Languages of Asia

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Of the many language families of Asia, Indo-European (purple, blue, and medium green) and Sino-Tibetan (chartreuse and pink) dominate numerically, while Altaic families (grey, bright green, and maroon) occupy large areas geographically. Regionally dominant families are Japonic in Japan, Austronesian in the Malay Archipelago (dark red), Kadai and Mon–Khmer in Southeast Asia (azure and peach), Dravidian in South India (khaki), Turkic in Central Asia (grey), and Semitic in the Mideast (orange).

There is a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Asia, comprising a number of families and some unrelated isolates. Asian languages usually have a long tradition of writing, but not always.

Language groups[edit]

The major families in terms of numbers are Indo-European in South Asia and Sino-Tibetan in East Asia. Several other families are regionally dominant.


Sino-Tibetan includes Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and northeast India.


The Indo-European family is represented by the Indo-Iranian branch, which includes Persian, Pashto, and other languages of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia; Pakistan and India, which includes Urdu, Hindi respectively, along with many other state languages of India (like Assamese, Bengali etc.), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives; Russian in Siberia; Greek around the Black Sea; and Armenian; as well as extinct languages such as Hittite of Anatolia and Tocharian of (Chinese) Turkestan.

Altaic families[edit]

Main article: Altaic languages

A number of smaller, but important language families spread across central and northern Asia have long been linked in an as-yet unproven Altaic family. These are the Turkic languages, Mongolic languages, Tungusic languages (including Manchu), Korean, and Japonic languages.


The Mon–Khmer (Austroasiatic) languages are the oldest family in Asia. They include Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).


Main article: Tai-Kadai languages

The Tai-Kadai (or just Kadai) languages of southern China spread in historic times into Southeast Asia, where Thai (Siamese) and Lao are official languages.


The Austronesian language includes the languages of the Philippines and most of the languages of Indonesia (excluding inland New Guinea), such as Malay (Indonesian) and Tagalog (Filipino).


Main article: Dravidian languages

The Dravidian languages of southern India and parts of Sri Lanka include Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, while smaller languages such as Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan respectively.


Main article: Semitic languages

The Afroasiatic languages are represented by the Semitic family in southwest Asia, which includes Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and extinct languages such as Babylonian.

Siberian families[edit]

Besides the Altaic families already mentioned (of which Tungusic is today a minor family of Siberia), there are a number of small language families and isolates spoken across northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (better known for Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (linked to the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and—just barely—Eskimo–Aleut.

Caucasian families[edit]

Three small families are spoken in the Caucasus: Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian; Northeast Caucasian (Dagestanian languages), such as Chechen; and Northwest Caucasian, such as Circassian. The latter two may be related to each other. The extinct Hurro-Urartian languages may be related as well.

Small families of southern Asia[edit]

Although dominated by major languages and families, there are number of minor families and isolates in southern Asia. From west to east, these include

Creoles and pidgins[edit]

The eponymous pidgin ("business") language developed with European trade in China. Of the many creoles to have developed, the most spoken today are Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole of the Philippines, and various Malay-based creoles such as Manado Malay influenced by Portuguese. A very well-known Portuguese-based creole is the Kristang, which is spoken in Malacca, a city-state in Malaysia.

Sign languages[edit]

A number of sign languages are spoken throughout Asia. These include the Japanese Sign Language family, Chinese Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, as well as a number of small indigenous sign languages of countries such as Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many official sign languages are part of the French Sign Language family.

Official languages[edit]

Asia and Europe are the only two continents where most countries use native languages as their official languages, though English is also widespread.

Language Speakers Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
Abkhaz 240,000  Abkhazia  Georgia
Arabic 230,000,000  Qatar,  Jordan,  Saudi Arabia,  Iraq,  Yemen,  Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Syria,  Palestine,  Lebanon,  Oman,  UAE,  Israel
Armenian 5,902,970  Armenia  Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
Azerbaijani 7,324,060  Azerbaijan  Dagestan (Russia)
Bengali 150,000,000  Bangladesh  India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Burmese 33,000,000  Myanmar
Dari 9,600,000  Afghanistan
Dhivehi 400,000  Maldives
Dzongkha 600,000  Bhutan
English  The Philippines,  Singapore,  India,  Pakistan  Hong Kong (China)
Filipino 90,000,000  The Philippines
Georgian 4,200,000  Georgia
Greek 11,000,000  Cyprus,  Greece
Hebrew 7,000,000  Israel
Hindi 400,000,000  India
Indonesian 240,000,000  Indonesia
Japanese 120,000,000  Japan
Kazakh 16,000,000  Kazakhstan
Khmer 14,000,000  Cambodia
Korean 80,000,000  South Korea,  North Korea  China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Kurdish 20,000,000  Iraq
Kyrgyz 2,900,000  Kyrgyzstan
Lao 7,000,000  Laos
Mandarin 1,300,000,000  China,  Taiwan,  Singapore
Malay 30,000,000  Malaysia,  Brunei,  Singapore
Mongolian 2,000,000  Mongolia
Nepali 29,000,000    Nepal  India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Ossetian 540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia)  South Ossetia  Georgia,  North Ossetia–Alania (Russia)
Pashto 45,000,000  Afghanistan
Persian 80,000,000  Iran
Portuguese 1,200,000  Timor Leste  Macau (China)
Russian 260,000,000  Kyrgyzstan,  Kazakhstan,  Russia
Sinhala 18,000,000  Sri Lanka
Tamil 100,000,000  Sri Lanka,  Singapore  India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Tajik 4,500,000  Tajikistan
Tetum 500,000  Timor Leste
Thai 60,000,000  Thailand
Turkish 70,000,000  Turkey,  Cyprus,  Northern Cyprus
Turkmen 7,000,000  Turkmenistan
Uzbek 25,000,000  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese 80,000,000  Vietnam

See also[edit]