The 100 most spoken languages

Photo: YuriB/Pixabay

The 100 most spoken languages in the world and where SA fits in

New data reveals the 100 most spoken languages in the world and where SA’s official languages fit in.

The 100 most spoken languages

Photo: YuriB/Pixabay

It is said that around the world, there are more than 7 000 regularly spoken vernaculars. In South Africa alone there are eleven official languages. Now, WordTips and Visual Capitalist shared the top 100 most common languages and their origins within a linguistic infographic.

In fact, the detailed visualisation from WordTips illustrates the 100 most spoken languages in the world, the number of native speakers for each language, and the origin tree that each language has branched out from.

Also read: Ranked: New data reveals the most popular South African languages

It is reported that the data comes from the 22nd edition of Ethnologue, a database covering a majority of the world’s population, detailing approximately 7 111 living languages in existence today.

The definitions of languages are often dynamic, blurring the lines around a singular understanding of what makes a language:

  • Linguistic: focused on lexical and grammatical differences, or on variations within speech communities
  • Social: focused on cultural or political factors, as well as heritage and identity

For the purposes of measurement, the researchers used the ISO 693-3 (codes for the representation of names of languages) set of criteria, which accounts for related varieties and dialect, ensuring that linguistics are not the only factor considered in this count of languages.

Six of SA’s official languages made the world’s top 100 list

Of the eleven official languages of South Africa, English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa (66), Northern (83) and Southern Sotho (85), as well as Setswana (84), made the top 100 list.

English came in at number one the entire list with more than a billion speakers and according to the data, only 33% consider it to be their native language.

Zulu came in at number 51 with 27 779 100 total speakers and 12 079 100 native speakers while Afrikaans came in at number 69 with 17 534 580 million speakers.

You can see the full infographic over here.

The top 5 languages in the world by total speakers

  1. English: 1 132 366 680 total speakers
  2. Mandarin Chinese: 1 116 596 640 total speakers
  3. Hindi: 615 475 540 total speakers
  4. Spanish: 534 335 730 total speakers
  5. French: 279 821 930 total speakers

What language has the most native speakers?

While English has the highest total number of speakers, Mandarin Chinese has the highest number of native speakers. How many people speak Mandarin? As a first language, roughly 918 million people speak Mandarin, with more than 1.11 billion total speakers worldwide. Mandarin Chinese includes a multitude of dialects, such as Standard Chinese, which is the official state language of the Chinese government, and the Beijing dialect. This may seem like a lot of people, but 30% of the country’s population does not speak Mandarin.

The top 5 languages in the world by native speakers

  1. Mandarin Chinese: 917 868 640 native speakers
  2. Spanish: 460 093 030 native speakers
  3. English: 379 007 140 native speakers
  4. Hindi: 341 208 640 native speakers
  5. Bengali: 228 289 600 native speakers

What about second (L2) languages?

Nearly 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, with the ability to switch between two languages with ease.

From the data, second language (L2) speakers can be calculated by looking at the difference between native and total speakers, as a proportion of the total. For example, 66% of English speakers learned it as a second language.

Swahili surprisingly has the highest ratio of L2 speakers to total speakers – although it only has 16 million native speakers, this shoots up to 98 million total speakers. Overall, 82% of Swahili speakers know it as a second language.