A Chinese proverb claims that learning any foreign language opens a window to the world for its native speaker. If so, polyglots live in houses with exceptionally good ventilation!
Of course, it is impossible to master all the world's languages, but since they are distributed unevenly, it will be enough to master the most widely used ones in order to express yourself without problems with people in most parts of the globe.
How many languages are there on Earth?
According to linguists, there are 7100 active languages on the planet that still have living speakers. But their number is steadily decreasing, on average by 20-25 pieces annually. The reason lies in the development of communications and the refusal of small indigenous peoples to communicate in their native language to the detriment of a more common and larger one.
Languages are alive as long as they are used. In the most difficult situation are those peoples and languages that, for one reason or another, are deprived of writing.
The prevalence of languages is uneven. 80% of the world's inhabitants use a hundred languages, and a tenth of a percent can account for up to 3500. Another reason for linguistic genocide is globalization and migration processes. Moving to the cities, people soon abandon their native language, and their children cease to study the speech of their ancestors.
Even in Europe, about 50 languages are at risk of extinction, and in total the threatened status has more than 400. If things continue in the same vein, by mid-century half of the current languages will follow the example of Latin and Ancient Greek and will finally be out of everyday life. Most of this will be forgotten forever, since without writing the preservation of folklore and vocabulary is not impossible. The most vulnerable languages in this regard are the Australian, African, American peoples, the ethnic groups of Indochina and Burma, as well as numerous islands in various parts of the world. The languages of Europe are the most resilient.
As for prevalence, according to data for 2020, these include the following:
- Chinese (almost one and a half billion speakers, most of them live in the PRC, there are significant representations and diasporas in 39 states);
- Spanish (465 million people use it as a native or language of international communication along with another official language; has the status of official, international or national in 31 countries, regional - in another 11);
- English (380 million are basic speakers, and in total it is used for official purposes in 137 states; however, most of them are small, with a population of several tens or hundreds of thousands of people).
In fairness, it should be noted that the Chinese ranks first not quite deservedly. In fact, it is a group of languages united by a common writing system based on a reformed version of the language that was commonly used in the northeastern part of China. It is called North Chinese, or Mandarin, although in the PRC itself it is called putanghua.
The area of use of Chinese and Russian is concentrated around Russia and China, respectively; Spanish is mainly used in the Western Hemisphere - Latin American countries, as well as in the Philippines, Morocco and Guinea. English is ubiquitous.
All three of the most widely spoken languages are, along with Arabic and French, among the six working official languages of the United Nations, UNESCO and some other international organizations.