List of languages by total number of 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 is sometimes considered a single language and sometimes as a language family. Similarly, Hindi is considered sometime 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.
Ethnologue (2015, 18th edition)
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. Speaker totals are generally not reliable, as they add together estimates from different dates.
|Language||Family||L1 speakers||L2 speakers||Total|
|Mandarin||Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||850 million (2000)||180 million in China (no date)||1,030 million|
|total Chinese||1,200 million||?||1,200 million|
|English||Indo-European, Germanic||340 million||510 million||840 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)||?||170 million|
|Portuguese||Indo-European, Romance||200 million||?||200 million|
|Bengali||Indo-European, Indo-Aryan||190 million (2001–2011)||20 million in Bangladesh (2011)||210 million|
|French||Indo-European, Romance||ca. 76 million (ca. 2012)||87 million (2007)||160 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|
|German||Indo-European, Germanic||78 million (ca. 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)||80 million|
|Tamil||Dravidian||69 million (2001)||8 million in India (no date)||77 million|
|Korean||language isolate / Koreanic||77 million (2008–2010)||77 million|
|Wu (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, Vietic||68 million (1999)||68 million|
|Italian||Indo-European, Romance||64 million (1977–2012)||?||64 million|
|Western Punjabi||Indo-European, Indo-Aryan||63 million (2000)||?||63 million|
|total Lahnda||89 million (no date)||?||89 million|
|Yue (Cantonese)||Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||62 million (1984–2006)||62 million|
|Egyptian Arabic||Afro-Asiatic, Semitic||55 million (2006)||?||55 million|
|total Arabic||240 million (no date)||250 million (1999)||490 million|
|total Malay||60 million (no date)||150 (no date)||210 million|
|total Persian||57 million (2011)||?||57 million|
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.
- Linguistic demography
- Lists of endangered languages - with the fewest numbers of speakers
- Lists of languages
- List of languages without official status by total number of speakers
- List of languages by number of native speakers
- World language