Languages of Asia

Jump to navigation Jump to search
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[edit]

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

Indo-European[edit]

The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Odia, 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.

Mon–Khmer[edit]

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

Kra–Dai[edit]

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.

Austronesian[edit]

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.

Dravidian[edit]

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.

Afro-Asiatic[edit]

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.

Language Native name Speakers Language Family Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
Abkhaz Aԥсшәа 240,000 Northwest Caucasian  Abkhazia
Arabic العَرَبِيَّة 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Bahrain
 Egypt
 Iraq
 Israel
 Jordan
 Kuwait
 Lebanon
 Oman
 Palestine
 Qatar
 Saudi Arabia
 Syria
 UAE
 Yemen
Armenian հայերեն 5,902,970 Indo-European  Armenia
 Artsakh
Assamese অসমীয়া 15,000,000 Indo-European  India
Azerbaijani Azərbaycanca 37,324,060 Turkic  Azerbaijan
Bengali বাংলা 230,000,000 Indo-European  Bangladesh  India
Bodo Boro 1,984,569 Sino-Tibetan  India
Burmese မြန်မာဘာသာ 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Cantonese 廣東話/广东话 7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan  China
Chin Kukish 200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Chinese Mandarin 普通話/普通话
國語/国语
華語/华语
1,200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  China
 Taiwan (de facto)
 Singapore
 Myanmar
Dari دری 19,600,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Dhivehi ދިވެހިބަސް 400,000 Indo-European  Maldives
Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ་ 600,000 Sino-Tibetan  Bhutan
English English 301,625,412 Indo-European  India
 Pakistan
 Philippines
 Singapore
 China
Filipino Wikang Filipino 93,000,000 Austronesian  Philippines
Formosan 171,855 Austronesian  Taiwan (de facto)
Georgian ქართული 4,200,000 Kartvelian  Georgia
Gujarati ગુજરાતી 50,000,000 Indo-European  India
Hakka 客家話/客家话
Hak-kâ-fa
2,370,000 Sino-Tibetan  Taiwan (de facto)
Hebrew עברית 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Israel
Hindi हिन्दी 550,000,000 Indo-European  India
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia 240,000,000 Austronesian  Indonesia
Japanese 日本語 120,000,000 Japonic  Japan (de facto)
Kachin Jinghpaw 940,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ 51,000,000 Dravidian  India
Karen ကညီကျိာ်း 6,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Kayah Karenni 190,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Kazakh Қазақша
Qazaqsha
قازاقشا
18,000,000 Turkic  Kazakhstan  China

 Russia

Khmer ភាសាខ្មែរ 14,000,000 Austroasiatic  Cambodia
Korean 조선어
한국어
80,000,000 Koreanic  North Korea
 South Korea
 China
Kurdish Kurdî
کوردی
20,000,000 Indo-European  Iraq  Iraq

 Syria

Kyrgyz Кыргызча
قىرعىزچا
2,900,000 Turkic  Kyrgyzstan  China
Lao ພາສາລາວ 7,000,000 Kra-Dai  Laos
Malay Bahasa Melayu
بهاس ملايو
30,000,000 Austronesian  Brunei
 Indonesia (as Indonesian)
 Malaysia (also called Malaysian)
 Singapore
Malayalam മലയാളം 33,000,000 Dravidian  India
Marathi मराठी 73,000,000 Indo-European  India
Mon ဘာသာ မန် 851,000 Austroasiatic  Myanmar
Mongolian Монгол хэл
ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
ᠬᠡᠯᠡ
2,000,000 Mongolic  Mongolia  China
Nepali नेपाली 29,000,000 Indo-European    Nepal  India
Odia ଓଡ଼ିଆ 33,000,000 Indo-European  India
Ossetian Ирон 540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia) Indo-European  South Ossetia
Pashto پښتو 45,000,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan  Pakistan
Persian فارسی
Форсӣ
50,000,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan (as Dari)
 Iran
 Tajikistan (as Tajik)
Portuguese Português 1,200,000 Indo-European  Timor Leste  China
Punjabi ਪੰਜਾਬੀ
پن٘جابی
100,000,000 Indo-European  India

 Pakistan

Rakhine ရခိုင်ဘာသာ 1,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Russian Русский 260,000,000 Indo-European  Abkhazia (co-official)
 Kazakhstan (co-official)
 Kyrgyzstan (co-official)
 Russia (state)
 South Ossetia (state)
 Tajikistan (inter-ethnic communication)
 Turkmenistan (inter-ethnic communication)
 Uzbekistan (inter-ethnic communication)
Shan ၽႃႇသႃႇတႆ 3,295,000 Kra-Dai  Myanmar
Sindhi سنڌي 40,000,000 Indo-European  Pakistan
Sinhala සිංහල 18,000,000 Indo-European  Sri Lanka
Taiwanese Hokkien 臺灣話
Tâi-oân-oē
18,570,000 Sino-Tibetan  Taiwan (de facto)
Tajik Тоҷикӣ 7,900,000 Indo-European  Tajikistan
Tamil தமிழ் 77,000,000 Dravidian  Singapore
 Sri Lanka
 India
Telugu తెలుగు 79,000,000 Dravidian  India
Tetum Lia-Tetun 500,000 Austronesian  Timor Leste
Thai ภาษาไทย 60,000,000 Kra-Dai  Thailand
Tibetan བོད་སྐད་ 1,172,940 Sino-Tibetan  China

   Nepal

Tulu ತುಳು 1,722,768 Dravidian  India
Turkish Türkçe 70,000,000 Turkic  Cyprus
 Northern Cyprus
 Turkey
Turkmen Türkmençe 7,000,000 Turkic  Turkmenistan
Urdu اُردُو 62,120,540 Indo-European  Pakistan  India
Uyghur ئۇيغۇرچە‎ 10,416,910 Turkic  China
Uzbek Oʻzbekcha
Ўзбекча
25,000,000 Turkic  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt 80,000,000 Austroasiatic  Vietnam (de facto)
Zhuang Vahcuengh 16,000,000 Kra-Dai  China

See also[edit]

References[edit]