Translation Musings: How many languages are there?

Aug 4, 2015 | First Edition Translations, Language, Miscellaneous, Musings, Translation, Uncategorized

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedIn one of my previous blog posts I mentioned that it is impossible to tell exactly how many languages are spoken in the world. Let’s explore this question in a bit more detail!

I think we can all agree that in order to be able to count something, we need to know what we are counting. As strange as it may sound, there is still some debate going on about the exact definition of language. When do you consider a variant “only” a dialect and when can you say it’s a separate language? Of course, mutual intelligibility and other linguistic factors such as syntax and morphology play a huge role in distinguishing languages from dialects but we also need to consider social, cultural and even political aspects!

Another reason for not having an exact number of languages is the fact that there are still some unexplored parts of the world, such as the rainforests of Amazon and the high mountains of Papua New Guinea. There might still be some people living in remote places whose languages haven’t been included in the big language count.

According to Ethnologue: Languages of the World, the number of identified, living languages on the globe is 7,102. Would you have thought though that Europe can only claim 4% of the world’s tongues its own? The biggest diversity can be found in Asia where apparently 32.4% of all the languages are spoken. Surprisingly, Asia is also the home of the most widely spoken language, Mandarin with its estimated 848 million native speakers! The second one is Spanish and English only takes the third place.

Here at First Edition we regularly work with 45-50 languages but, of course, thanks to our large in-house database of professional translators, we can translate from and into many more. If you’d like to have a document translated into a lesser-known or rare language, don’t hesitate, just get in touch! We will leave no stones unturned in the search to find the right translator for your project.

(image: The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)