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How Many Languages Are Too Many?

July 9, 2015

It is easy to assume that somewhere on the planet there would be someone who would know exactly how many languages exists worldwide... right? Truth is that has been a difficult question to answer for as long as linguistics has been a scholarly endeavor. Most sources today speculate there are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world. However, the 18th edition of Ethnologue* has 7,102 living (written and verbal) languages currently catalogued.

The mastery of a language may be the most essential skill that anyone learns during their lifetime. It is how we articulate our thoughts and present our observations to others. Whether it is verbal, written or gestured, the role of language is at the very core of all developing civilizations and is the heart beat of today's global village. Although it is said that all languages derive from another language, no one knows for sure which "word" came first or what "language" evolved from that undeniably unique uttering. What we do know is at some early point in time mankind began to communicate, share knowledge, and passed what was learned on to others.

With an earthly population of 5 million residents in 8000 BC, linguists estimate that more than 20,000 tribal languages existed causing some to blame globalization as a major language killer. On the other hand, globalization often gave birth to new lingua franca or trade languages that developed out of necessity when the native tongues of traders differed. Over time, some languages were reserved for written documents or only spoken at secular events or ceremonially chanted amongst the masses. Since most people never completely give up the language or dialect they learn as a child, we can assume that a language never dies until the last speaker's demise.

Although we may never know how many languages are too many, most scholars believe that living languages will continue to die out as the world continues to shrink. For the time being, interpreters and translators can be expected to play a significant role in mankind's remarkable growth. When you need to ensure that everyone feels included in your event, contact a multilingual event specialist at ProLingo. We have experience and expertise you need to communicate with the rest of the world.

*Ethnologue has been an active linguistic research project since 1951 and is widely regarded to be the most comprehensive source of information of its kind.

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