Languages of Asia

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The Language families of Asia

A wide variety of languages are spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. The major language families include Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Kra–Dai. Most, but not all, have a long history as a written language.

Language groups[edit]

Ethnolinguistic distribution in Central/Southwest Asia of the Altaic, Caucasian, Afroasiatic (Hamito-Semitic) and Indo-European families.

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

Sino-Tibetan[edit]

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

Indo-European[edit]

The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhala Malayalam and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia). In addition, other branches of Indo-European spoken in Asia include the 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]

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, Mongolic, Tungusic (including Manchu), Koreanic, and Japonic languages.

Mon–Khmer[edit]

The Mon–Khmer languages (also known as Austroasiatic) are the language family in South and Southeast Asia. Languages given official status are Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).

Kra–Dai[edit]

The Kra–Dai languages (also known as Tai-Kadai) are found in southern China, Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Languages given official status are Thai (Siamese) and Lao.

Austronesian[edit]

The Austronesian languages are widespread throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, including major languages such as Fijian (Fiji), Cebuano, Tagalog (Philippines), and Malay (Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei). Javanese, Sundanese, and Madurese of Indonesia belong to this family as well.

Dravidian[edit]

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.

Afro-Asiatic[edit]

The Afroasiatic languages (in older sources Hamito-Semitic) are represented in Asia by the Semitic branch. Semitic languages are spoken in Western Asia, and include Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian.

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 Turkic and 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. Some linguists have noted that the Koreanic languages share more similarities with the Paleosiberian languages than with the Altaic languages. The extinct Ruan-ruan language of Mongolia is unclassified, and does not show genetic relationships with any other known language family.

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 South Asia & Southeast 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 as an international language.

Language Native name Speakers Language family Official status in a country Official Status in a region
Abkhaz Аԥсшәа 240,000 Northwest Caucasian Abkhazia
Arabic العَرَبِيَّة 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Bahrain
Egypt
Iraq
Israel
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
Oman
Palestine
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Syria
UAE
Yemen
Armenian հայերեն 5,902,970 Indo-European Armenia
Artsakh
Assamese অসমীয়া 15,000,000 Indo-European India
Azerbaijani Azərbaycanca 23,000,000 Turkic Azerbaijan
Balochi بلۏچی

Balòči

7,600,000 Indo-European Pakistan

Iran

Balti بلتی

སྦལ་ཏི།

392,800 Sino-Tibetan Pakistan
Bengali বাংলা 230,000,000 Indo-European Bangladesh India
Bodo बर'/बड़
Boro
1,984,569 Sino-Tibetan India
Burmese မြန်မာဘာသာ 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Cantonese 廣東話/广东话 7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan China
Chin Kukish 3,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Chinese Mandarin 普通話/普通话
國語/国语
華語/华语
1,200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan China
Singapore
Taiwan
Myanmar

China

Dari دری 19,600,000 Indo-European Afghanistan
Dhivehi ދިވެހިބަސް 400,000 Indo-European Maldives
Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ་ 600,000 Sino-Tibetan Bhutan
English English 301,625,412 Indo-European India
Pakistan
Philippines
Singapore
China
Filipino Wikang Filipino 93,000,000 Austronesian Philippines
French Français 4,716,670 Indo-European
Formosan 171,855 Austronesian Republic of China
Georgian ქართული 4,200,000 Kartvelian Georgia
Gujarati ગુજરાતી 50,000,000 Indo-European India
Hakka 客家話/客家话
Hak-kâ-fa
2,370,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
Hebrew עברית 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Israel
Hindi हिन्दी 550,000,000 Indo-European India
Hokchiu 馬祖話
Mā-cū-huâ
12,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
Hokkien 臺灣話
Tâi-oân-oē
18,570,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia 240,000,000 Austronesian Indonesia
Japanese 日本語 120,000,000 Japonic Japan (de facto)
Kachin Jinghpaw 940,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ 51,000,000 Dravidian India
Karen ကညီကျိာ်း 6,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Kashmiri कॉशुर

كٲشُر

7,000,000 Indo-European India
Kayah Karenni 190,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Kazakh Қазақша
Qazaqsha
قازاقشا
18,000,000 Turkic Kazakhstan China

Russia

Khmer ភាសាខ្មែរ 14,000,000 Austroasiatic Cambodia
Korean 조선어
한국어
80,000,000 Koreanic North Korea
South Korea
China
Kurdish Kurdî
کوردی
20,000,000 Indo-European Iraq Iraq

Syria

Kyrgyz Кыргызча
قىرعىزچا
2,900,000 Turkic Kyrgyzstan China
Lao ພາສາລາວ 7,000,000 Kra-Dai Laos
Malay Bahasa Melayu
بهاس ملايو
30,000,000 Austronesian Brunei
Indonesia (as Indonesian)
Malaysia (also called Malaysian)
Singapore
Malayalam മലയാളം 37,000,000 Dravidian India
Marathi मराठी 99,000,000 Indo-European India
Meitei ꯃꯤꯇꯩꯂꯣꯟ
মৈতৈ
Manipuri
2,000,000 Sino-Tibetan India
Mon ဘာသာ မန် 851,000 Austroasiatic Myanmar
Mongolian Монгол хэл
ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
ᠬᠡᠯᠡ
2,000,000 Mongolic Mongolia China
Nepali नेपाली 29,000,000 Indo-European Nepal India
Odia ଓଡ଼ିଆ 33,000,000 Indo-European India
Ossetian Ирон 540,000
(50,000 in South Ossetia)
Indo-European South Ossetia
Pashto پښتو 45,000,000 Indo-European Afghanistan Pakistan
Persian فارسی
Форсӣ
130,000,000 Indo-European Afghanistan (as Dari)
Iran
Tajikistan (as Tajik)
Portuguese Português 1,200,000 Indo-European Timor Leste China
Punjabi ਪੰਜਾਬੀ
پن٘جابی
100,000,000 Indo-European India
Rakhine ရခိုင်ဘာသာ 1,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Rohingya Ruáingga 1,800,000 Indo-European
Russian Русский 260,000,000 Indo-European Abkhazia (co-official)
Kazakhstan (co-official)
Kyrgyzstan (co-official)

Russia
South Ossetia (state)
Tajikistan (inter-ethnic communication)
Turkmenistan (inter-ethnic communication)
Uzbekistan (inter-ethnic communication)

Shan ၽႃႇသႃႇတႆ 3,295,000 Kra-Dai Myanmar
Sindhi سنڌي 40,000,000 Indo-European Pakistan
Sinhala සිංහල 18,000,000 Indo-European Sri Lanka
Tajik Тоҷикӣ 7,900,000 Indo-European Tajikistan
Tamil தமிழ் 77,000,000 Dravidian Singapore
Sri Lanka
India
Telugu తెలుగు 79,000,000 Dravidian India
Tetum Lia-Tetun 500,000 Austronesian Timor Leste
Thai ภาษาไทย 60,000,000 Kra-Dai Thailand
Tibetan བོད་སྐད་ 1,172,940 Sino-Tibetan China
Tulu ತುಳು 1,722,768 Dravidian India
Turkish Türkçe 70,000,000 Turkic Cyprus
Northern Cyprus
Turkey
Turkmen Türkmençe 7,000,000 Turkic Turkmenistan
Urdu اُردُو 62,120,540 Indo-European Pakistan India
Uyghur ئۇيغۇرچە‎ 10,416,910 Turkic China
Uzbek Oʻzbekcha
Ўзбекча
25,000,000 Turkic Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt 80,000,000 Austroasiatic Vietnam (de facto)
Zhuang Vahcuengh 16,000,000 Kra-Dai China

See also[edit]

References[edit]