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[edit]

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

Indo-European[edit]

The Indo-European family is represented by the Iranian branch, which includes Persian, Pashto, and other languages of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia; the Indic branch, which includes Hindi, Urdu and many other state languages of India (like Assamese, Bengali etc.), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives; Slavic branch, which includes 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.

Mon–Khmer[edit]

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

Tai–Kadai[edit]

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.

Austronesian[edit]

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).

Dravidian[edit]

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.

Semitic[edit]

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 Language Family Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
Abkhaz 240,000 Northwest Caucasian  Abkhazia  Georgia
Arabic 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Qatar,  Jordan,  Saudi Arabia,  Iraq,  Yemen,  Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Syria,  Palestine,  Lebanon,  Oman,  UAE,  Israel
Armenian 5,902,970 Indo-European  Armenia  Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
Azerbaijani 7,324,060 Turkic  Azerbaijan  Dagestan (Russia)
Bengali 150,000,000 Indo-European  Bangladesh  India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Burmese 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Cantonese 7,800,000 Sino-Tibetan  Hong Kong(China),  Macau(China)
Dari 9,600,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Dhivehi 400,000 Indo-European  Maldives
Dzongkha 600,000 Sino-Tibetan  Bhutan
English Indo-European  The Philippines,  Singapore,  India,  Pakistan  Hong Kong (China)
Filipino 90,000,000 Austronesian  The Philippines
Georgian 4,200,000 Kartvelian  Georgia
Greek 11,000,000 Indo-European  Cyprus,  Greece
Hebrew 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Israel
Hindi 400,000,000 Indo-European  India
Indonesian 240,000,000 Austronesian  Indonesia
Japanese 120,000,000 Japonic  Japan
Kazakh 18,000,000 Turkic  Kazakhstan
Khmer 14,000,000 Austroasiatic  Cambodia
Korean 80,000,000 Koreanic  South Korea,  North Korea  China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Kurdish 20,000,000 Indo-European  Iraq
Kyrgyz 2,900,000 Turkic  Kyrgyzstan
Lao 7,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Laos
Mandarin 1,300,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  China,  Taiwan,  Singapore
Malay 30,000,000 Austronesian  Malaysia,  Brunei,  Singapore
Mongolian 2,000,000 Mongolic  Mongolia
Nepali 29,000,000 Indo-European    Nepal  India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Ossetian 540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia) Indo-European  South Ossetia  Georgia,  North Ossetia–Alania (Russia)
Pashto 45,000,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Persian 80,000,000 Indo-European  Iran
Urdu 62,120,540 Indo-European  Pakistan  India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
Saraiki 18,179,610 Indo-European  Pakistan  Pakistan (in Bahawalpur )  India (in Andhra Pradesh )
Portuguese 1,200,000 Indo-European  Timor Leste  Macau (China)
Russian 260,000,000 Indo-European  Kyrgyzstan,  Kazakhstan,  Russia
Sinhala 18,000,000 Indo-European  Sri Lanka
Tamil 100,000,000 Dravidian  Sri Lanka,  Singapore  India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Tajik 4,500,000 Indo-European  Tajikistan
Tetum 500,000 Austronesian  Timor Leste
Thai 60,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Thailand
Turkish 70,000,000 Turkic  Turkey,  Cyprus  Northern Cyprus
Turkmen 7,000,000 Turkic  Turkmenistan
Uzbek 25,000,000 Turkic  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese 80,000,000 Austroasiatic  Vietnam

See also[edit]