5 Oct

Map of the Week: Writing Systems of the World


By Sophie Lichtenstein

Across the world, there are 7,168 known languages in use today. Despite the amount of languages in use, more than half of the world relies on just 23 of them and 40 percent of the rest are endangered. 

There are six major language families in the world: Indo European, Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan, and Trans-New Guinea. A language family implies that a group of languages shares a common origin or protolanguage. While there are languages that develop in isolation outside of a language family, most languages belong to one of the six families listed above. 

In terms of speaker count, the Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan language families are the largest, boasting a combined 4.6 billion speakers. The Niger-Congo family, which produced the largest number of languages, encompasses 1,536 languages. 

Unfortunately, many languages are no longer taught to the children of each generation, jeopardizing their viability in the coming years. The diversity of languages is in constant decline. According to the Linguistic Society, about 3,000 languages are predicted to become extinct in the next one hundred years. 

When a language loses most of its speakers, and eventually becomes extinct, it “dies.” While most dead languages vanish forever, Hebrew, the one exception, was revived in the early 1900s after having no native speakers for around 2,000 years since the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. While Hebrew was used throughout this time in its ancient form for scholarship of the Bible, it wasn’t modernized or spoken until this point. 

While Hebrew differs from other dead languages because it was learned and used in its ancient form for text study, it is a fascinating example of evolution within a language. 

While evolution of a language is natural and necessary, thousands of years of history are preserved through languages in their ancient forms. The value of preservation of language is immeasurable.