Language Families with the Highest Number of Speakers

Indo-European languages are spoken by the highest number of people in the world.

What Is a Language Family?

The term language family is used to describe a number of related languages, which are believed to have developed from the same proto-language. Linguists call each descendant of the same language family a daughter language, and all speakers within a language family are part of a common speech community. Linguists have identified at least 135 living language families, and an additional 12 that are now extinct. This article examines which of these living language families have the largest common speech community, or the number of speakers.

Language Families with the Highest Number of Speakers

1. Indo-European Languages

The Indo-European language family is the largest in the world. It consists of 437 daughter languages and has an estimated 2.91 billion speakers across Europe and Asia. This number of speakers represents nearly half of the total global population. Some of the most widely used Indo-European languages include English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Punjabi, Bengali, and Hindustani. All of these modern languages descend from Proto-Indo-European, which developed during the Neolithic age. As the human population dispersed throughout the region, distance and geographic barriers created isolated pockets of civilizations. Over time, new languages and dialects formed. Some of the most important of these early languages include Latin, Mycenaean Greek, and Vedic Sanskrit.

2. Sino-Tibetan Languages

The Sino-Tibetan language family is the second largest in the world. It consists of 453 daughter languages and has around 1.268 billion speakers throughout Asia. Some of these languages are spoken only by small populations that live in remote locations. This isolation means that linguists have been unable to thoroughly research and document these languages. The most widely spoken of the Sino-Tibetan daughter languages are Tibetan, Burmese, and Chinese. Of these, Chinese and all of its variants and dialects have 1.3 billion speakers, more than any other language in the world. All modern-day Sino-Tibetan languages have evolved from the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language.

3. Niger-Congo Languages

The third largest language family in the world and the largest in Africa is the Niger-Congo. It consists of 1,524 daughter languages and has around 437 million speakers throughout Africa. This language family is further divided into 6 subgroups: Katla, Atlantic-Congo, Ijo, Dogon, Mande, and Rashad. Of the Niger-Congo languages, Swahili is the most widely used, with between 2 and 15 million native speakers and between 50 and 100 million second language speakers. It is the official language of Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other languages, however, have a larger number of native speakers, including Igbo, Shona, Yoruba, and Fula.

4. Austronesian Languages

The Austronesian language family is the fourth largest in the world in terms of the number of speakers. It is made up of 1,224 daughter languages and has approximately 386 million speakers spread throughout Oceania, Maritime Southeast Asia, and a few regions of mainland Asia. In terms of the number of languages, it is the second largest language family in the world and represents 20% of the tongues spoken in the world today. Some of the most widespread Austronesian languages include Javanese, Tagalog, and Malay. This language family once covered the largest area on earth, until it was surpassed by the Euro-Indonesian family during the era of European colonization.

Language Families With The Highest Number Of Speakers

RankLanguage FamilyCurrent SpeakersLocation
1Indo-European languages2,910,000,000Asia, Europe
2Sino-Tibetan languages1,268,000,000Asia
3Niger–Congo languages437,000,000Africa
4Austronesian languages386,000,000Asia, Oceania
5Afro-Asiatic languages380,000,000Africa, Asia
6Dravidian languages229,000,000Asia
7Turkic languages170,000,000Asia, Europe
8Japonic languages129,000,000Asia
9Austroasiatic languages103,000,000Asia
10Tai–Kadai languages80,800,000Asia
11Koreanic languages77,200,000Asia
12Nilo-Saharan languages42,800,000Africa
13Mande languages27,003,000Africa
14Uralic languages20,600,000Asia, Europe
15Miao-Yao languages9,330,000Asia
16Quechuan languages8,946,020South America
17Mongolic languages6,900,000Asia
18Mayan languages6,522,182North America
19Tupian languages5,026,502South America
20Kartvelian languages4,850,000Asia, Europe
21Northeast Caucasian languages4,155,258Asia, Europe
22Trans–New Guinea3,540,024New Guinea
23Songhay languages3,228,000Africa
24Aymaran languages2,808,740South America
25Ubangian languages2,500,000Africa
26Uto-Aztecan languages1,910,442North America
27Oto-Manguean languages1,678,214North America
28Northwest Caucasian languages1,655,000Asia, Europe
29Arawakan languages699,709South America
30Khoe languages337,337Africa
31Chibchan languages306,267South America
32Totonacan languages282,250North America
33West Papuan languages269,425New Guinea
34Araucanian languages262,000South America
35Algic languages214,768North America
36Na-Dene languages208,552North America
37Misumalpan languages192,050South America
38Sepik languages162,704New Guinea
39Mixe–Zoquean languages153,612North America
40Kadu languages120,600Africa
41Choco languages114,600South America
42Torricelli languages113,705New Guinea
43Eskimo–Aleut languages108,705North America
44Kx'a languages104,000Africa
45Jivaroan languages89,630South America
46East Bird's Head – Sentani languages71,730New Guinea
47South Bougainville languages68,700New Guinea
48Carib languages67,376South America
49Ramu – Lower Sepik languages65,830New Guinea
50Matacoan languages60,280South America
51Tungusic languages55,800Asia
52Koman languages50,000Africa
53Guaicuruan languages49,350South America
54Ge languages44,335South America
55Pano–Tacanan languages (proposed)42,014South America
56Siouan–Catawban languages33,399North America
57Yanomam languages31,670South America
58Tucanoan languages30,308South America
59Barbacoan languages24,800South America
60Pama–Nyungan languages23,539Australia
61Mascoian languages20,728South America
62Salivan languages18,630South America
63Witotoan languages17,478South America
64Border languages17,080New Guinea
65Trans-Fly – Bulaka River languages16,312New Guinea
66Tor–Kwerba languages16,195New Guinea
67Muskogean languages15,640North America
68Central Solomons languages14,810New Guinea
69Iroquoian languages14,543North America
70Baining languages13,800New Guinea
71Keres languages10,670North America
72Cahuapanan languages10,370South America
73North Bougainville languages10,020New Guinea
74Nimboran languages8,500New Guinea
75Lakes Plain languages8,455New Guinea
76East Geelvink Bay languages8,005New Guinea
77Yuat languages7,700New Guinea
78Hokan languages7,171North America
79Luorawetlan languages6,875Asia
80Eastern Trans-Fly languages6,760New Guinea
81West New Britain languages6,550New Guinea
82Tanoan languages6,000North America
83Esmerelda–Yaruro languages (proposed)6,000South America
84Zamucoan languages5,900South America
85Arauan languages5,870South America
86Peba–Yaguan languages5,700South America
87Skou languages5,665New Guinea
88Mosetenan languages5,320South America
89Mairasi languages4,385New Guinea
90Penutian (proposed)3,513North America
92Puinavean languages3,000South America
93Senagi languages2,960New Guinea
94Nadahup languages2,894South America
95Fas languages2,840New Guinea
96Piawi languages2,600New Guinea
97Tuu languages2,500Africa
98Chapacuran languages2,019South America
99Left May languages2,005New Guinea
100Southern Daly languages1980Australia
101Salishan languages1,969North America
102Arnhem Land languages (proposed)1811Australia
103Kwomtari languages1,510New Guinea
104Gunwinyguan languages1314Australia
105Mashakalian languages1,270South America
106Uru–Chipaya languages1,200South America
107Nambiquaran languages (5)1,068South America
108Yukaghir languages740Asia
109Wakashan languages710North America
110Hodï languages640South America
111Andamanese languages501Asia
112Mura languages360South America
113Jicaquean languages350South America
114Ongan languages296Asia
115Mirndi languages261Australia
116Yeniseian languages211Asia
117Djeragan languages130Australia
118Wororan languages108Australia
119Bunaban languages100Australia
120Nyulnyulan languages94Australia
121Zaparoan languages90South America
122Arutani–Sape languages (proposed)47South America
123Caddoan languages46North America
124Yok-Utian languages35North America
125Limilngan languages23Australia
126Western Daly languages21Australia
127Alacalufan languages12South America
128Katukinan languages10South America
129Chimakuan languages10North America
130Katembri–Taruma languages10South America
131Lule–Vilela languages10South America
132Wagaydyic languages5Australia
133Yabutian languages3South America
134Tiniguan languages1South America
135Wintuan languages1North America
136Jirajaran languagesextinctSouth America
137Yukian languagesextinctNorth America
138Hibito–Cholon languagesextinctSouth America
139Lencan languagesextinctSouth America
140Otomakoan languagesextinctSouth America
141Catacaoan languagesextinctSouth America
142Charruan languagesextinctSouth America
143Chimuan languagesextinctSouth America
144Chon languagesextinctSouth America
145Tequiraca–Canichana languagesextinctSouth America
146Timotean languagesextinctSouth America
147Xincan languagesextinctSouth America

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