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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 different language 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 ]
Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and North east India.
Indo-European [ edit ]
Indo-European family is primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. It includes both Indic languages ( Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Sinhalese and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian ( Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Central Asia 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 languages, Mongolic languages, Tungusic languages (including Manchu), Korean, and Japonic languages.
Mon–Khmer [ edit ]
The Mon–Khmer languages (
Austroasiatic languages) are the oldest family in Asia. They include Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).
Tai–Kadai [ edit ]
Tai-Kadai languages (or just Kadai) of southern China spread in historic times into Southeast Asia, where Thai (Siamese) and Lao are official languages.
Austronesian [ edit ]
Austronesian languages include 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 ]
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 ]
Afroasiatic languages are represented by the Semitic group spoken in Southwest Asia. It includes Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and 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.
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 ]
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.
Official Status in a Country
Official Status in a Region
Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, , Palestine Lebanon, Oman, UAE, Israel
( Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan)
India (in Assam)
Iran, Dagestan ( Russia)
India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Hong Kong( China), Macau( China)
China, , Taiwan Singapore
Philippines, Singapore, India, Pakistan
Hong Kong ( China)
Filipino Wikang Filipino
India (in Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia
East Timor (as a working language)
India (in Karnataka)
한국어/ 조선말 80,000,000
South Korea, North Korea
China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Malay Bahasa Melayu/
بهاس ملايو 30,000,000
Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore
India (in Kerala and Mahe)
India (in Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Mongolian Монгол хэл
China (in Inner Mongolia)
India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
India (in Odisha and Jharkhand)
(50,000 in South Ossetia)
Georgia, North Ossetia–Alania ( Russia)
Punjabi پنجابی / ਪੰਜਾਬੀ
India (in Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh) Pakistan (in Punjab, Pakistan)
Pakistan (in Bahawalpur ) India (in Andhra Pradesh )
Macau ( China)
, Abkhazia Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, South Ossetia
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (as an inter-ethnic language), Turkmenistan (as an inter-ethnic language)
Sri Lanka, Singapore
India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
India (in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Puducherry,)
India (in Mangalore, Udupi, Kasargod, Mumbai)
Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Cyprus
India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt
See also [ edit ]
References [ edit ]