Languages of Asia

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Of the many language families of Asia, Indo-European (purple, blue, and medium green) and Sino-Tibetan (chartreuse and pink) dominate numerically, while Altaic families (grey, bright green, and maroon) occupy large areas geographically. Indo-Aryan_language family is Sindhi in Pakistan and India. Regionally dominant families are Japonic in Japan, Austronesian in the Malay Archipelago (dark red), Kadai and Mon–Khmer in Southeast Asia (azure and peach), Dravidian in South India (khaki), Turkic in Central Asia (grey), and Semitic in the Mideast (orange).

There is a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. The major language families spoken on the continent include Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Tai-Kadai. They usually have a long tradition of writing, but not always.

Language groups[edit]

Ethnolinguistic distribution in Central/Southwest Asia of the Altaic, Caucasian, Afroasiatic (Hamito-Semitic) and Indo-European families.

The major families in terms of numbers are Indo-European and Indo-Aryan Languages and Dravidian languages in South Asia and Sino-Tibetan in East Asia. Several other families are regionally dominant.


Sino-Tibetan includes Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Karen and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and North east India.


The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhalese and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia). In addition, other branches of Indo-European spoken in Asia include the Slavic branch, which includes Russian in Siberia; Greek around the Black Sea; and Armenian; as well as extinct languages such as Hittite of Anatolia and Tocharian of (Chinese) Turkestan.

Altaic families[edit]

A number of smaller, but important language families spread across central and northern Asia have long been linked in an as-yet unproven Altaic family. These are the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic (including Manchu), Koreanic, and Japonic languages.


The Mon–Khmer languages (also known as Austroasiatic) are the oldest family in Asia. Languages given official status are Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).


The Kra–Dai languages (also known as Tai-Kadai) are found in southern China, Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Languages given official status are Thai (Siamese) and Lao.


The Austronesian languages are widespread throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, including major languages such as Fijian (Fiji), Tagalog (Philippines), and Malay (Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei). Javanese, Sundanese, and Madurese of Indonesia belong to this family as well.


The Dravidian languages of southern India and parts of Sri Lanka include Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, while smaller languages such as Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan respectively.


The Afroasiatic languages (in older sources Hamito-Semitic) are represented in Asia by the Semitic branch. Semitic languages are spoken in Western Asia, and include Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian.

Siberian families[edit]

Besides the Altaic families already mentioned (of which Tungusic is today a minor family of Siberia), there are a number of small language families and isolates spoken across northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (better known for Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (linked to Turkic and to the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and—just barely—Eskimo–Aleut. Some linguists have noted that the Koreanic languages share more similarities with the Paleosiberian languages than with the Altaic languages. The extinct Ruan-ruan language of Mongolia is unclassified, and does not show genetic relationships with any other known language family.

Caucasian families[edit]

Three small families are spoken in the Caucasus: Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian; Northeast Caucasian (Dagestanian languages), such as Chechen; and Northwest Caucasian, such as Circassian. The latter two may be related to each other. The extinct Hurro-Urartian languages may be related as well.

Small families of Southern Asia[edit]

Although dominated by major languages and families, there are number of minor families and isolates in South Asia & Southeast Asia. From west to east, these include:

Creoles and pidgins[edit]

The eponymous pidgin ("business") language developed with European trade in China. Of the many creoles to have developed, the most spoken today are Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole of the Philippines, and various Malay-based creoles such as Manado Malay influenced by Portuguese. A very well-known Portuguese-based creole is the Kristang, which is spoken in Malacca, a city-state in Malaysia.

Sign languages[edit]

A number of sign languages are spoken throughout Asia. These include the Japanese Sign Language family, Chinese Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, as well as a number of small indigenous sign languages of countries such as Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many official sign languages are part of the French Sign Language family.

Official languages[edit]

Asia and Europe are the only two continents where most countries use native languages as their official languages, though English is also widespread as an international language.

Indo-European, Indo Aryan ||  Pakistan (in Sindh, Balochistan India (in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab)
Language Native name Speakers Language Family Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
Abkhaz Aԥсшәа 240,000 Northwest Caucasian  Abkhazia  Georgia
Arabic العَرَبِيَّة 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Qatar,  Jordan,  Saudi Arabia,  Iraq,  Yemen,  Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Syria,  Palestine(observer state),  Lebanon,  Oman,  UAE,  Israel
Armenian հայերեն 5,902,970 Indo-European  Armenia,  Nagorno-Karabakh
Assamese অসমীয়া 15,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Assam)
Azerbaijani Azərbaycanca 37,324,060 Turkic  Azerbaijan  Iran
Bangla বাংলা 230,000,000 Indo-European  Bangladesh  India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Tamazight Tamazight 26,000,000 Amazigh  Jordan  Syria
Bodo Boro 1,984,569 Sino-Tibetan  India (in Bodoland)
Burmese မြန်မာစာ 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Cantonese 廣東話/广东话 7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan  Hong Kong  Macau
Mandarin Chinese 普通話/普通话,國語/国语,華語/华语 1,200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  China,  Taiwan,  Singapore,  Malaysia
Dari دری 19,600,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Dhivehi ދިވެހި 400,000 Indo-European  Maldives
Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ་ 600,000 Sino-Tibetan  Bhutan
English English 301,625,412 Indo-European  Hong Kong,  Philippines,  Singapore,  India,  Pakistan
Filipino Wikang Filipino 93,000,000 Austronesian  Philippines
Formosan 171,855 Austronesian  Taiwan
Georgian ქართული 4,200,000 Kartvelian  Georgia Mount Athos (Greece)
Gujarati ગુજરાતી 50,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Hakka Thòi-vàn Hak-fa 2,370,000 Sino-Tibetan  Taiwan
Hebrew עברית 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Israel
Hindi हिन्दी 550,000,000 Indo-European  India
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia 240,000,000 Austronesian  Indonesia  East Timor (as a working language)
Japanese 日本語 120,000,000 Japonic  Japan
Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ 51,000,000 Dravidian  India (in Karnataka)
Karen ကညီကျိး 6,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar (in Kayin State)
Kazakh Қазақша 18,000,000 Turkic  Kazakhstan  Russia
Khmer ភាសាខ្មែរ 14,000,000 Austroasiatic  Cambodia
Korean 한국어/조선말 80,000,000 Koreanic  South Korea,  North Korea  China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Kurdish Kurdî/کوردی 20,000,000 Indo-European  Iraq
Kyrgyz кыргызча 2,900,000 Turkic  Kyrgyzstan
Lao ພາສາລາວ 7,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Laos
Malay Bahasa Melayu/بهاس ملايو 30,000,000 Austronesian  Malaysia,  Brunei,  Singapore
Malayalam മലയാളം 33,000,000 Dravidian  India (in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mahe)
Marathi मराठी 73,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Mongolian Монгол хэлᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
2,000,000 Mongolic  Mongolia  China (in Inner Mongolia)
Nepali नेपाली 29,000,000 Indo-European    Nepal  India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Odia ଓଡ଼ିଆ 33,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Odisha and Jharkhand)
Ossetian Ирон 540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia) Indo-European  South Ossetia  Russia (in  North Ossetia–Alania )
Pashto پښتو 45,000,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan  Pakistan
Persian فارسی 50,000,000 Indo-European  Iran
Punjabi پنجابی / ਪੰਜਾਬੀ 100,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh)  Pakistan (in Punjab, Pakistan)
Portuguese Português 1,200,000 Indo-European  Timor Leste  Macau
Russian Русский 260,000,000 Indo-European  Abkhazia,  Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan,  Russia,  South Ossetia  Uzbekistan,  Tajikistan and  Turkmenistan (as an inter-ethnic language)
Saraiki سرائیکی 18,179,610 Indo-European  Pakistan (in Bahawalpur )
Sinhala සිංහල 18,000,000 Indo-European  Sri Lanka
Tamil தமிழ் 77,000,000 Dravidian  Sri Lanka,  Singapore  India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Telugu తెలుగు 79,000,000 Dravidian  India (in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Puducherry)
Taiwanese Hokkien 臺語 18,570,000 Sino-Tibetan  Taiwan
Tajik тоҷикӣ 7,900,000 Indo-European  Tajikistan
Tetum Lia-Tetun 500,000 Austronesian  Timor Leste
Thai ภาษาไทย 60,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Thailand
Tulu ತುಳು 1,722,768 Dravidian  India (in Mangalore, Udupi, Kasargod, Mumbai)
Turkish Türkçe 70,000,000 Turkic  Turkey,  Cyprus,  Northern Cyprus
Turkmen Türkmençe 7,000,000 Turkic  Turkmenistan
Urdu اُردُو 62,120,540 Indo-European  Pakistan  India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)
Uzbek Oʻzbekcha 25,000,000 Turkic  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt 80,000,000 Austroasiatic  Vietnam

See also[edit]