List of languages by total number of speakers

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For number by native speakers, see List of languages by number of native 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)[edit]

The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue.[1] 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 Notes
Mandarin Sino-Tibetan,
Chinese
850 million (2000) 180 million in China (no date) One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
All varieties of Chinese: 1200 million (2000)
English Indo-European,
Germanic
335 million (2003–2012) 505 million (no date) One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Spanish Indo-European,
Romance
415 million (1995–2012) 15 million in Spain & France (2006–2012) One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Hindi Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
260 million (2001) 120 million in India (1999) (spurious number: includes partial figures of ca. 100 million native speakers from many Hindi languages; indistinguishable from Urdu)
Bengali Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan
190 million (2001) 140 million in Bangladesh (no date)
Portuguese Indo-European,
Romance
200 million (1998–2005), possibly not counting conflicting, undated claim of 40% of Angola 6 million in Mozambique and 20% of Angola (undated)
Russian Indo-European,
Slavic
170 million (2002) 5 million in Baltic countries (2012) One of the six official languages of the United Nations
Urdu Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
64 million (1998–2001) 94 million in Pakistan (1999) (indistinguishable from Hindustani Hindi)
Indonesian Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 23 million (2000) 140 million in Indonesia (no date) invented language heavily borrowed from Malay
Japanese Japonic 122 million (1985) 1 million in Japan (no date)
German Indo-European, Germanic 78 million (2012) 8 million in Germany (no date)
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000) NA
Telugu Dravidian 74 million (2001) 5 million in India (no date)
Wu
(Shanghainese)
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)
French Indo-European, Romance 75 million (1987–2012) 27 million UK, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg (2012), 2 million Morocco (1997), 0.4 million Haiti (undated), 20% Lebanon (undated) One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
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) Figure includes Italian bilinguals who do not use standard Italian as their main language, and who may account for nearly half the population in Italy
Western Panjabi Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan
63 million (2000) NA the Ethnologue boundary between Western and Eastern Punjabi is spurious
Yue
(Cantonese)
Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 62 million (1984–2006) NA
Egyptian Arabic Afro-Asiatic,
Semitic, Arabic
54 million (2006) NA Used in media across the Arab world. 206 million native and 246 million L2 speakers of all varieties of Arabic (1999)[2]

Arabic is only listed under Egyptian Arabic, as Arabic as a whole is not considered a single language by Ethnologue. 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)[edit]

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.[3] 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
Hindi/Urdu 250 million  ?  ?
Arabic 200 million 20 million 220 million
Brazilian Portuguese 160 million 30 million 190 million
Bengali 180 million  ?  ?
Japanese 110 million 10 million 120 million
Punjabi 90 million  ?  ?
German 100 million 10 million 110 million
Javanese 80 million  ?  ?

Estimates by language[edit]

English estimates (total number of speakers)[edit]

Totaling about 1.5 billion or 1.8 billion speakers.[4][5] 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 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.[6][7]

Indonesian/Malay estimates (total number of speakers)[edit]

Totaling about 268 million speakers,[8] 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 (Indonesia has a 92% literacy rate), 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.[8] 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.

Chinese estimations[edit]

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 extant, Cantonese.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ethnologue". SIL Haley. 
  2. ^ Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. ^ "The World's 10 most influential Languages". Andaman.org. Retrieved 2014-03-21. 
  4. ^ "Future of English". The British Council. Retrieved 2011-08-24.  (page 10)
  5. ^ "World-Wide English". eHistLing. Universität Basel. Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  6. ^ "English language". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  7. ^ "Number Of English Speaking People". Number Of. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ a b "How many people speak Indonesian?". Indonesian-online.com. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  9. ^ Norman (1988), p. 187.
  10. ^ Norman (1988), pp. 189–190.
  11. ^ "Chinese Rising in Language Popularity". Nypress.com. 2011-03-23. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 

External links[edit]