From the world’s longest word, to the world’s shortest alphabet, we take a look at 10 fascinating facts on language to impress your friends.
To celebrate language in all its weird and wonderful glory, we’ve collated a list of 10 of the most fascinating facts about language for you to impress your friends or smash your next pub quiz.
Don’t worry, you can take full credit…
1. The country with the most languages: Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea has an incredible 839 living languages. While you can never explain exactly why one country has more than another, it’s thought that the geography of the country comes into play here. Papua New Guinea has a very complex terrain with high mountains and deep valleys, making it hard to travel across. This likely encouraged the creation of different tribes and languages. With a small population of only 9 million, it’s highly likely that a random selection of two people will result in two different mother tongues.
2. The longest word in the world: Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylalanyl…isoleucine
Alright, so it’s not the most EXCITING word in the world, but imagine getting it in Scrabble! As the chemical name for the largest known protein, Titin, this word is actually even longer in its full format, hence the ellipsis. In total, it’s a whopping 189,819 letters long, so you’ll forgive us for not writing it out in full. There are only so many hours in the day…
3. The easiest language to learn:
For anyone with English as their native language, it’s widely thought that Norwegian is the easiest language to learn. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, like English, it’s a member of the Germanic family of languages, which means it shares a lot of vocabulary. Vinter and sommer are both Norwegian words, you don’t need us to tell you what they mean.
Alongside vocabulary, we also share a lot of grammar with our Norwegian neighbours. For instance, “Can you help me?” translates to “Kan du hjelpe meg?” They also have a multitude of different accents, so there’s very little ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ way to say something.
4. The hardest language to learn: Mandarin
And on the opposite end, the hardest language to learn is largely thought to be Mandarin. Though it is spoken by over a billion people in the world, for anyone who has learned languages through the Latin writing system, it can be incredibly tricky to master as it’s not phonetic and is made up of thousands of different characters. Unlike Norwegian, pronunciation is extremely important. Mandarin is split across 4 tones, so the way that you say a word can give it four different meanings!
5. A language that doesn’t need words: Pirahã
A language from an Amazonian tribe in Brazil, Pirahã, can function without words. Its speakers can communicate through humming, whistling, or through music or song. They don’t even need to rely on physical words to ‘speak’ to one another. They can communicate using various rhythms, stresses, pitches, and tones.
6. The number of languages in the world: 7,000+
Though we don’t know exactly how many languages are spoken in the world, at the end of 2020, the number was thought to be around 7,117. Interestingly, of these languages, 90% are spoken by less than 100,000 people. That perhaps gives you an insight into why it’s hard to know the exact number—languages can be known by so few.
7. The number of artificial languages: 1000+
For anyone who’s ever binged Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings films, you’ll know they are full of artificially constructed (made up!) languages like Dothraki and Elvish. Over the years, many people have attempted to learn the likes of Star Trek’s Klingon language, and there are thought to be over 200 fantastical languages out there in films, TV shows and books. Some authors mention around 1000 of them in general proposed since the 17th century and the number is still rising.
8. The language with the most words: (likely, but not proven to be) English
While it’s near impossible to know the answer to this question exactly, if we trace back its historical routes, it’s likely that English is the most word-filled language. Beginning its life as a Germanic language, English went on to become heavily influenced by Norman French, which was the language of the ruling class for some time, and by Latin, which was the language of scholarship and the Church. English is also considered a very international language—unafraid to welcome foreign words into its vocabulary.
9. The lowest number of letters in an alphabet: Rotokas
The Rotokas language is a language from East Papua New Guinea, famous for having the world’s lowest number of letters in an alphabet. Some say there are 12, some say only 11! The language is thought to be spoken by about 4,000 people.
10. The percentage of the world’s languages that can be found on the internet: 7%
Only a fraction (7%) of the world’s languages can be found on the internet, which perhaps puts into perspective just how much still functions outside of the world wide web. A survey by Unesco found that 98% of the internet’s web pages are published in just 12 languages, and more than half of them are in English. So if you needed a sign to switch off your phone and get exploring the outside world—this is it!
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For more information about international strategy and preparing content for multilingual translation, take a look at our guide: Kick-starting international growth with an effective translation and localisation strategy.