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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 is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of such a system.
Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Asia is notable for not only its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements, as well as vast barely populated regions. Its 4.5 billion people constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.
Altaic is a hypothetical language family that was once proposed to include the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic language families; and possibly also the Japonic and Koreanic families, and the Ainu language. Speakers of those languages are currently scattered over most of Asia north of 35 °N and in some eastern parts of Europe, extending in longitude from Turkey to Japan. The group is named after the Altai mountain range in the center of Asia.
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.
The Indo-European languages are a language family of several hundred related languages and dialects.
The Dravidian languages are a language family spoken mainly in Southern India and parts of Central and Eastern India, as well as in Sri Lanka with small pockets in southwestern Pakistan, southern Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, and overseas in other countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. The Dravidian languages with the most speakers are Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. There are also small groups of Dravidian-speaking scheduled tribes, who live outside Dravidian-speaking areas, such as the Kurukh in Eastern India and Gondi in Central India. The Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 215 million people in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Sino-Tibetan, in a few sources also known as Trans-Himalayan, is a family of more than 400 languages, second only to Indo-European in number of native speakers. The Sino-Tibetan languages with the most native speakers are the varieties of Chinese, Burmese, and the Tibetic languages. Other languages of the family are spoken in the Himalayas, the Southeast Asian Massif and the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Most have small speech communities in remote mountain areas and as such are poorly documented. Unlike Western linguists, Chinese linguists generally include Kra–Dai and Hmong-Mien languages within Sino-Tibetan.
Sino-Tibetan includes Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Karen and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and North east India.
Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.
The Tibetic languages are a cluster of Tibeto-Burman languages descended from Old Tibetan, spoken across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas in Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.
The Burmese language is the Sino-Tibetan language spoken in Myanmar where it is an official language and the language of the Bamar people, the country's principal ethnic group. Although the Constitution of Myanmar officially recognizes the English name of the language as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese, after Burma, the older name for Myanmar. In 2007, it was spoken as a first language by 33 million, primarily the Bamar (Burman) people and related ethnic groups, and as a second language by 10 million, particularly ethnic minorities in Myanmar and neighboring countries.
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.
The Indo-Iranian languages, Indo-Iranic languages, or Aryan languages constitute the largest and southeasternmost extant branch of the Indo-European language family. It has more than 1.5 billion speakers, stretching from Europe (Romani), Turkey and the Caucasus (Ossetian) eastward to Xinjiang (Sarikoli) and Assam (Assamese), and south to Sri Lanka (Sinhala) and the Maldives (Maldivian). Furthermore, there are large communities of Indo-Iranian speakers in northwestern Europe, North America and Australia.
Bengali, also known by its endonym Bangla, is an Indo-Aryan language primarily spoken by the Bengalis in South Asia. It is the official and most widely spoken language of Bangladesh and second most widely spoken of the 22 scheduled languages of India, behind Hindi. In 2015, 160 million speakers were reported for Bangladesh, and the 2011 Indian census counted another 100 million.
Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language with more than 100 million native speakers around the world and especially in the Indian subcontinent. It is the native language of the Punjabi people, an ethnic group of the cultural region called the Punjab, which encompasses northwest India and eastern Pakistan.
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. Speakers of the Turkish language (Anatolian Turks) are believed to have adopted the language, having instead originally spoken the Anatolian languages, an extinct group of languages belonging to the Indo-European family.
The Turkic languages are a language family of at least thirty-five documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples of Eurasia from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and West Asia all the way to North Asia and East Asia. The Turkic languages originated in a region of East Asia spanning Western China to Mongolia, where Proto-Turkic is thought to have been spoken, according to one estimate, around 2,500 years ago, from where they expanded to Central Asia and farther west during the first millennium.
The Mongolic languages are a group of languages spoken in East-Central Asia, mostly in Mongolia and surrounding areas plus in Kalmykia and Buryatia. The best-known member of this language family, Mongolian, is the primary language of most of the residents of Mongolia and the Mongolian residents of Inner Mongolia, with an estimated 5.7+ million speakers.
The Tungusic languages form a language family spoken in Eastern Siberia and Manchuria by Tungusic peoples. Many Tungusic languages are endangered, and the long-term future of the family is uncertain. There are approximately 75,000 native speakers of the dozen living languages of the Tungusic language family. Some linguists consider Tungusic to be part of the controversial Altaic language family, along with Turkic, Mongolic, and sometimes Koreanic and Japonic.
The Mon–Khmer languages (also known as Austroasiatic) are the oldest family in Asia. Languages given official status are Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).
Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language that originated in Vietnam, where it is the national and official language. It is the native language of the Vietnamese (Kinh) people, as well as a first or second language for the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. As a result of Vietnamese emigration and cultural influence, Vietnamese speakers are found throughout the world, notably in East and Southeast Asia, North America, Australia and Western Europe. Vietnamese has also been officially recognized as a minority language in the Czech Republic.
Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. With approximately 16 million speakers, it is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language. Khmer has been influenced considerably by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious registers, through Hinduism and Buddhism. The more colloquial registers have influenced, and have been influenced by, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cham, all of which, due to geographical proximity and long-term cultural contact, form a sprachbund in peninsular Southeast Asia. It is also the earliest recorded and earliest written language of the Mon–Khmer family, predating Mon and by a significant margin Vietnamese, due to Old Khmer being the language of the historical empires of Chenla, Angkor and, presumably, their earlier predecessor state, Funan.
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), particularly its Semitic branch, are spoken in Western Asia. It includes Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian. The Modern South Arabian languages contain a substratum influence from the Cushitic branch of Afroasiatic, which suggests that Cushitic speakers originally inhabited the Arabian Peninsula alongside Semitic speakers.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 ||
|Language||Native name||Speakers||Language Family||Official Status in a Country||Official Status in a Region|
|Malay||Bahasa Melayu/بهاس ملايو||30,000,000||Austronesian|
|Ossetian||Ирон||540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia)||Indo-European|
|Punjabi||پنجابی / ਪੰਜਾਬੀ||100,000,000||Indo-European|
Afroasiatic (Afro-Asiatic), also known as Afrasian and in older sources as Hamito-Semitic (Chamito-Semitic) or Semito-Hamitic, is a large language family of about 300 languages. It includes languages spoken predominantly in West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and parts of the Sahel.
Nostratic is a hypothetical and controversial macrofamily, which includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, although its exact composition and structure vary among proponents. It typically comprises Kartvelian, Indo-European, and Uralic languages; some languages from the disputed Altaic family; the Afroasiatic languages spoken in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East; and the Dravidian languages of the Indian Subcontinent.
The languages of Africa are divided into six major language families:
A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language. Language isolates are in effect language families consisting of a single language. Commonly cited examples include Ainu, Basque, Korean, Sumerian, Elamite, and Vedda, though in each case a minority of linguists claim to have demonstrated a relationship with other languages.
Paleosiberianlanguages or Paleoasian (Paleo-Asiatic) are terms of convenience used in linguistics to classify a disparate group of linguistic isolates as well as a few small families of languages spoken in parts both of northeastern Siberia and of the Russian Far East. They are not known to have any linguistic relationship to each other; their only common link is that they are held to have antedated the more dominant languages, particularly Tungusic and latterly Turkic languages, that have largely displaced them. Even more recently, Turkic and especially Tungusic, have been displaced in their turn by Russian.
Languages spoken in India belong to several language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 78.05% of Indians and the Dravidian languages spoken by 19.64% of Indians. Languages spoken by the remaining 2.31% of the population belong to the Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai and a few other minor language families and isolates. India (780) has the world's second highest number of languages, after Papua New Guinea (839).
In historical linguistics, an Urheimat is the area of origin of the speakers of a proto-language, the parent language of a group of languages assumed to be genetically related.
Turanian is an obsolete language-family proposal subsuming most of the languages of Eurasia not included in Indo-European, Semitic and Chinese. During the 19th century, inspired by the establishment of the Indo-European family, scholars looked for similarly widespread families elsewhere. Building on the work of predecessors such as Rasmus Rask and Matthias Castrén, Max Müller proposed the Turanian grouping primarily on the basis of the incidence of agglutinative morphology, naming it after Turan, an ancient Iranian term for the Turkish lands of central Asia. The languages he included are now generally assigned to nine separate language families.
Eurasiatic is a proposed language macrofamily that would include many language families historically spoken in northern, western, and southern Eurasia.
Borean is a hypothetical linguistic macrofamily that encompasses almost all language families worldwide except those native to sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, Australia, and the Andaman Islands. Its supporters propose that the various languages spoken in Eurasia and adjacent regions have a genealogical relationship, and ultimately descend from languages spoken during the Upper Paleolithic in the millennia following the Last Glacial Maximum. The name Borean is based on the Greek βορέας, and means "northern". This reflects the fact that the group is held to include most language families native to the northern hemisphere. Two distinct models of Borean exist: that of Harold C. Fleming and that of Sergei Starostin.
South Asian ethnic groups are ethno-linguistic composition of the population of South Asia, that is the nations of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka is highly diverse. The majority of the population fall within two large linguistic groups, Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Indian society is traditionally divided into castes or clans, not ethnicities, and these categories have had no official status since independence in 1947, except for the scheduled castes and tribes which remain registered for the purpose of affirmative action. In today's India, the population is categorized in terms of the 1,652 mother tongues spoken.
The Linguistic Bibliography / Bibliographie Linguistique is an annual publication which first appeared in 1949. The publication provides comprehensive bibliographical descriptions of publications in theoretical linguistics, with about 20,000 items added per year. Since 2002, the database has also been available online, as Linguistic Bibliography Online, and contains data from 1993 onward.
The 2011 National census lists 123 Nepalese languages spoken as a mother tongue in Nepal. Most belong to the Indo-Aryan and Sino-Tibetan language families.
Race Life of the Aryan Peoples is a book written by Joseph Pomeroy Widney, published in New York by Funk & Wagnalls in 1907, of the history of the Aryan race, a hypothesized race commonly described in the late 19th and early 20th century as consisting of native Indo-European Language-speaking peoples of Caucasian ancestry, i.e., those ethnic groups that are the native speakers of Indo-European Languages regarded as descended from the original speakers of Proto-Indo European.
There have been various classification schemes for Southeast Asian languages.
Kĕnaboi is an extinct unclassified language of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia that may be a language isolate or an Austroasiatic language belonging to the Aslian branch. It is attested in what appear to be two dialects, based on two word lists of about 250 lexical items collected around 1880 by D.F.A. Hervey that are cited in Blagden (1906).