Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A most surprising fact, given the last few posts

English is the most widely-spoken language in the world.

According to the United Nations, there are nearly 8,000,000,000 people in the world today. They speak a total of 7,151 languages according to Ethnologue. These languages could not sound more different from one another. When God confounded the people's language at the Tower of Babel (a Judaeo-Christian story from the book of Genesis), He did a really good job of it. For example, a certain vegetable referred to in American English as eggplant is called aubergine in French and melixhan in Albanian. When people in Germany say Froeliche Weinacht, and people in Sweden say God Jul, and people in Australia say Merry Christmas, they all mean the same thing. I don't know about you but I find this fascinating.

Geographical proximity doesn't seem to matter eirher. People in New Zealand express gratitude by saying thank you, in Japan by saying arigato (ah-ree-GAH-toh), and in China by saying xèxèi ni (sheh-sheh nee).

Here are the 12 most-widely-spoken languages in the world according to Berlitz:

  1. English (1,132 million speakers)
  2. Mandarin Chinese (1,117 million speakers)
  3. Hindi (615 million speakers)
  4. Spanish (534 million speakers)
  5. French (280 million speakers)
  6. Arabic (274 million speakers)
  7. Bengali (265 million speakers)
  8. Russian (258 million speakers)
  9. Portuguese (234 million speakers)
  10. Indonesian (199 million speakers)
  11. Urdu (170 million speakers)
  12. German (132 million speakers)
If you simply can't live without knowing what the 13th most-widely-spoken language in the world is, it's Japanese (128 million speakers).

Besides those 13, many other languages have millions of speakers as well. Ethnologue has documented 7,138 other languages currently spoken on this planet. Some have only a few speakers and are nearly extinct.

Can you feature a world at some future time when English or Chinese would be nearly extinct? It is mind-boggling to contemplate.


  1. There's one thing certain: when that happens it will not matter to you nor to me. I'm not sure, of course, but whilst Mandarin is the official language of China, millions of Chinese do not speak it but speak one of the other 302 languages spoken n the country. I recall being with a friend schooled in China whose father was a diplomat. We went into a Chinese restaurant in Liverpool (which has a very large Chinese population) and he spoke to the staff in Mandarin. They didn't understand a word. None spoke Mandarin and explained the situation is very good English (with a perfect Liverpool accent).

    1. Graham, I'm not sure either, but my guess would be that the second most spoken Chinese language is Cantonese (probably not called that nowadays). I can remember when the only type of Chinese cuisine served in the U.S. was Cantonese, mostly sweet-and-sour dishes. Some of us over here were so uninformed; I once heard a colleague at the office refer to Szechuan cusine as Saskatchewan.


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