Interesting Facts about Languages

English is not only the usual “European” language. It originates from England, but it has spread a lot to New Zealand and Australia in the past years. That’s why they have adopted English as their official language.

 There are over 7,000 spoken languages in the world. Although they aren’t commonly known, there are many amazing and unbelievable facts about languages that can blow your mind. Sadly, not everyone is familiar with these facts, and some don’t even know there are that many different languages. Let’s go through some interesting facts about languages.

1. The Bible is the Most Translated Document in the World

Although it’s impossible to know for sure, we can make an educated guess. The Bible has been translated into more than 2,500 languages (2,883 precisely), with another 1,534 languages in progress. (The full text of the Bible is only about 800,000 words long.) That far exceeds any other book or document on record. [1]

2. The US Citizens Speak More than 350 Languages

According to the US Census Bureau, more than 350 languages are spoken in American homes. That’s more than any other country in the world! But what languages are the most popular? English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean are the most common languages spoken. [2]

3. The Oldest Written Language is Sumerian, which Dates Back to 3100 BC

In the late 3rd millennium BCE (around 3100 BC), a new language emerged in Mesopotamia. The Sumerians had their own written language, and it was completely unrelated to other known languages. [3]

In fact, it is still unknown where the Sumerians came from or where they went. Even though their language is still used in modern-day Iraq, there are no native speakers of the Sumerian language today.

The Sumerian language continued to be used for about 2,000 years until Akkadian replaced it. [4]

4. A Spoken Language Can Become Extinct

While most people assume human languages live on as long as people are speaking them, that’s not necessarily the case. A language is only considered “alive” if it has at least one child speaker (a child who spoke the language before their first birthday). If no child speakers exist, then the language becomes extinct.

There are already 241 languages that have become extinct.

5. Half the Population Worldwide Speaks Only 23 Languages

Half of the world’s population speaks at least one of these languages as their first language or mother tongue: Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Punjabi/Lahnda, German, Javanese, Wu (a dialect of Chinese), Malay/Indonesian, Telugu, Vietnamese, Korean, French, Marathi (another Indian language), Tamil (yet another Indian language), Urdu (also Pakistan’s official language), Turkish and Italian. [5]

6. Bilingualism Accounts for Nearly Half of the World’s Population

That’s right: around 43% of people can call themselves bilingual. The most commonly spoken language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with 1.3 billion native speakers, followed by English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic. [6]

7. No Single Language is considered the Official Language of the United States

The United States, despite its status as a nation composed largely of immigrants from English-speaking countries, does not have an official language. There has been a push for the establishment of English as the official language since at least 1880, when the National Language Act was introduced to Congress.

In fact, only 31 states have declared English as their official language; the rest have no official language designation. [7]

8. French is known to be the Love Language

French is known as the language of love because when it was first spoken in Europe, it sounded like a bunch of people singing. The Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote about this in his book “The Divine Comedy” when he said that French sounded like a song.

Although French might sound romantic and beautiful to many English speakers, it can be difficult to learn. This may be because it contains many homophones and silent letters. For example, “si” means “yes” while “sisi” means “no.” [8]

9. South Korea and North Korea Have Different Languages

It’s not just that South Korea and North Korea have different languages; they have totally different writing systems. Both are called Hangul. But the Hangul in South Korea was simplified to be more like the writing system of China, while the North Korean version has remained much closer to the original Hangul.

Some differences include glottal stops (a sound made by cutting off airflow through the throat) as found in North Korea aren’t found in South Korea. South Koreans use a lot of Chinese characters, which North Koreans don’t use at all. In addition, North Koreans have borrowed words from Russian, while South Koreans borrow words from English or Japanese. [9]

10. Almost All the Languages in the World Have Been Influenced By another Language

This might not sound surprising since we live in an increasingly globalized society where people often speak more than one language. But it’s actually pretty astounding when you think about it. Almost all of the 6,500+ languages in the world have been influenced by another language at some point.

This process is known as “language borrowing,” and it happens because there are very few cultures in the world that aren’t in contact with other cultures on some level. As a result, people from one culture often pick up words and phrases from another culture—and sometimes even full alphabet systems! [10]

11. South Africa Has the Most Official Languages

South Africa has 11 official languages because of its complicated history and its efforts to bring together all of its residents through language. The languages include Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. [11]

12. English is the Most Dominant Language in the World

It is spoken by approximately 380 million native speakers and an additional 300 million second-language speakers. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, and many other former British colonies have English as their official language. 

Even in countries where it’s not an official language, English strongly influences everyday life (think of pop music, TV shows, and Hollywood movies). English is also the dominant language online – more than half of all Web content is in English.

13. Papua New Guinea Speak the Most Languages

Papua New Guinea is known to be the country with the greatest number of languages, with a total of 850. Why so many in Papua New Guinea? It’s because there are a lot of people who live in isolated villages and speak their own dialects. They can’t understand each other because they never interact. [12]

However, 40 of these are to become extinct.

14. The Cambodian Language Has the Longest Alphabet with 74 Letters

The Khmer language of Cambodia has the largest alphabet in the world: 74 letters, consisting of 33 consonants, 23 vowels, and 12 independent vowels. [13]

15. Europe’s First Printed Book was in German 

German was the first language to be printed with movable type (a printing method that allows individual pieces of type to be used for printing rather than requiring casting for each page). The person who printed in German was Johannes Gutenberg, who began his career as a goldsmith. His printing press was made from a winepress and was invented around 1436. During this time period, Johannes Gutenberg was in Strasbourg and had already spent time working on his printing press for several years.

He first printed the Bible in Latin in 1455 and then began printing Bibles in German later that year. Although he is often credited with inventing the printing press, it has been debated whether or not he invented it himself or whether he borrowed from others’ ideas. [14]

16. 80% of Information Stored in Computers is in English

The majority of programmers and computer professionals speak English as well, so when it comes to coding languages, they are more likely to use English. [15]

17. Japanese is the Fastest Spoken Language in the World

Japanese is the fastest spoken language in the world, with an average of 7.84 syllables per second. This makes it faster than Italian, which clocks in at 7.82 syllables per second, and French, which has 7.18 syllables per second. [16]

It even beats out languages like German and Cantonese, both of which have a reputation for being very fast-paced languages.

18. The Most Evolving Language in the World 

Languages are constantly evolving. A language that was spoken in its purest form a hundred years ago would sound like one from a completely different country today. The English language is one example of this phenomenon. It has been influenced by other languages such as Latin, French, and Germanic languages (through Germanic invasions). This makes it very difficult for non-native English speakers to learn English as a second language due to its complexity and variety of grammatical structures.

19. Asia Has the Most Languages

Asia is a large continent, home to over 4 billion people, and it’s no surprise that it has the most languages of any continent—nearly 2,300! This number includes endangered languages as well as those with a healthy number of speakers.

20. The German Language has Three Genders

German has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. What’s more, different nouns have different genders even if they’re already words in English! For example, “die hand,” which means “hand,” is feminine, while “der finger,” which means “finger,” is masculine. This can make it difficult to learn the language as an adult because there are no visible markers of gender at all! [17]

Conclusion

From this list of facts, we can say that languages are very dynamic entities. All languages are changing and adapting to fulfill our universal need for communication and to reach problem-solving tasks. That is why linguists have to be able to understand all these changes, so they can also adapt to them. Languages also help showcase the culture, traditions, and norms of a community in one way or another.

References

  1. https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/which-worlds-most-translated-book.php
  2. https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USCENSUS/bulletins/122dd88
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sumerian-language
  4. https://ncert.nic.in/textbook/pdf/kehs102.pdf
  5. https://www.jarvisen.com/blogs/jarvisens-blog/the-top-23-languages-in-the-world 
  6. https://www.daytranslations.com/blog/how-many-languages-can-you-learn/
  7. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2014/08/08/the-growing-divide-over-official-english-laws 
  8. https://journeytofrance.com/why-is-french-the-language-of-love/
  9. https://prolingo.com/blog/is-the-same-language-spoken-in-north-and-south-korea
  10. https://www.ruf.rice.edu/~kemmer/Words/loanwords.html
  11. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/these-countries-have-the-most-official-languages
  12. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/07/20/papua-new-guineas-incredible-linguistic-diversity
  13. https://wordfinderx.com/blog/languages-ranked-by-letters-in-alphabet 
  14. https://www.europeana.eu/en/blog/europes-first-printed-book
  15. https://blog.talk.edu/learn-english/english-language-of-the-internet/
  16. https://thelanguagenerds.com/2019/list-of-the-fastest-spoken-languages-in-the-world
  17. https://germanwithlaura.com/noun-gender