This is a short piece taking off from Ian Bremmer’s Tweet on the leading languages spoken globally by people as the first languages (called mother tongue here in India). The top 7 languages spoken as first languages along with the %age of people speaking these are :
- Mandarin 12.4%
- Spanish 4.9%
- English 4.8%
- Arabic 3.3%
- Hindi 2.7%
- Bengali 2.7%
- Portuguese 2.6%.
A few observations :
- Top 7 languages accounting for 34% of global population speaks about the wide dispersion of languages in the world. The world is not all that flat!!
- The spread of the imperialistic powers of the 17th-20th centuries is seen well from the above. The Spanish dominance of the Latin American countries, and the British dominance of disparate countries across the globe (Australia, NZ, West Indies, Singapore, and of course the USA accepting English as the lingua franca) catapult them to the 2nd and 3rd positions in the global ranking, respectively. The Portuguese bring in the rear in the List. I am guessing that French and Dutch, the languages of the other two colonising nations should be in the top 10-15 languages!
- 870 mn speaking Mandarin forcefully establishes it as the numero uno language of the world. The remaining 500mn Chinese speak Cantonese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Taiwanese. However, the uniformity of China as a nation comes through with the dominance of Mandarin. This has been one of the reasons for the high economic growth across the country – no communication gap and quick execution!
- The point on China above contrasts with that on India. India has so many regional languages that Hindi, the language spoken by maximum Indians turns out 5th ranked in the world. Of course, if one were to include its twin across the Pakistani border, Urdu, then the %age would go up to about 4%!! However, the script being different prevents the two languages from being clubbed as one. I am assuming a few millions also get added to Hindi from Nepal.
- Bengali coming in at No. 6 may surprise a few Indians, but this is because of Bangladeshis also speaking the language across the country, combined with those speaking the same on the western side of the divide.
- The top 25 languages of the world should have Marathi and Telugu coming in (being the most populous non-Hindi speaking states).
- Arabic figures as the No. 4 language of the world, thanks to many countries in the Middle-East and North Africa having Arabic as the national language. Egypt with 86mn population, Algeria with 37mn and Saudi/Syria/Yemen with 25mn each are the main contributors.
So, while the world shrinks into a global village, the first languages remain stubbornly diverse. The rose smells sweet everywhere but one should know what it is called in that country to ask for it first.