar rely on the medium of sound.
• For instance, children are explicitly taught to
read and write sometime after they acquire a
spoken language, and many cultures have
never employed writing systems.
• It is remarkable that children seem to be
innately disposed to perceive the sounds of
• Children are also innately disposed towards
producing speech sounds.
• For spoken varieties of language, this
includes the problem of control of the
muscles of the vocal tract (lungs, throat,
tongue, lips) responsible for making the
• History of the English Language
• All languages change with time. A
comparison of Chaucer's English,
Shakespere's English and Modern
English shows how a language can
change over several hundred years.
Modern English spoken in Britain,
North America and Australia uses
different words and grammar.
• English is a West Germanic language
with heavy influence from Old Norse,
Old French, and other Romance
languages. English is widely spoken
around the world due to previous
British exploration and colonization
and later American expansion and
cultural influence, including the
• A language family is a grouping of linguistically
linked languages, stemming from a common
ancestral mother-language called Protolanguage.
• Most languages in the world belong to a specific
family. Languages that have no demonstrable
relation with others, and cannot be classified
within a specific family, are generally known as
• Creole languages are the only ones to be neither
isolates, nor members of a linguistic family. They
form their own different type of languages.
The Amerind Family (South
• The language map of South America
includes some of the North American sub-
families, and adds a few more. Well known
languages include Quechua (Inca), Guarani,
and Carib. The Andean language sub-
family (which includes Quechua) numbers
nearly nine million speakers.
nearly 600 languages,
with more than 20
(North and South American
Most Widely Spoken Languages
in the World
• Mandarin Chinese tops the list of most
popular world languages, with over a
Language Number of speakers (Approx.)
• 1. Chinese (Mandarin) 1,213,000,000
• 2. Spanish 329,000,000
• 3. English 328,000,000
• 4. Arabic 221,000,000
• 5. Hindi1
• 6. Bengali 181,000,000
• 7. Portuguese 178,000,000
• 8. Russian 144,000,000
• 9. Japanese 122,000,000
• 10. German 90,000,000
Source: Ethnologue, 16th Edition.
1. Encompasses multiple dialects.
Distribution of languages by area
of origin (Part of the Ethnologue, 16th Edition,
M. Paul Lewis, Editor)
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
6,909 100.0 5,959,511,717 100.0 862,572 7,560
• 473 of the languages listed in the
Ethnologue are classified as nearly
extinct. They are classified in this way
when "only a few elderly speakers are
• The entries below give just the known
• Africa (46 total)
• The Americas (182 total)
• Asia (84 total)
• Europe (9 total)
• The Pacific (152 total)
Every other week, somewhere
on Earth, a language dies.
Why is it important that we
safeguard linguistic diversity?
What do we lose when a
A language is much more than a
means of communication; it is the
vector of a way of thinking, a
culture, the depository of a
people’s history, its mythology, its
cosmogony, its music…It is not
only words are lost when a
language disappears, but an
entire perception of the world.
The World's 10 most influential
Languages by George Weber
• The formula used to calculate the
importance of each language
The HISTORY of writing
• The transfer of more complex information,
ideas and concepts from one individual to
another, or to a group, was the single most
advantageous evolutionary adaptation for
species preservation. As long ago as 25,000-
30,000 years BP, humans were painting
pictures on cave walls. Whether these
pictures were telling a "story" or
represented some type of "spirit house" or
ritual exercise is not known.
• The advent of a writing system, however, seems
to coincide with the transition from hunter-
gatherer societies to more permanent agrarian
encampments when it became necessary to
count ones property, whether it be parcels of
land, animals or measures of grain or to
transfer that property to another individual or
another settlement. We see the first evidence
for this with incised "counting tokens" about
9,000 years ago in the neolithic fertile crescent.
• Around 4100-3800 BCE, the tokens began to be
symbols that could be impressed or inscribed in
clay to represent a record of land, grain or
cattle and a written language was beginning to
develop. One of the earliest examples was found
in the excavations of Uruk in Mesopotamia at a
level representing the time of the crystallization
of the Sumerian culture.
• Eventually, the pictographs were stylized,
rotated and in impressed in clay with a wedge
shaped stylus to become the script known as
• For the next step toward the
development of an alphabet, we must go
to Egypt where picture writing had
developed sometime near the end of the
4th millennium BC.
What is writing?
• Writing is a method of representing
language in visual or tactile form.
• Writing systems use sets of symbols to
represent the sounds of speech, and
may also have symbols for such things
as punctuation and numerals.
• First text in Castilian
• Emilianenses Glosses
are small hand-
realized in several
languages ( Latin,
Romance and euskera
medieval ), between
lines or in the
margins of some
passages of the Latin
Types of writing system
• Writing systems can be divided into two
main types: those that represent consonants
and vowels (alphabets), and those which
represent syllables (syllabaries), though
some do both. There are a number of
subdivisions of each type, and there are
different classifications of writing systems
in different sources.
• Abjads / Consonant Alphabets
-Abjads, or consonant alphabets, have
independent letters for consonants and may
indicate vowels using some of the
consonant letters and/or with diacritics.
-Alphabets, or phonemic alphabets, are
sets of letters that represent consonants
• The ñ came originally from the letter n (nn became
• The ñ does not exist in Latin and is the only Spanish
letter of Spanish origins.
• English uses "gn," such as in "signal" and
• Has been copied by two other languages: Basque
and Galician (vascuense y gallego).
• Syllabic Alphabets / Abugidas
-Syllabic alphabets, alphasyllabaries or
abugidas are writing systems in which the
main element is the syllable.
-Syllables are built up of consonants, each of
which has an inherent vowel, e.g. ka, kha, ga,
-A syllabary is a phonetic writing system
consisting of symbols representing syllables.
-A syllable is often
made up of a consonant
plus a vowel or a single
• Semanto-phonetic writing systems
-The symbols used in semanto-phonetic
writing systems often represent both sound
and meaning. As a result, such scripts
generally include a large number of symbols:
anything from several hundred to tens of
• Undeciphered writing systems
-Writing systems that have yet to be
deciphered or have only been partially
There is no such thing as one
language superior to another.
The importance of a language
can not be measured. Cultures can not also be
The Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is not either
better or worse than the Spanish spoken in Spain
The English spoken in England is not superior
than the English spoken in Belice.
Things to remember
Created by Irma Nydia Villanueva-Rivera
Spanish Teacher, Puerto Rico Department of Education