Geography of Languages

Caitlin Dempsey


Worldwide, it is estimated that there are currently 7,106 living languages (Ethnologue, 2014).  This includes 188 languages that are considered dormant but not extinct.  

Which Country Has the Most Languages?

According to Ethnologue, the country that has the most languages is Papua New Guinea with 837 living languages.  Indonesia follows with 706 living languages.  Nigeria has the third most languages in the world with 527 living languages.  Contrary to this list, a recent survey by the Bhasha Research & Publication Centre reported that although there are only 122 officially recognized languages, 780 were catalogued and another 100 were suspected to exist.

Which Country has the Highest Density of Languages?

Vanuatu, an Oceanian island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean, has the highest density with 112 living languages spread over a geographic area of 12,189 square kilometers.  The country has one language for every 109 square kilometers (42 square miles) with an average of only 2,000 speakers per language. Vanuatu has three official languages: English, French, and Bislama, a creole language evolved from English.

Which Language is Spoken in the Most Countries?

English is spoken in the most countries with 127 countries where the language is either an indigenous language or spoken by a substantial immigrant group.  English is an official language in 58 sovereign states and 21 non-sovereign entities.  

Map of nations using English as a de facto or official majority language (dark blue) or an official minority language (light blue)
Map of nations using English as a de facto or official majority language (dark blue) or an official minority language (light blue). Source: Wikipedia – List of countries where English is an official language.

Which Country has the Most Official Languages?

According to the Guinness World Records, South Africa is the country with the most official languages.  There are currently eleven official languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Xitsonga, siSwati, isiNdebele and Tshivenda.

Which Language has the Most First-Language (Native) Speakers?

Variants of Chinese head up the list of languages with the most first-language (i.e. the language learned from birth or speaks the best) speakers with 1.197 billion speakers.  Spanish follows in second place with 414 million speakers, and English is in third place with 335 million speakers.  Source: Ethnologue, Summary by Language Size.


Crowley, Terry. 2000. “The language situation in Vanuatu”, Current Issues in Language Planning 1 (1): 47–132

Lalmalsawma, David.  September 7, 2013.    India speaks 780 languages, 220 lost in last 50 years – survey.  Reuters.

Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2014. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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