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The Population, Dominance and Death Vol.1 - Natural Languages -

Natural Languages


1. The Number of Natural Languages in the World

As of 2018, there are 195 countries in the world, according to worldometers.
Then, how many natural languages*1 exist?
Ethnologue says it is 7,097 languages as of 2018.

The Intrepid Guide estimates the language distribution too.

Areas Language Distribution
Asia 2,296
Africa 2,139
America 1,062
the Pacific 1,313
Europe 287

2. The Most Spoken Natural Language

What natural languages are spoken most today?
World Economic Forum released the Top 10 Rankings on 22 Feb 2018.

Position Languages Population of Native Speakers(unit: millions) Main Areas*2
1 Chinese(mandarin) 1,284 China, Singapore, Taiwan
2 Spanish 437 Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia
3 English 372 United States, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Philippines, Bangladesh, United Kingdom
4 Arabic 295 Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia
5 Hindi 260 Fiji, India, Pakistan
6 Bengali 242 Bangladesh, India
7 Portuguese 219 Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola
8 Russian 154 Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan
9 Japanese 128 Japan
10 Lahnda 119 India, Pakistan

Mandarin Chinese won No.1, whereas English ranked at the 3rd best.

Once those who speak English as the second / a foreign language were to be included, the number would reach up to 1.5 billion people.

3. A Cosmopolitan Language

3-1. Linguistic Assets

Present-Day English*3 has the following 3 assets, which have absolutely contributed to establish its position as a global language as it is today.

Number Assets Details
1 Cosmopolitan vocabulary Borrowings from other languages all over the world provides a variety of expressions and familiarity
2 Natural gender Agreement with noun's gender
3 Infectional simplicity Observed only in pronouns(e.g. I-my-me, they-their-them)

3-2. Political and Economic Power

If a country is politically and economically powerful, either is the language.
The History of English talks about the history.

Countries where English is an official language
As we have seen, a global language arises mainly due to the political and economic power of its native speakers.
It was British imperial and industrial power that sent English around the globe between the 17th and 20th Century.
The legacy of British imperialism has left many counties with the language thoroughly institutionalized in their courts, parliament, civil service, schools and higher education establishments.
In other counties, English provides a neutral means of communication between different ethnic groups.

But it has been largely American economic and cultural supremacy - in music, film and television; business and finance; computing, information technology and the Internet; even drugs and pornography - that has consolidated the position of the English language and continues to maintain it today.
American dominance and influence worldwide makes English crucially important for developing international markets, especially in the areas of tourism and advertising, and mastery of English also provides access to scientific, technological and academic resources which would otherwise be denied developing countries. Source: The History of English

The British Empire used to be the most powerful in the Middle Ages, especially because of Industrial Revolution.
The United States took over the position afterward.
In other words, authority and power were taken over from an English speaking country to another.

Since then, English has had an influence on public services, broad communications and cultural development.

3-3. Arrogance of some native English Speakers

English is actually spoken in wider communications today, which contributes to mutual understandings among people from different cultures.
Unfortunately, some haughty native speakers make the most of English as a barrier.
It might be because political and economic power of English makes them feel like they are privileged by nature.
This is absolutely a bad effect of the established global language.

The news below renders it.


4. Death of a Natural Language

4-1. The Factor of Death

Latin is a dead languages, which has already ceased to change and evolve.

What kills a language?
Alpha Omega Translations defines the dead languages as below.

The true definition of a dead language is one that has no native speakers left.
There are several different ways that it can happen, but the bottom line is that if there is only one person left who speaks the language as their native tongue and fluently, then the language has died. Source: Alpha Omega Translations

It reveals that languages cannot survive without more than 2 speakers.

4-2. By-product

Michal L. Geis, author of Language and Communication, pointed out that people consciously or unconsciously make the most of the following functions which natural languages have.

Category Sub-Category Action
Social Activities Exchange of information
Asking questions
Making assertions
Regulation and coordination of human behaviour
Making requests
Giving orders
Making offers
Making promises
Mental Activities Organizing knowledge of the world
Examining how our languages classify the things we talk about
Reasoning and inference-drawing

He also mentioned George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eight-Four as follows.

George Orwell
Orwell believed that if something is not sayable, it will not be thinkable.
In his novel, he told of a society that tried to limit language by getting rid of certain words(e.g. freedom or justice) and restricting the meaning of others.
The purpose was to make certain political ideas unsayable in the hope that they would become unthinkable. Source: Language and Communication

In Nineteen Eight-Four, the party of Big Brother restricted political thoughts by means of Newspeak, which lessened its vocabulary every year and prevented the public from having anti-party ideology.
It suggests that people cannot shape their thoughts without a language.

It can be said that people lose their ideologies when a language breathes its last.

5. Conclusion

  1. The Number of Natural Languages in the World: 7,097 as of 2018
  2. The Most Spoken Natural Language: [All Speakers] English(approx. 1.5 billion) / [Native Speakers Only] Mandarin Chinese(approx. 1.3 billion)
  3. Linguistic Assets of English: Cosmopolitan vocabulary / Natural gender / Infectional simplicity
  4. Political and Economic Power: Taken over from the British Empire to the United States
  5. The Factor of Death of a Natural Language: Less than 2 speakers
  6. By-product of Death of a Natural Language: Loss of ideology

6. Notes

  • 1. Dead languages are NOT included here(e.g. Latin).
  • 2. Refer to Wikipedia and Babbel Magazine.
  • 3. English has 4 periods: Old English, Middle English, Modern English and Present-Day English.

7. Reference