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). Language families of Asia.png
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 Capacity to communicate using signs, such as words or gestures

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 Earths largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres

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 languages controversial supergroup of Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Japanese, and Korean languages

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.


Language groups

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

Indo-European languages family of several hundred related languages and dialects

The Indo-European languages are a language family of several hundred related languages and dialects.

Dravidian languages language family spoken mainly in southern India

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 languages Asian language family

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 language family of languages

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.

Tibetic languages group of languages spoken by Tibetans in the Eastern Tibetan Plateau and in northern areas of the Indian subcontinent.

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.

Burmese language language spoken in Myanmar

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.

Indo-Iranian languages language family

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 language Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Bengali people of South Asia

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 language Indo-Aryan language spoken in India and Pakistan

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.

Altaic families

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. [1]

Turkic languages Language 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.

Mongolic languages language family of Eastern and Central Asia

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.

Tungusic languages language family

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 language official and national language of Vietnam

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. [2]

Siberian families

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

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

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

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

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

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 || Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan (in Sindh, Balochistan Flag of India.svg  India (in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab)

Language Native name Speakers Language Family Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
Abkhaz Aԥсшәа240,000 Northwest Caucasian Flag of the Republic of Abkhazia.svg  Abkhazia Flag of Georgia.svg  Georgia
Arabic العَرَبِيَّة230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Flag of Qatar.svg  Qatar, Flag of Jordan.svg  Jordan, Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg  Saudi Arabia, Flag of Iraq.svg  Iraq, Flag of Yemen.svg  Yemen, Flag of Kuwait.svg  Kuwait, Flag of Bahrain.svg  Bahrain, Flag of Syria.svg  Syria, Flag of Palestine.svg  Palestine(observer state), Flag of Lebanon.svg  Lebanon, Flag of Oman.svg  Oman, Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg  UAE, Flag of Israel.svg  Israel
Armenian հայերեն5,902,970 Indo-European Flag of Armenia.svg  Armenia, Flag of Artsakh.svg  Nagorno-Karabakh
Assamese অসমীয়া15,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India (in Assam)
Azerbaijani Azərbaycanca37,324,060 Turkic Flag of Azerbaijan.svg  Azerbaijan Flag of Iran.svg  Iran
Bangla বাংলা230,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Bangladesh.svg  Bangladesh Flag of India.svg  India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Tamazight Tamazight26,000,000 Amazigh Flag of Jordan.svg  Jordan Flag of Syria.svg  Syria
Bodo Boro1,984,569 Sino-Tibetan Flag of India.svg  India (in Bodoland)
Burmese မြန်မာစာ33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of Myanmar.svg  Myanmar
Cantonese 廣東話/广东话7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan Flag of Hong Kong.svg  Hong Kong Flag of Macau.svg  Macau
Mandarin Chinese 普通話/普通话,國語/国语,華語/华语1,200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China, Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan, Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore, Flag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia
Dari دری19,600,000 Indo-European Flag of Afghanistan.svg  Afghanistan
Dhivehi ދިވެހި400,000 Indo-European Flag of Maldives.svg  Maldives
Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ་600,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of Bhutan.svg  Bhutan
English English301,625,412 Indo-European Flag of Hong Kong.svg  Hong Kong,Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines, Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore, Flag of India.svg  India, Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan, Flag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia
Filipino Wikang Tagalog110,784,442 Austronesian Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines
Formosan 171,855 Austronesian Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan
Georgian ქართული4,200,000 Kartvelian Flag of Georgia.svg  Georgia
Gujarati ગુજરાતી50,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India (in Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Hakka Thòi-vàn Hak-fa2,370,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan
Hebrew עברית7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Flag of Israel.svg  Israel
Hindi हिन्दी550,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia240,000,000 Austronesian Flag of Indonesia.svg  Indonesia Flag of East Timor.svg  East Timor (as a working language)
Japanese 日本語120,000,000 Japonic Flag of Japan.svg  Japan
Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ51,000,000 Dravidian Flag of India.svg  India (in Karnataka)
Karen ကညီကျိး6,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of Myanmar.svg  Myanmar (in Flag of the Karen National Union.svg Kayin State)
Kazakh Қазақша18,000,000 Turkic Flag of Kazakhstan.svg  Kazakhstan Flag of Russia.svg  Russia
Khmer ភាសាខ្មែរ14,000,000 Austroasiatic Flag of Cambodia.svg  Cambodia
Korean 한국어/조선말80,000,000 Koreanic Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea, Flag of North Korea.svg  North Korea Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Kurdish Kurdî/کوردی20,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Iraq.svg  Iraq Flag of Iran.svg  Iran
Kyrgyz кыргызча2,900,000 Turkic Flag of Kyrgyzstan.svg  Kyrgyzstan
Lao ພາສາລາວ7,000,000 Tai-Kadai Flag of Laos.svg  Laos
Malay Bahasa Melayu/بهاس ملايو30,000,000 Austronesian Flag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia, Flag of Brunei.svg  Brunei, Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore
Malayalam മലയാളം33,000,000 Dravidian Flag of India.svg  India (in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mahe)
Marathi मराठी73,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India (in Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Mongolian Монгол хэлᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
2,000,000 Mongolic Flag of Mongolia.svg  Mongolia Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China (in Inner Mongolia)
Nepali नेपाली29,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal Flag of India.svg  India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Odia ଓଡ଼ିଆ33,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India (in Odisha and Jharkhand)
Ossetian Ирон540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia) Indo-European Flag of South Ossetia.svg  South Ossetia Flag of Russia.svg  Russia (in Flag of North Ossetia.svg  North Ossetia–Alania )
Pashto پښتو45,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Afghanistan.svg  Afghanistan Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan
Persian فارسی50,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Iran.svg  Iran
Punjabi پنجابی / ਪੰਜਾਬੀ100,000,000 Indo-European Flag of India.svg  India (in Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh) Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan (in Punjab, Pakistan)
Portuguese Português1,200,000 Indo-European Flag of East Timor.svg  Timor Leste Flag of Macau.svg  Macau
Russian Русский260,000,000 Indo-European Flag of the Republic of Abkhazia.svg  Abkhazia , Flag of Kazakhstan.svg  Kazakhstan, Flag of Kyrgyzstan.svg  Kyrgyzstan, Flag of Russia.svg  Russia, Flag of South Ossetia.svg  South Ossetia Flag of Uzbekistan.svg  Uzbekistan, Flag of Tajikistan.svg  Tajikistan and Flag of Turkmenistan.svg  Turkmenistan (as an inter-ethnic language)
Saraiki سرائیکی18,179,610 Indo-European Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan (in Bahawalpur )
Sinhala සිංහල18,000,000 Indo-European Flag of Sri Lanka.svg  Sri Lanka
Tamil தமிழ்77,000,000 Dravidian Flag of Sri Lanka.svg  Sri Lanka, Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore Flag of India.svg  India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Telugu తెలుగు79,000,000 Dravidian Flag of India.svg  India (in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Puducherry)
Taiwanese Hokkien 臺語18,570,000 Sino-Tibetan Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan
Tajik тоҷикӣ7,900,000 Indo-European Flag of Tajikistan.svg  Tajikistan
Tetum Lia-Tetun500,000 Austronesian Flag of East Timor.svg  Timor Leste
Thai ภาษาไทย60,000,000 Tai-Kadai Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand
Tulu ತುಳು1,722,768 Dravidian Flag of India.svg  India (in Mangalore, Udupi, Kasargod, Mumbai)
Turkish Türkçe70,000,000 Turkic Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey, Flag of Cyprus.svg  Cyprus, Flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.svg  Northern Cyprus
Turkmen Türkmençe7,000,000 Turkic Flag of Turkmenistan.svg  Turkmenistan
Urdu اُردُو62,120,540 Indo-European Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan Flag of India.svg  India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)
Uzbek Oʻzbekcha/ Ўзбекча25,000,000 Turkic Flag of Uzbekistan.svg  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt80,000,000 Austroasiatic Flag of Vietnam.svg  Vietnam

See also

Related Research Articles

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Nostratic languages proposed superfamily of Eurasian and African languages

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.

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