The Languages of the World

The Languages of the World

The Languages of the World

The Languages of the World


This third edition of Kenneth Katzner's best-selling guide to languages is essential reading for language enthusiasts everywhere. Written with the non-specialist in mind, its user-friendly style and layout, delightful original passages, and exotic scripts, will continue to fascinate the reader. This new edition has been thoroughly revised to include more languages, more countries, and up-to-date data on populations.Features include:*information on nearly 600 languages*individual descriptions of 200 languages, with sample passages and English translations*concise notes on where each language is spoken, its history, alphabet and pronunciation*coverage of every country in the world, its main language and speaker numbers*an introduction to language families


For as far back as we can trace his history, Man has always spoken many different languages. If at one time he spoke a single language, from which all others subsequently descended, linguistic science is unlikely to uncover any firm evidence of such a fact.

In the 19th century a concerted effort was undertaken by scholars to reconstruct what was then thought to be Man's original language. Major contemporary languages were exhaustively analyzed in the hope of discovering some common elements that might point to a single primeval source. Languages of isolated primitive peoples were examined in the hope of finding a revealing “fossil” tongue. But the search was for naught. The trail goes back to the dimmest reaches of history. We are faced with a virtual blank slate about the beginnings of language, and any study of its subsequent development must be confined to the recent historical period. And here we are immediately confronted with a myriad of different languages.

At present the languages of the world number in the thousands. To establish an exact (or even an approximate) number is impossible, for many are scarcely known, and it is often a moot point whether two similar languages are actually separate languages or two dialects of the same language. But the continent of Africa is known to have well over a thousand languages, with 250 in Nigeria alone, 120 in Tanzania, and 100 in Cameroon. The American Indian languages number almost a thousand and the single island of New Guinea contributes some 700 more. India has over 150, Russia about 100, while China has several dozen, as do a number of other countries. Even in the United States more than 50 different Indian languages are spoken.

It is important, however, to view these figures in their proper perspective. A single statistic tells a great deal: among the world's several thousand languages, the top 100 account for over 95 percent of all speakers. Chinese alone accounts for 20 percent, and if we add English, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, and Bengali, the figure rises to about 45. Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German, French, and Italian bring it to 60 percent, while the next dozen most important languages raise it to 75. By contrast, the five percent at the bottom include thousands of different languages, the great majority spoken by tiny numbers - a few thousand in some cases, a few hundred in others, many in only a single village, some by only a few families, some even by only one or two people.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.