List of languages by total number of speakers

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For number by native speakers, see List of languages by number of native speakers.

A number of sources have compiled lists of languages by their number of speakers. However, all such lists should be used with caution.

  • First, it is difficult to define exactly what constitutes a language as opposed to a dialect. For example, Chinese and Arabic are sometimes considered single languages and sometimes language families. Similarly, Hindi is sometimes considered a single language or a family including Mewari, Chattisgarhi, Bhojpuri etc., but together with Urdu it also is often considered a single language Hindustani.
  • Second, there is no single criterion for how much knowledge is sufficient to be counted as a second-language speaker. For example, English has about 350 million native speakers but, depending on the criterion chosen, can be said to have as many as 2 billion speakers.[1]

Ethnologue (2015, 18th edition)[edit]

The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more native speakers in the 2015 edition of Ethnologue, a language reference published by SIL International.[2] Speaker totals are generally not reliable, as they add together estimates from different dates.

Language Family L1 speakers L2 speakers Total
all varieties of Chinese 1,200 million  ?  ?
Mandarin Chinese Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 850 million (2000) 180 million in China (no date) 1,030 million
English Indo-European, Germanic 340 million 510 million 840 million
Arabic Afro-Asiatic, Semitic 240 million (no date) 250 million (1999) 490 million
Spanish Indo-European, Romance 400 million 90 million 490 million
Modern Standard Hindi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan, Hindustani (essentially same language as Urdu) 260 million (2001) 120 million in India (1999) 380 million
Russian Indo-European, Slavic 170 million (ca. 2010)  ?  ?
Portuguese Indo-European, Romance 200 million  ?  ?
Bengali Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 190 million (2001–2011) 20 million in Bangladesh (2011) 210 million
French Indo-European, Romance 80 million (ca. 2015) 140 million (2015) 220 million
total Malay (incl. Indonesian, Malaysian) 60 million (no date) 150 (no date) 210 million
Urdu Indo-European, Indo-Aryan, Hindustani (essentially same language as Hindi) 64 million (1998–2001) 94 million in Pakistan (1999) 160 million
Japanese Japonic 130 million 130 million
Standard German Indo-European, Germanic 78 million (2012) 8 million in Germany (2012) 86 million
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000) 84 million
Telugu Dravidian 74 million (2001) 5 million in India (no date) 79 million
Tamil Dravidian 69 million (2001) 8 million in India (no date) 77 million
Korean language isolate 77 million (2008–2010) 77 million
Wu (incl. Shanghainese) Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 77 million (1984) 77 million
Marathi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 72 million (2001) 3 million in India (no date) 75 million
Turkish Turkic, Oghuz 71 million (2006) 0.3 million in Turkey 71 million
Vietnamese Austroasiatic, Viet–Muong 68 million (1999) 68 million
Italian Indo-European, Romance 64 million (1977–2012)  ?  ?
Western Punjabi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 63 million (2000)  ?  ?
total Lahnda 89 million (no date)  ?  ?
Yue (incl. Cantonese) Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 62 million (1984–2006)
total Persian 57 million (2011)  ?  ?
Egyptian Arabic Afro-Asiatic, Semitic 55 million (2006)  ?  ?

The distinction Ethnologue uses for Eastern and Western Panjabi is the national border, which does not correspond to the linguistic distinction. Hindi and Urdu are essentially a single language; however, 100 million non-Hindustani speakers are included under "Hindi", which is therefore not a single language. Hausa has 25 million L1 total and 15 million L2 in Nigeria, and so approaches our limit of 50 million. Coastal Swahili has 15 million L1 in Tanzania (2012) and "probably over 80% of rural" Tanzania as L2, not counting Kenya or the 10 million L2 speakers of Congo Swahili (1999), so it also approaches our limit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Crystal, David (March 2008). "Two thousand million?". English Today. doi:10.1017/S0266078408000023. 
  2. ^ [1]

External links[edit]