List of language families

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This List of language families includes also language isolates, unclassified languages and other types of languages.

Major language families[edit]

By number of languages[edit]

Ethnologue 18 lists the following language families as containing at least 1% of the 7,472 known languages in the world:

  1. Niger–Congo (1,538 languages) (20.6%)
  2. Austronesian (1,257 languages) (16.8%)
  3. Trans–New Guinea (480 languages) (6.4%)
  4. Sino-Tibetan (457 languages) (6.1%)
  5. Indo-European (444 languages) (5.9%)
  6. Australian (378 languages) (5.1%)
  7. Afro-Asiatic (375 languages) (5.0%)
  8. Nilo-Saharan (205 languages) (2.7%)
  9. Oto-Manguean (177 languages) (2.4%)
  10. Austroasiatic (169 languages) (2.3%)
  11. Tai–Kadai (95 languages) (1.3%)
  12. Dravidian (85 languages) (1.1%)
  13. Tupian (76 languages) (1.0%)

Glottolog 2.4 lists the following as the largest families:

  1. Atlantic–Congo (1,432 languages)
  2. Austronesian (1,276 languages)
  3. Indo-European (585 languages)
  4. Sino-Tibetan (472 languages)
  5. Afro-Asiatic (372 languages)
  6. Nuclear Trans–New Guinea (315 languages)
  7. Pama–Nyungan (240 languages)
  8. Otomanguean (178 languages)
  9. Austroasiatic (164 languages)
  10. Tai–Kadai (96 languages)
  11. Dravidian (81 languages)
  12. Arawakan (76 languages)
  13. Mande (74 languages)
  14. Tupian (71 languages)

Language counts can vary significantly depending on what is considered a dialect. For example, Lyle Campbell counts 27 Otomanguean languages, though he, Ethnologue, and Glottolog agree as to which languages belong in the family.

Language families[edit]

In the following, each bullet item is a known or suspected language family. Phyla with historically wide geographical distributions but comparatively few current-day speakers include Eskimo–Aleut, Na-Dené, Algic, Quechuan and Nilo-Saharan. The geographic headings over them are meant solely as a tool for grouping families into collections more comprehensible than an unstructured list of a few hundred independent families. Geographic relationship is convenient for that purpose, but these headings are not a suggestion of any "super-families" phylogenetically relating the families named. The number of individual languages in a family and number of speakers are only rough estimates. See dialect or language and linguistic demography for further explanation.

Pie chart of world languages by percentage of speakers
The language families of Africa.
Map of major European languages
Distribution of the Turkic languages across Eurasia
Area of the Papuan languages.
Map of the Australian languages
Distribution of language families and isolates north of Mexico at first contact.
The major South American language families.
Family name Languages Current speakers Location Proposed parent family
Afro-Asiatic languages 366 380,000,000 Africa, Asia
Niger–Congo languages 1,524 437,000,000 Africa
Nilo-Saharan languages (proposed) 199 42,800,000 Africa
Khoe languages 12 337,337 Africa Khoisan (discredited)
Tuu languages 2 2,500 Africa Khoisan (discredited)
Kx'a languages 4 104,000 Africa Khoisan (discredited)
Ubangian languages 2,500,000 Africa
Mande languages Africa Niger–Congo
Songhay languages Africa Nilo-Saharan
Kadu languages Africa Nilo-Saharan
Koman languages Africa Nilo-Saharan
Mongolic languages 13 6,900,000 Asia Altaic (discredited)
Tungusic languages 11 55,800 Asia Altaic (discredited)
Turkic languages 39 170,000,000 Asia, Europe Altaic (discredited)
Caspian languages Asia, Europe Caucasic, Alarodian
Northwest Caucasian languages Asia, Europe Caucasic
Yeniseian languages 2 211 Asia Dené–Yeniseian family
Dravidian languages 84 229,000,000 Asia
Indo-European languages 437 2,910,000,000 Asia, Europe
Kartvelian languages 5 4,850,000 Asia, Europe
Luorawetlan languages 5 6,875 Asia
Uralic languages 37 20,600,000 Asia, Europe
Yukaghir languages 2 740 Asia
Japonic languages 12 129,000,000 Asia Altaic (discredited)
Andamanese languages 4 501 Asia
Austroasiatic languages 169 103,000,000 Asia
Austronesian languages 1,223 323,000,000 Asia, Oceania Austronesian–Ongan
Ongan languages Asia Austronesian–Ongan
Tai–Kadai languages 94 80,800,000 Asia Austro-Tai
Miao-Yao languages 38 9,330,000 Asia
Siangic (proposed) Asia Sino-Tibetan
Sino-Tibetan languages 453 1,268,000,000 Asia
Koreanic languages 2 77,200,000 Asia Altaic (discredited)
Baining languages 6 13,800 New Guinea
Border languages 15 17,080 New Guinea
Central Solomons languages 4 14,810 New Guinea
East Bird's Head – Sentani languages 8 71,730 New Guinea Extended West Papuan
Eastern Trans-Fly languages 4 6,760 New Guinea
Fas languages 2 2,840 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari, Kwomtari–Fas
East Geelvink Bay languages 12 8,005 New Guinea
Lakes Plain languages 19 8,455 New Guinea
Left May languages 6 2,005 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari
Kwomtari languages 3 1,510 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari, Kwomtari–Fas
Mairasi languages 3 4,385 New Guinea
Nimboran languages 5 8,500 New Guinea
North Bougainville languages 4 10,020 New Guinea
Piawi languages 2 2,600 New Guinea
Ramu – Lower Sepik languages 32 65,830 New Guinea
Senagi languages 2 2,960 New Guinea
Sepik languages 55 162,704 New Guinea
Skou languages 8 5,665 New Guinea
South Bougainville languages 9 68,700 New Guinea
Tor–Kwerba languages 24 16,195 New Guinea
Torricelli languages 57 113,705 New Guinea
Trans-Fly – Bulaka River languages 22 16,312 New Guinea
Trans–New Guinea 476 3,540,024 New Guinea
West New Britain languages 3 6,550 New Guinea
West Papuan languages 23 269,425 New Guinea
Yuat languages 6 7,700 New Guinea
Bunaban languages 2 100 Australia
Daly languages (several families) Australia
Limilngan languages 1 23 Australia
Djeragan languages 3 130 Australia
Nyulnyulan languages Australia
Wororan languages Australia
Mirndi languages Australia
Arnhem Land languages (proposed) 7 Australia
Gunwinyguan languages Australia
Pama–Nyungan languages 300 Australia
Algic languages 41 214,768 North America
Caddoan languages 5 46 North America
Chimakuan languages 1 10 North America
Chumashan languages extinct North America
Eskimo–Aleut languages 10 108,705 North America
Hokan (proposed) 21 North America
Iroquoian languages 9 14,543 North America
Keres languages 2 10,670 North America
Mayan languages 31 6,522,182 North America
Mixe–Zoquean languages 17 153,612 North America
Muskogean languages 6 15,640 North America
Na-Dene languages 44 North America Dené–Yeniseian
Oto-Manguean languages 176 1,678,214 North America
Penutian (proposed) 16 North America
Salishan languages 25 1,969 North America
Siouan–Catawban languages 14 33,399 North America
Tanoan languages 6 6,000 North America
Totonacan languages 12 282,250 North America
Uto-Aztecan languages 58 1,910,442 North America
Wakashan languages 6 710 North America
Wintuan languages 1 1 North America
Yukian languages 2 3 North America
Alacalufan languages 1 12 South America
Arauan languages 8 South America
Araucanian languages 2 South America
Arawakan languages 54 699,709 South America
Arutani–Sape languages (proposed) 2 South America
Aymaran languages 3 2,808,740 South America
Barbacoan languages 3 24,800 South America
Cahuapanan languages 2 10,370 South America
Carib languages 29 67,376 South America
Catacaoan languages (3) extinct South America
Chapacuran languages 4 2,019 South America
Charruan languages (10) extinct South America
Chibchan languages 20 306,267 South America
Chimuan languages (3) extinct South America
Choco languages 7 114,600 South America
Chon languages (6) extinct South America
Esmerelda–Yaruro languages (proposed) 1 6,000 South America
Guaicuruan languages 4 49,350 South America
Hibito–Cholon languages 2 extinct South America
Hodï languages 2 640 South America
Ge languages 13 44,335 South America
Jicaquean languages 1 350 South America
Jirajaran languages 3 extinct South America
Jivaroan languages 4 89,630 South America
Katembri–Taruma languages 1 10 South America
Katukinan languages 2 10 South America
Lencan languages 2 extinct South America
Lule–Vilela languages 1 10 South America
Mascoian languages 6 20,728 South America
Mashakalian languages 2 1,270 South America
Matacoan languages 7 60,280 South America
Misumalpan languages 4 192,050 South America
Mosetenan languages 1 5,320 South America
Mura languages 1 360 South America
Nadahup languages 4 South America
Nambiquaran languages (5) 6 1,068 South America
Otomakoan languages 2 extinct South America
Pano–Tacanan languages (proposed) 27 42,014 South America
Peba–Yaguan languages 1 5,700 South America
Puinavean languages 1 3,000 South America
Quechuan languages 45 8,946,020 South America
Salivan languages 3 18,630 South America
Tequiraca–Canichana languages (2) extinct South America
Timotean languages (2) extinct South America
Tiniguan languages 2 1 South America
Tucanoan languages 23 30,308 South America
Tupian languages 66 5,026,502 South America
Uru–Chipaya languages 2 1,200 South America
Witotoan languages 7 17,478 South America
Xincan languages (5) extinct South America
Yabutian languages 2 3 South America
Yanomam languages 4 31,670 South America
Zamucoan languages 2 5,900 South America
Zaparoan languages 3 90 South America

Language isolates[edit]

Central & South America[edit]

North America[edit]

  • Atakapa (US: Louisiana, Texas) [extinct] (part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Chitimacha (US: Louisiana) [extinct] (possibly part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Cuitlatec (Mexico: Guerrero) [extinct]
  • Haida (Canada: British Columbia; US: Alaska)
  • Huave (Mexico: Oaxaca)
  • Karankawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  • Kootenai (Canada: British Columbia; US: Idaho, Montana)
  • Natchez (US: Mississippi, Louisiana) (linked to Muskogean in the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Purépecha (a.k.a. Tarascan) (Mexico: Michoacán)
  • Timucua (US: Florida, Georgia) [extinct]
  • Tonkawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  • Tunica (US: Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas) [extinct] (part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Yuchi (US: Georgia, Oklahoma)
  • Zuni (a.k.a. Shiwi) (US: New Mexico)

Australia[edit]

  • Enindhilyagwa (AKA Andilyaugwa, Anindilyakwa)
  • Laragiya
  • Minkin [extinct; perhaps a member of Yiwaidjan or Tankic]
  • Ngurmbur (perhaps a member of Macro-Pama–Nyungan)
  • Tiwi (Melville and Bathurst Islands)

New Guinea[edit]

Asia[edit]

Africa[edit]

Europe[edit]

Unclassified languages[edit]

Languages are considered unclassified either because, for one reason or another, little effort has been made to compare them with other languages, or, more commonly, because they are too poorly documented to permit reliable classification. Most such languages are extinct and most likely will never be known well enough to classify.

Europe[edit]

Africa[edit]

Asia[edit]

New Guinea[edit]

South America[edit]

Extinct families and isolates[edit]

This section lists extinct languages and families which have no known living relatives. While a minority are well-known but are still classified as genetically independent (like the ancient Sumerian language), the lack of attestation makes many languages hard to put into larger groups.

Name Languages Year of death Location Well-attested? Proposed parent family
Hurro-Urartian languages 2 600s BC? Asia Yes Alarodian languages
Tasmanian languages (several families) 5-16 1905 Australia Some
Tyrsenian languages 3 200s Europe Yes
Baenan 1 1940s South America (Bahia) No
Culle 1 1900s South America (North Peru) No
Kunza 1 1950s? South America (Atacama) Some
Gamela 1 ? South America (Maranhão) No
Gorgotoqui 1 1600s South America (East Bolivia) No
Huamoé 1 ? South America (Pernambuco) No
Malibu languages 9 ? South America (Colombia) No
Munichi 1 1990s South America (Loreto) Some Arawakan
Natú 1 1800s? South America (Pernambuco)
Pankararú 1 1900s South America (East Brazil) No
Panzaleo 1 1600s South America (Quito) No
Sechura 1 1800s? South America (Piura) No
Tarairiú 1 ? South America (East Brazil) No
Tuxá 1 1800s? South America (East Brazil) No
Xokó 1-3 ? South America (East Brazil) No
Xukurú 1 ? South America (East Brazil) No Xukuruan
Yurumanguí 1 1800s? South America (Colombia) No
Adai 1 1800s North America (Louisiana) No
Alagüilac 1 1700s? North America (Guatemala) No
Aranama-Tamique 1 1800s North America (Texas) No
Atakapa 1 1900s North America (Louisiana) Some
Beothuk 1 1829 North America (Newfoundland) No
Calusa 1 1700s? North America (Florida) No
Cayuse 1 1930s North America (Oregon)
Cotoname 1 1800s? North America (Texas-Mexico border)
Maratino 1 ? North America (Mexico) No Uto-Aztecan
Naolan 1 1950s North America (Mexico) No
Quinigua 1 ? North America (Northeast Mexico) No
Solano 1 1700s North America (Texas-Mexico border) No


Other language classifications[edit]

The classification of languages into families assumes that all languages develop from a single parent proto-language and evolve over time into different daughter language(s). While the vast majority of languages fit this description fairly well, there are exceptions.

A mixed language often refers to a particular combination of existing languages, which may be from different genetic families. A pidgin is a simple language used for communication between groups. This may involve simplification and/or mixing of multiple languages. When a pidgin develops into a more stable language which children learn from birth, it is usually called a creole language.

Whether for ease of use or created for use in fiction, languages can also be constructed from the ground up, rather than develop from existing languages. These are known as constructed languages.

Sign languages[edit]

The family relationships of sign languages are not well established due to a lagging in linguistic research, and many are isolates (cf. Wittmann 1991).[1]

Family Name Location Number of Languages
French Sign Europe, the Americas, Francophone Africa, parts of Asia Over 50
British Sign United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa 4 - 10
Arab Sign Much of the Arab World 6 - 10
Japanese Sign Japan, Korea, Taiwan 3
German Sign Germany, Poland, Israel 3
Swedish Sign Sweden, Finland, Portugal 3

Beyond these language families exists many isolate languages, including:

Proposed families[edit]

A list of proposed language families which connect established families into larger genetic groups. The support for these proposals varies. The Dené–Yeniseian languages, for example, are a recent proposal which has been generally well-received, whereas reconstructions of the Proto-World language are often viewed as fringe science. Proposals which are themselves based on other proposals have the likelihood of their parts noted in parenthesis.

Proposed name Description Mainstream consensus
Proto-World reconstructed common ancestor of all living languages Widely rejected.
Amerind all languages in the Americas which do not belong to the Eskimo–Aleut or Na–Dene families Widely rejected.
Almosan Algic, Kutenai and Mosan (rejected) Widely rejected.
Mosan Salishan, Wakashan, and Chimakuan languages of Pacific Northwest North America. Sprachbund.
Aztec–Tanoan Uto-Aztecan and Tanoan. Possible.
Coahuiltecan Native languages of modern Texas. Sprachbund.
Gulf Muskogean with four extinct isolates on US gulf. Possible.
Hokan A dozen languages on west coast of North America Some likely, others rejected.
Macro-Siouan Siouan, Iroquoian, Caddoan, and Yuchi. Controversial.
Je–Tupi–Carib Macro-Jê (likely), Tupian and Cariban of South America. Possible.
Macro-Jê 11 language families of South America Some likely, others controversial.
Macro-Mayan Mayan with Totonacan, Mixe–Zoque, and Huave. Widely rejected.
Totozoquean Totonacan and Mixe–Zoque in Mesoamerica. Possible.
Macro-Panoan Pano–Takanan (likely) and Mosetén–Chon (likely) Possible.
Macro-Waikurúan Matacoan, Guaicuruan, Mascoian, and Charruan of South America ?
Penutian Some languages in western North America Controversial.
Quechumaran Quechuan and Aymaran Controversial.
Yuki–Wappo Yuki and Wappo, both extinct. Likely.
Borean All families except in sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, Australia, and the Andaman Islands. Widely rejected.
Alarodian Northeast Caucasian with extinct Hurro-Urartian Possible.
Sino-Austronesian Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, and Tai–Kadai Controversial.
Austric Austroasiatic, Austronesian and sometimes others. Some controversial, others rejected.
Austro-Tai Austronesian and Tai–Kadai Controversial.
Miao–Dai Hmong–Mien and Tai–Kadai ?
Austronesian–Ongan Ongan and Austronesian Possible.
Dene–Caucasian Na-Dené, North Caucasian (controversial), Sino-Tibetan, Yeniseian, and others. Widely rejected.
Karasuk Yeniseian and Burushaski Possible.
Dene–Yeniseian Na-Dené and Yeniseian Likely.
Nostratic Many large families in the northern hemisphere. Widely rejected.
Eurasiatic Many families from Eurasia. Widely rejected.
Indo-Semitic Indo-European languages and Semitic languages or Afro-Asiatic languages Widely rejected.
Indo-Uralic Indo-European and Uralic or Uralic–Yukaghir (controversial) Controversial.
Ural–Altaic Uralic and Altaic (controversial) Widely rejected.
Altaic Several north Asian families. Controversial (Sprachbund?)
Uralo-Siberian Uralic, Yukaghir, Eskimo–Aleut and possibly Chukotko-Kamchatkan Controversial.
Uralic–Yukaghir Uralic and Yukaghir Controversial.
Nivkh–Kamchukotic Nivkh and Chukotko-Kamchatkan ?
Elamo-Dravidian Elamite and Dravidian ?
Pontic Northwest Caucasian and Indo-European Controversial.
Ibero-Caucasian Northwest Caucasian, Northeast Caucasian, and Kartvelian Controversial.
North Caucasian Northwest Caucasian and Northeast Caucasian Controversial.
Indo-Pacific Several Pacific families. Widely rejected.
Macro-Pama–Nyungan Several Australian language families. Controversial.
Kongo–Saharan Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan Controversial.
Nilo-Saharan Many families of central Africa. Controversial.
Macro-Khoisan African click-consonant languages that do not belong to any other macrophyla. Widely rejected.
Na-Dene (with Haida) Sapir's proposal. Controversial.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement." Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215-88.PDF

External links[edit]