Introduction to the Study of Language
- Linguistics -- the study of language and languages.
- Comparative linguistics -- the study of the history and
- Psycholinguistics -- study of language from a cognitive and
- Sociolinguistics -- the study of language as it pertains to
classes, ethnic groups,
- Phonetics -- the study of phonemes.
- Phonemes -- the sounds of a language.
- Syntax -- the grammar of a language.
- Morphology -- the study of morphemes -- usually seen as a part
- Morphemes -- word stems and affixes, i.e. units of meaning in a
- Semantics -- the study of the meaning of language.
- Lexicology -- the study of words -- a part of semantics.
The Top Twelve Languages
These languages have over 100 million each, inc. non-native speakers
-- although the actual numbers are difficult to estimate!
If you knew all 12 of these, you could probably communicate with more
2/3 of the world!
- 1st/2nd (tie):
- Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) -- 1 billion
- English -- 1 billion (the world's most popular second language)
- 3rd: Hindu-Urdu (two dialects, each with a different
- 4th: Spanish -- 450 million.
- 5th: Russian -- 320 million.
- 6th/7th (tie):
- Arabic -- 250 million.
- Bengali -- 250 million.
- 8th: Portuguese -- 200 million.
- 9th: Malay-Indonesian (two dialects) -- 160 million.
- 10th: Japanese -- 130 million.
- 11th/12th (tie):
- French -- 125 million
- German -- 125 million
There are a number of ways of classifying the thousands of languages
of our world. What follows is based on Greenberg's system, a
classification which is still controversial. If you
like to see maps of these families, click
here. Some of the larger examples of each category have an
population in brackets; a second number indicates an estimate of
- Khoisan (Old languages of Southern Africa, e.g. Bushmen)
- Niger-Congo (e.g. Swahili [5-60], Yoruba , Fula , Zulu
- Nilo-Saharan (North Central Africa)
- Afro-Asiatic (inc. Ancient Egyptian)
- Semitic (e.g. Arabic [180-250], Hebrew )
- Chadic (e.g. Hausa )
- Indo-European -- a very well studied family.
- Germanic (e.g. English [427-1000+], German [121-125]), Dutch
- Romantic (e.g. French [116-125], Italian [65-70], Spanish
- Celtic (e.g. Gaelic, Welsh, Breton)
- Slavic (e.g. Russian [158-320], Ukrainian-Belarus , Polish
- Baltic  (e.g. Lithuanian, Lettish)
- Greek 
- Albanian 
- Armenian 
- Indo-Iranian (e.g. Urdu-Hindi [223-900], Bengali [162-250],
Marathi , Bhojpuri-Maithili , Persian )
- Basque (Spain-France border )
- Caucasian (in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, e.g. Georgian
speculative: most consider at very least that Georgian
(Kartvelian) is separate from the other Caucasian languages.
- Uralic (e.g. Finnish , Hungarian , Lapp) -- a very well
- Altaic (e.g. Turkish [50-70], Azerbaijani , Uzbek ,
) -- some consider Korean and Japanese part of this family.
- Korean [66-75]
- Japanese [124-130]
- Dravidian (southern India, e.g. Tamil [50-65], Telugu [50-70],
, Malayalam )
- Sino-Tibetan (e.g. “Chinese” or Mandarin [720-1000], Wu [77-85],
[46-70], Burmese )
- Austric -- a highly speculative grouping; most linguists consider
- Miao (Southern China)
- Austroasiatic (e.g. Vietnamese [55-75], Cambodian )
- Daic (e.g. Thai , etc.)
- Austronesian (e.g. Indonesian/Malay [17-160], Javanese
, Polynesian languages such as Maori and Hawaiian) -- a very well
- Indo-Pacific (about 700 Papua-New Guinea languages) -- very
speculative; we don't even have very complete information on most of
- Australian (170 Aborigine languages)
- Paleosiberian (far Northeastern Siberia, near the Bering Strait)
- Eskimo-Aleut (from Alaskan islands, across northern Canada, to
- Na-Dene (Northwest Pacific coast Indians, plus Navaho and Apache)
- Amerindian (600 languages of North and South America) -- the most
speculative of all; most specialists in American Indian languages
consider these to be independent families.
- Macro-Algonquin family (e.g. Cree, Ojibwa)
- Macro-Souian family (e.g. Sioux, Iroquois)
- Hokan family (California, Mexico; sometimes classified with
- Penutian family (California, Oregon, Mexico, Central America;
- Aztec-Tanoan family (e.g. Nahuatl , Comanche, Hopi;
sometimes classified with Penutian)
- Oto-Manguean (Mexico, Central America; sometimes grouped with
Aztec-Tanoan as Central Amerind)
- Andean-Equatorial family (e.g. Quechua , Guarani ;
- Chibchan family (South America; includes Paezan)
- Gé-Pano-Carib family (South America)