List of languages by total number of speakers
These are lists of languages by the number of first and second language speakers. However, particularly because of large uncertainties in estimating the number of secondary speakers, all such lists should be used with caution. In particular, the lists below should be seen as tentative.
Ethnologue (2013, 17th edition)
The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue. Figures are accompanied by dates of the reference used by Ethnologue; an old date means that the current number of speakers may be substantially greater, but even for a recent date the data may be several decades older. A range of dates means that the figure is the sum of data from different years in different countries. Spurious L2 data is not included; this includes cases where the number of L2 speakers claimed for a country is several times the population of that country. L2 figures for Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, and Arabic are spurious, as are L1 figures for Hindi and Panjabi.
|Language||Family||L1 speakers||L2 speakers||Total||Notes|
|850 million (2014)||500 million in China, Taiwan, Singapore and diaspora in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand) (2014)||1350 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|400 million in USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (2014)||800 million
- 400 as L2 in English-speaking countries
- 400 probably as foreign language
|1200 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|470 million in Spanish-speaking countries (2014)||80 million
- 60 as L2
- 20 as Foreign language in the world (2014)
|550 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|200 million in India (2014)||250 million in India (2014)||450 million||Spoken by 41% of Indians. Mutually intelligible to Urdu but uses the Devanagari script.|
|340 million in the countries of the Arab league (2014)||50 million in sub-Saharan Africa and Arabic diaspora in Europe (2014)||390 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations. Arabic also is a liturgical language of 1.6 billion Muslims.|
|French||Indo-European, Romance||80 million in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Canada (2014)~ Re: Victor||194 million
- 134 as L2 in French-speaking countries
- 60 as a foreign language in the world
|274 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|Malay||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||70 million (40 in Indonesia, 28 in Malaysia, 2 in Singapore and Brunei) (2014)||200 million in Indonesia and East Timor||270 million||Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible|
|180 million in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan (2014)||80 million
- 65 in former USSR states but in decline (2014)
- 15 as a foreign language in the world
|260 million||One of the six official languages of the United Nations|
|250 million in Brazil, Portugal, Angola and Mozambique (2014)||5 million in the Portuguese and Brazilian diasporas (undated)||255 million.|
|250 million (150 in Bangladesh and 100 in east India) (2014)||Not a second language||250 million.|
|15 million (2014)||160 million (1999)||175 million||Mutually intelligible to Hindi but uses the Arabic script.|
|German||Indo-European, Germanic||95 million (2014)||50 million in Europe (2014) according eurostat||145 million|
|Japanese||Japonic||122 million (1985)||1 million in diaspora||123 million|
|Javanese||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||84 million (2000)||NA|
|Telugu||Dravidian||74 million (2001)||5 million in India (no date)|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||77 million (1984)||NA|
|Korean||language isolate||77 million (2008–2010)||NA|
|Tamil||Dravidian||69 million (2001–2006)||8 million in India (no date)|
|Marathi||Indo-European, Indo-Aryan||72 million (2001)||3 million in India (no date)|
|Turkish||Turkic, Oghuz||71 million (2006)||0.4 million in Turkey (2006)|
|Vietnamese||Austroasiatic, Viet–Muong||68 million (1999)||NA|
|Italian||Indo-European, Romance||64 million (1977–2012)|
|63 million (2000)||NA||the Ethnologue boundary between Western and Eastern Punjabi is spurious|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||62 million (1984–2006)||NA|
|Kannada||Dravidian||60 million (2001)||4.5 million in India (no date)|
Other languages, such as Persian, Tagalog/Filipino, and Swahili, failed to make the list because they are divided into more than one language by Ethnologue. The distinction Ethnologue uses for Eastern and Western Panjabi is the national border, which does not correspond to the linguistic distinction. Indonesian and Malaysian are essentially the same language. Hindi and Urdu are as well; however, 100 million non-Hindustani speakers are included as "Hindi". Hausa has 25 million L1 total and 15 million L2 in Nigeria, and so at least approaches our limit of 50 million. Coastal Swahili has 15 million L1 in Tanzania (2012) and "probably over 80% of rural" Tanzania as L2, not counting Kenya or the 10 million L2 speakers of Congo Swahili (1999), so it also at least approaches our limit.
George H. J. Weber (1997)
In an article published in December 1997, with data collected from the early 1990s, Weber estimated primary and secondary speakers. However, only graphs were published, so numerical figures need to be measured, and readers are referred to his article. Figures here have been rounded off to the nearest 10 million if over 20 million, and to the nearest 5 million if under.
George H. J. Weber's report on the number of total speakers of the top languages
|Language||Native speakers||Secondary speakers||Total|
|Chinese||1,100 million||15 million||(not a significant difference)|
|English||330 million||150 million||480 million|
|Spanish||300 million||15 million||315 million|
|Russian||155 million||125 million||280 million|
|French||80 million||190 million||270 million|
|Arabic||200 million||20 million||220 million|
|Brazilian Portuguese||160 million||30 million||190 million|
|Japanese||110 million||10 million||120 million|
|German||100 million||10 million||110 million|
Estimates by language
English estimates (total number of speakers)
Totaling about 1.5 billion or 1.8 billion speakers. English is the primary language of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various Caribbean and Pacific island nations; it is also an official language of Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Singapore and many sub-Saharan African countries. It is the most widely spoken language in the world, and the most widely taught foreign language.
Indonesian/Malay estimates (total number of speakers)
Totaling about 268 million speakers, Indonesian/Malay is unusual, as it is sometimes listed as having a relatively small number of native speakers. However, it is the sole official language of Indonesia, which has a population of 237 million people. In Indonesia, schooling is compulsory and is in the Indonesian language, and the percentage of Indonesians who speak the Indonesian language is close to 100%. It is also the official language of Malaysia, with a population of over 27 million. Counting the populations of Indonesia, Malaysia, plus speakers in Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and southern Thailand gives an estimate of 268 million people, making it one of the top ten most widely spoken languages in the world in terms of total number of speakers. Some sources rate it as the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. However, despite this, it is often inexplicably absent from many lists of the world's most widely spoken languages, such as George H. J. Weber's list.
Regarding Chinese as a whole, most statistics count the native speakers of Chinese dialects. However, figures are often ambiguous for the numbers of both native and total speakers regarding varieties other than Mandarin and to a lesser extent, Cantonese. This is due to the fact that while there are countless of different varieties of Chinese, most dialects form a dialect continuum, in which differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, resulting in them being regarded as one dialect as in the case with Hokkien and Hakka.
With the rise of China's economy, Chinese is also increasing in number as a second or third language in many countries. In most cases, inclusion of Chinese as a second language usually refers to Mandarin only.
- Linguistic demography
- Lists of endangered languages - with the fewest numbers of speakers
- Lists of languages
- List of languages without official status by total number of speakers
- List of most widely spoken languages (by number of countries)
- List of languages by number of native speakers
- World language
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- Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- "Executive Summary". The Future of the Global Muslim Population. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
- "Table: Muslim Population by Country | Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project". Features.pewforum.org. 2011-01-27. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
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- Norman (1988), p. 187.
- Norman (1988), pp. 189–190.
- "Chinese Rising in Language Popularity". Nypress.com. 2011-03-23. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- Most Widely Spoken Languages
- The World’s 10 most influential Languages by George Weber
- (French) Qu'est-ce que la Francophonie?