What are the 5 most spoken Languages in the world?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Asexperia, Jan 11, 2013.

  1. Asexperia Valued Senior Member

    Posted by Fraggle:
    Excellent your story Fraggle. You are a very educated and polite person.
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  3. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    I think it goes without saying that if your going to live even for a few months in another country you need to attempt to learn the language, anything else is either isolating your self culturally or being imperialistic in asking others to understand you and your language in their country. As for travel/tourism well if your just passing though like 10 countries in as many days I don't think that practical, knowing the 5 languages would probably get you by in most places though, but pentalingual fluency is not viable for most people!
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  5. Asexperia Valued Senior Member

    Is pentalingual a person if he/she speaks: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Galician and Catalan?

    I think that due to the common vocabulary the person would be bilingual.

    What about other group of similar languages?
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Linguists generally agree that Spanish and Portuguese are two distinct languages. They both have formal, standard forms, established in textbooks and enforced both academically and by common usage. Although it is easy for a speaker of one to learn the other, they cannot understand each other completely without considerable time and effort, so they are not considered dialects of one language. The fact that many people in Portugal and Brazil can, indeed, understand Spanish rather well is merely the result of being surrounded by a larger culture using the other language, so they hear it all the time. And that will surely change in South America now that Brazil is the world's 6th largest economy!

    As for Catalan and Galician, we're getting into an issue that is perhaps more political than linguistic. When I was in Valencia in 1973 (which is not quite in Cataluña but just across the border), my friends insisted that their language is considerably different from Spanish, yet after a few hours in their home I could understand it almost as well as Spanish. But as I said, there are political ramifications. Just now, the Catalonians are lobbying for independence from Spain.

    As for Italian, I'd have to say no. It is much more difficult for an Italian to understand a Spaniard or a Portuguese than for the two of them to understand each other. It's not just the grammar and phonetics, which usually "click" in your head after a few hours, days or weeks, but a much greater difference in both vocabulary and syntax.

    Czech and Slovak are about as similar as Spanish and Portuguese. Even Czechs and Poles can begin understanding each other after a few weeks of exposure.

    The languages of the former Yugoslavia are very similar. Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Macedonian could be called dialects of a "Yugoslavian" language, except for the obvious political problems.

    The entire Slavic language group has not had long to diverge so Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusans can usually understand each other after an hour or two, even if they won't admit it. For that matter, put a Czech or a Pole in Moscow or Sofia, and within a month or two he'll be talking to those people.

    The Scandinavian languages of the Germanic group are very closely related and similar, arguably differing primarily in phonetics--although these phonetic differences are enormous. Obviously most Danes and Norwegians can understand Swedish because they probably hear it every day, but for a Swede to begin understanding one of the other languages might require sitting in a bar for a few hours and simply getting used to the (to him) odd accents and cadences. Icelandic is also a Scandinavian language but it has changed little over the centuries and is still very close to Old Norse, so I doubt that the other Scandinavians could easily understand it.

    Dutch and Afrikaans--another political issue. They can understand each other with a little patience, but they won't admit it. Dutch and Flemish, on the other hand... those are two dialects of one language (and not even terribly different dialects!), but the Flemings want independence from Belgium and a major plank in their platform is their "unique" language.

    Sicilian may have been distinctly different from Italian 300 years ago, but since the unification of the country (not to mention the unification of Europe) the Sicilian language has been slowly changing into a quaint dialect of Italian.

    Back in the dark days of communism, most Estonians could understand Finnish. The Soviets did not allow broadcasts in their own language, so they tuned in radio and TV signals from Finland, and slowly mastered their neighboring member of the Finno-Ugric family. The Finns, of course, were not exposed to Estonian so few of them are comfortable with it.

    I've only covered two language families, Indo-European and (very briefly) Finn-Ugric. There are thousands of other languages in dozens of families, and I know that many of them have this same kind of relationship: not quite close enough to be called dialects, but close enough to facilitate intercomprehensibility.
  8. Asexperia Valued Senior Member

    Good job Fraggle.

    In this Spanish territory where I live an English basic course lasts 18 months, an Italian course lasts 10 months and one of Portugues lasts 6 months. A German course lasts two years.

    I like languages​​. I would like to learn Arabic and Greek, but it's better to improve what we know. In my case: English, Italian and French.

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  9. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    I guess French is thrown in to appeal to the French and them being the "language of civilization" for a time. Sure its got a large secondary language population but a small primary language population.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    French was the language of diplomacy, throughout Europe and in the nearby regions of Asia and Africa, for centuries--basically since the demise of Latin. Old traditions die hard.

    The rise of the United States as a major world power in the 20th century, suddenly making the Western Hemisphere an important region, may have been the catalyst for the ascendence of English over French. The Brits have such a reverence for history and tradition, that even when their empire covered half the planet they were content to use French as a diplomatic language. We're not like that.

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    Now that Brazil has become the dominant economic power in Latin America, I wonder if we'll see new emphasis on Portuguese. Maybe not, considering that Japan has been the #2 economy in the entire world for decades and outside Japan nobody translates anything into Japanese.
  11. Asexperia Valued Senior Member


    Area: 8,547,404 sq km (3,300,170.9 sq miles).

    Population: 186,112,794 (official estimate 2005).

    Population Density: 22 per sq km.

    Capital: Brasília. Population: 2,051,146 (2000).

    Government: Federal Republic. Head of State and Government: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva since 2003.

    Language: The official language is Portuguese, with different regional accents characterising each State. Spanish, English, Italian, French and German are also spoken, particularly in tourist areas. Four linguistic roots survive in the indigenous areas: Gê, Tupi-guarani, Aruak and Karib.

    Religion: There is no official religion, but approximately 70 per cent of the population adhere to Roman Catholicism. A number of diverse evangelical cults are also represented, as are animist beliefs (particularly spiritism, umbanda and candomblé).
  12. KilljoyKlown Whatever Valued Senior Member

    I found some interesting charts many of them have different figures and don't really explain why.

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    I like the following chart (Top Internet languages)

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  13. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    Illogical. That way everybody has to learn a new language. If you pick an existing one, at least 10th of the population can save themselves the trouble. Down with artificial languages...
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    For all its flaws, Esperanto is perfectly satisfactory, and it had plenty of momentum. Yet it never caught on, even in the idealistic 1920s.

    Apparently the world does not agree with you.

    One of the major problems I encountered in my own idealistic days, the 1950s, was that language teachers despised it. It would have put most of them out of business. One of them actually told me, "It would be a much better use of your time and effort to learn Russian."

    Duh? I learned Esperanto well enough to communicate intelligently in writing in just six months--and I actually had a Russian pen pal! Most Americans could never learn Russian in a lifetime. We get frustrated by the painful phonetics, the bewildering syntax and the impossible grammar and just give up.
  15. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    No shit, hence why I called it the "language of civilization".

    I still think the British have a lot of credit due them, America did not make English an official language of India. I think it more of a one-two punch of both empires one after the other.

    The japanese (whom after years of trolling Wapanese I have a deep, obvious and completely honest indirect hatred of and have study all the flaws of them) would rather not have foreigners understand them, they believe their language is unlearnable by foreigners or worse they don't want to be understood.
  16. Asexperia Valued Senior Member


  17. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    There is a difference between what would be best and would is possible, it would be best to have a universal axillary language, its not possible to implement because not enough people want to, they much rather learn English or another language with millions of speakers and business opportunities. Esperanto simple does not have large enough population and business pool. Likewise many other small languages of the world are dying off.
  18. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member


    Learning a natural language is many time harder then learning an artificial language that was designed to be easy to learn. If say it takes it takes half the the time to learn a UxL verses a natural language then having 100% of people learn it is only 56% the total educating time spent as having 90% of the world learn a natural language.
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    A friend of mine spent several years in Japan as a visiting professor, in his 20s. He learned the language fluently and speaks like a native. (Admittedly this is remarkable but thousands of Westerners have learned it well enough to understand it completely and speak with an accent.) When he walks up behind a Japanese and speaks to him, he turns around expecting to see another Japanese. When he doesn't see one it takes him a moment to process the dilemma and realize what he's witnessing. But when he walks up to face a Japanese and speaks to him, the Japanese literally does not understand him, because his brain tells him that language cannot possibly be Japanese. He says something like, "Sorry, I no speak English."

    They've had centuries to become accustomed to Chinese and Koreans learning their language, but they genuinely don't believe that Westerners have the ability. Considering how difficult English is for them, this is not surprising.

    We've all got a little bit of this inside of us: assuming, or at least hoping, that we can get away with making rude remarks about foreigners in their presence without being understood. After spending two years diligently speaking Mandarin at home at my insistence, in order to help me become more fluent, my Chinese girlfriend carried on a long phone conversation with a friend of hers in the Sichuan dialect of Mandarin, right in front of me. After she said something particularly offensive about me, I calmly asked, in standard Beijing Mandarin, why she was telling lies about me.

    I've never seen skin turn that color. After two years of hearing her speak Sichuan with her family, she didn't think I'd eventually be able to find my way through the accent? It is odd and strange and very thick, but there's a pattern to it!

    Even a typical American--a folk who are proud of our total lack of language aptitude--can learn fluent Esperanto in six months. Younger people can do it in three or even less. I managed it in six months as a teenager, with nothing but a book, before I finally had an opportunity to communicate with someone in writing.

    Most adults can never become completely fluent in a natural language--the best they can do is think in their native language and try feverishly to translate in real time. For a language like Russian, with a much different word order, or one like Chinese, with an entirely different perspective on the universe, that's quite a handicap.

    For all its faults, Esperanto deconstructs grammar and syntax into an overly simplified form that feels comfortable to most people. In the process it always comes out with much longer sentences than the original--but those long sentences are a little easier for the listener to figure out. A conversation in Esperanto may be frustrating because it takes longer, but not because of misunderstandings.

    And it isn't any longer than a conversation in Italian or Japanese.

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  20. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Again a point to my simply phonology theory: Japanese as a simpler phonetic structure and phonemes then English, with its very simply obligate open syllable structure "mora" structure, 14 consonants (2 semivowels) all the same or equivalent to English ones with exception of Uvular nasal N, and only 5 vowels all nearly equivalent to English vowels. This makes it easier (when not counting grammar differences an all that) for us to learn, the Japanese on the other hand have difficulty even mastering English "r"s and "L"s in English, closed syllables are daunting to them and worse conjoined consonants and diphthongs, try to get a Japanese to pronounce "year" and not say "ear" is a exercise in futility.
    Trying having Spanish speaking parents, that never taught you Spanish ("well you had all those hearing impediments, the doctors said stick with one language") , talk about you, in front of you, blatantly.

    I disagree: eventually with enough study the second language will become second nature, one will start to "think" in that language, now will you ever sound perfectly like a native, unlikely, but some have done it, my father is not one of them.

    yeah again with that, if so then westerns would have a much harder time mastering Japanese then they do, but in Japanese "N" alone is a syllable, so yes their syllables are the fastest in the world but their syllables are also the dam simplest.

    I don't know how Esperanto would fit into that because it artificial and did not evolve to match the nominal speed of human interpretation.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    But it's not so easy to figure out where one word stops and the next one starts.

    Yes, almost every foreign language is difficult for the Japanese because of the phonetics. I give them a lot of credit when they master one.

    The only language I know of with simpler phonetics is Hawaiian: only eight consonants including one semivowel.

    I know a lot of Latinos of my generation who deliberately did not teach their children Spanish because they didn't want them to be easily identified as Latino. Of course when these kids got to college they started shouting Viva la Raza and talking about reunifying Aztlán. The "Zionists," as it were, of their own culture, yearning for something that their elders did not in fact want for themselves but instead yearned to just be allowed to assimilate.

    As I linguist I find it horribly sad when children are deprived of such a wonderful resource. Growing up bilingual confers so many advantages. Every language comes with its own way of viewing and analyzing the world, so you have an automatic way of reviewing your ideas to see if they just happen to be popular bullshit.

    There certainly are some adults who have this experience, but it's not common, much less typical. I wonder if the people who are so successful are the ones who, as toddlers, lived in an environment where a foreign language was spoken regularly but not taught to them. They can't help absorbing at least the sounds, and it's likely that a bit of the sense sinks in, if unconsciously. This will certainly be a head start in a real language program, even if much later in life. My mother's family spoke Czech but they were strident about not letting me learn it and be labeled a "Bohunk." Yet when I began learning Spanish and other languages, I found the sounds easy to hear correctly and to mimic correctly, and non-English grammars did not bewilder me. When I finally took Russian, which has most of the same phonemes as Czech and a similar grammar, it went down pretty easy. Unfortunately I didn't have the discipline to stick with it, but ten years later when I tackled Chinese I astounded my Chinese friends with both my pronunciation and my grammar. I even picked up my girlfriend's Sichuan accent.

    There's no question that the easiest part of Japanese to learn is the pronunciation. But the grammar? Verbs are not just inflected for tense and mode, but also depending on whether you're talking to someone who is above or below you socially. And women have their own paradigms. My friend was hired to translate a short story into Japanese. Halfway through the first page he realized that he had to subcontract half of the dialog because he did not know the "feminine conjugations."

    In my day there were many people who spoke Esperanto routinely and were as fluent as Carlos Fuentes is in English. (I have no idea if this is still true, we Esperantistoj just don't encounter each other so often anymore.) But I never heard them speak fast. Esperanto has long words (almost every one is a compound) so this meant that their rate of data delivery was considerably lower than in most national languages. But it also meant that the rest of us could understand them.
  22. rodereve Registered Member

    I'd just like to say that I find this thread pretty fascinating, since I did not take any linguistics courses in university.

    Fraggle, you base your knowledge off a lot of first-hand experiences. Seems like you've lived a adventurous life, just wondering what country do you actually live in? And when you keep referring to your generation, what IS that (like 30-40s?) Just curious is all.
  23. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Same problem can be said of English: is it "Ice cream" or "I scream"? This is a problem of most languages in fact and they have to do more subtle things like tone, stress and emphasis (the later two in the case of English) or when all else fails context to accurately convey and distinguish between words. Those are mondegreen, but worse still is Syntactic ambiguity in which word with multiple means can result in sentences with multiple meaning such as (from wiki) "Flying planes can be dangerous" is it the act of flying a plane that is dangerous or the planes themselves in flight that are dangerous.

    Lojban claims to lack any ambiguity what so ever by:
    1. All there words have a set phonetic structure such that its impossible to confuse syllable order as in the I scream-Ice cream example.
    2. Only one definition and grammatical role per word, so for example flying can not be a verb and adjective, only one role, and a modified word for the other.

    A I met a linguist (not you, an actual masters of linguistics) that claimed it was the easiest language to learn. Interesting but not really evidence, sadly I can't find any studies which tried to find the average number of hours it took to learn Hawaiian.

    Besides a unhealthy hatred of Hugo Chavez, I really don't have any desires or emotional connection to South America.

    I'm not a follower of Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, so I disagree, its more of language provides a doorway into a culture and the mindset of that culture. I was reading a book "the cleanest race" about North Korea's reliance on racism and racial propaganda that their race is so pure and childlike in innocences that it needs the genius god-king Kim Jung Song/Ill/Un to guide and protect them, and a South Korean reviewer was astonished that this book was getting attention, he concluded "It must be that so little of what the North says in Korean has been translated that only now you westerns are figuring this out, we have known this for decades, this is old boring news for us!"

    Uncommon? not typical? well then most of my family must be geniuses or something because they all claims this: they think in English yet all learned that language as adults, now can they speak without and accent, no, not one except for my mother, but she been in the states off and on since infancy with an English first language speaking motherP: she was raise bilingual. I have also had non-family members make this claim. I'm pretty dam sure with enough proficiency you stop translating and actually think in another language, now will your tongue-lips be able to unlearn the sounds of your first language and generate the sounds of your second perfectly, probably not.

    the again perhaps having to think in a second language is a mental burden with some surprising advantages:

    We agree (amazing), I wasn't speaking of their grammar.

    I think more like you your place in the world at that time, I doubt many people spoke Esperanto ever, a few million at best secondary speakers. There are many dieing languages with more speakers then that, heck the buntu language I learned in peace corps (12 million NATIVE speakers) is slowly getting fused out by Swahili, the king of buntu languages which is killing off all its siblings.

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