According to Ethnologue, there are currently 7,168 living languages. The countries with the most languages are Papua New Guinea (840), Indonesia (710), Nigeria (524), India (453) and the USA (335) [source].
Note: this is a difficult question to answer exactly as the distinction between language and dialect is fuzzy, and is a matter of politics, geography, history, culture and linguistics. For example, all varieties of Chinese are considered dialects by Chinese linguits, even though many are mutually unintelligible. The same applies to varieties of Arabic.
Episode 10 of the Radio Omniglot Podcast discusses this topic.
More information about the number of languages
According to Ethnologue, 4,065 language currently have a written form. However many are rarely written, or few of the people who speak them are able to read and write them.
According to ScriptSource, 917 languages are not written at all.
According to Wikipedia, at least 3,866 languages "make use of an established writing system". This includes writing sytems for extinct languages and constructed languages, shorthand systems, Braille and other notations systems, and many writing systems listed that are rarely, if ever, used.
The following writing systems are currently actively used. Other writing systems are used occasionally for decoration, religious purposes or in other contexts.
This is a list of writing systems currently in use, including those used only to a limited extent, and how many languages are written with them.
Some languages are counted more than once as they are, or have been, written with more than one writing system. For example, languages in Central Asia were written with versions of the Arabic script until the 1920s, then with the Latin alphabet until the late 1930s, then with the Cyrillic alphabet after that. They are counted several times in these statistics.
If the Ethnologue figure for the number of written languages, 3,909, is correct, there are plenty more languages with written forms that not included on Omniglot. The majority of these languages are written with the Latin alphabet. Other writing systems used by many languages include the Cyrillic, Arabic, Bengali and Devanagari scripts.
|Writing Systems||Number of languages
|Bengali / Eastern Nagari||24|
|Myanmar / Burmese||13|
|Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics||11|
|Baybayin / Tagalog||3|
|Dehong Dai (Tai Le)||1|
|Fraser / Lisu||1|
Writing systems: Abjads | Alphabets | Abugidas | Syllabaries | Semanto-phonetic scripts | Undeciphered scripts | Alternative scripts | Constructed scripts | Fictional scripts | Magical scripts | Index (A-Z) | Index (by direction) | Index (by language) | Index (by continent) | What is writing? | Types of writing system | Differences between writing and speech | Language and Writing Statistics | Languages
Page last modified: 25.09.23
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