Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Smattering of Language Facts

To me, language is infinitely interesting.  How could it be otherwise?  After all, we are complex creatures, and language is our primary mode of communication.  With all the nuances of life, we need robust languages to handle them all.  

To honor this tricky thing we know as language, I decided to hunt down some interesting language facts to share with you.  To find even more, follow the links provided.

According to Fact Monster, there are more than 2700 languages spoken around the world (1000+ of which are spoken on the African continent-yikes!).  To complicate matters even further, there are 7000 dialects spoken around the world.  And though English may in fact be difficult to learn, Basque is actually the hardest language to learn.  It is supposedly unrelated to all other languages in existence, so it gives new speakers very little to hold on to.

Though there are a large number of languages around the world, only a handful of them have a large number of native speakers.  According to the website Muskurahat, only 13 languages have more than 100 million speakers: Mandarin, English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, Malay-Indonesian, French, Japanese, German, and Urdu.

World Languages and Cultures claims that there are 6,912 living languages in the world (I presume this number includes different dialects).  More than 500 of those are nearly extinct.  Taki Taki has the fewest words out of any language, coming in at only 340 words.  That would make for a pretty thin dictionary!  This petite language is spoken in the South American country Suriname, and claims approximately 120,000 native speakers.  English is a rich language indeed, and has been declared to have the largest vocabulary with "250,000 distinct words".  

It's difficult for experts to come to any kind of consensus regarding just how many words there are in the English language.  Wikipedia says that the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, contains more than 600,000 definitions.  Even more impressively, a study conducted by Harvard and Google calculated that that, as of 2010, the English language had 1,022,000 words and continued to add 8500 words per year.  These additions come from a combination of new discoveries and technologies, as well as words added from other languages.  As if 8500 words a year weren't impressive enough, some estimates have estimated the number much higher, reaching up to 25,000 words a year.

I could go on for days with language statistics.  There are so many of them out there.  I only highlighted a few that I found to be basic but interesting.  If you want to know more that really get into the nitty gritty of linguistics, hunt them down for yourself!  I promise, there are facts out there to entice everyone!

Here's an example for you skeptics out there who may still think that language is nothing more than a way to converse with people you may not even like.

Robby Casteel's Strange Facts About Language gives the definition for a funny little word: tyromancer.  This is a specialized occupation where one apparently "tells fortunes while watching cheese coagulate."  Words are born out of necessity.  It impresses me that someone found it necessary to concoct such a word.  Perhaps someone even thought "How did we ever live without it?"

It's a crazy, strange world we live in, isn't it?


  1. Definitely a crazy world, that is the strangest word definition I've ever heard! I love facts about language, to me it's not just a way to converse with people. I love our language, and the fact that there are so many ways to say things. :)

  2. It's mind-blowing when you look at it from that perspective. So many languages and dialects exist and I haven't even mastered English yet!

    P.S. I just wanted to make you aware that you have Word Verification on, some bloggers don't even comment if they see that little box. Blogger has a great Spam filter so it doesn't hurt to turn it off. If you're really worried you can always moderate your posts :)

  3. The English language is so fascinating to me. There are so many words that almost mean the same thing, but not quite.

  4. I love language. By this definition English is rapidly becoming the most "expansive" language in the world, if it isn't already there.

    Although I thought that Navajo came in as the most difficult to learn?