List of languages by total number of speakers

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For languages by only 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, Chhattisgarhi, 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 400 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 and (usually uncited) sources; language information is not collected on most national censuses.

Rank Language Family L1 speakers L1 Rank L2 speakers Total
1 Mandarin Chinese (incl. Standard Chinese) Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 900 million 1 410 million in China 1,310 million
2 English Indo-European, Germanic 339 million 3 603 million 942 million
3 Spanish Indo-European, Romance 472 million 2 94 million 570 million
4 Arabic Afro-Asiatic, Semitic 295 million 4 90 million 385 million
5 Hindi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 260 million (2001) 5 120 million (1999) 380 million
6 Russian Indo-European, Slavic 150 million (2010) 8 110 million (2010) 260 million
7 Bengali Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 240 million (2011) 7 19 million in Bangladesh (2011) 259 million
8 Portuguese Indo-European, Romance 215 million (2010) 6 35 million (2012) 250 million
9 Malay (incl. Indonesian and Malaysian) Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 77 million (no date) 14 173 million (2010) 250 million
10 French Indo-European, Romance 80 million (2015) 17 140 million (2015) 220 million[3]
11 German Indo-European, Germanic 95 million (2014) 11 115 million 210 million
12 Urdu Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 68 million (2007) 21 94 million (1999) 162 million
13 Punjabi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 146 million[4] 10  ? 146 million
14 Japanese Japonic 130 million 9 0.0115 million (2010)[5] 130 million
15 Persian (Farsi) Indo-European, Iranian 60 million (2009) 29 50 million[6] 110 million[6]
16 Swahili Niger-Congo, Bantu 16 million  ? 82 million 98 million
17 Tamil (incl. Tamil languages) Dravidian 80 million (2011) 20 12 million in India (2011) 92 million
18 Italian Indo-European, Romance 65 million (2015) 23 20 million (2015) 85 million
19 Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000) 12  ? 84 million
20 Telugu Dravidian 75 million (2001) 15 6 million in India (no date) 81 million
21 Korean Koreanic 77 million (2008–2010) 17  ? 77 million
22 Wu Chinese (incl. Shanghainese) Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 77 million (1984) 13 77 million
23 Marathi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 72 million (2001) 19 3 million in India (no date) 75 million
24 Turkish Turkic, Oghuz 71 million (2006) 22 0.3 million in Turkey 71 million
25 Vietnamese Austroasiatic, Viet–Muong 78 million 16  ? 78 million
26 Yue Chinese (incl. Cantonese) Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 62 million (1984–2006) 24  ? 62 million

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]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Crystal, David (March 2008). "Two thousand million?". English Today. doi:10.1017/S0266078408000023. 
  2. ^ "Summary by language size". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2016-04-06. 
  3. ^ affairs, The French Ministry of Foreign. "The status of French in the world". France Diplomatie :: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  4. ^ Lahnda/Western Punjabi 116.6 million Pakistan (2014?). Eastern Punjabi: 28.2 million India (2001), other countries: 1.1 million. Ethnologue 19.
  5. ^ "Japanese". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2016-03-07. 
  6. ^ a b Windfuhr, Gernot: The Iranian Languages, Routledge 2009, p. 418.

External links[edit]