Languages have been at the forefront of human evolution, shaping the way we communicate, think, and perceive the world. Whether you are a language enthusiast or simply curious about the fascinating world of languages, this post is sure to teach you a few interesting new facts about language.
So let’s dive right in and discover some new and historical facts about language.
55 Facts about Language
1. There are Roughly 7,000 Languages in the World
Of those 7,000 languages, only about 23 are widely spoken by over half the world’s population of more than 7 billion people.
2. The Longest English Word Contains 189,819 Letter
This word, often cited as “methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylalanyl… isoleucine” is the chemical name for the world’s largest known protein, titin. The ellipses are used to indicate the thousands of letters between the beginning and end of the word.
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3. The Word “Alphabet” Has Greek Origins
The word combines the Greek alphabet’s first two letters: “alpha” and “beta.”
4. The Word “Queue” is the Only English Word That Maintains its Pronunciation When the Last Four Letters Are Removed
The extra letters just happen to be in line.
5. Tamil is the Oldest Language Still in Use Today
The Tamil language forms part of the family of Dravidian languages. It is over 5,000 years old and is the only ancient language that has made it into modern times.
6. The Khmer Language Has the Longest Alphabet
The official dialect of Cambodia has a total of 74 letters in its alphabet. The alphabet contains 33 consonants, 23 vowels, and 12 independent vowels.
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7. Sign Language is Not Universal
There are over 300 sign languages used globally, each with its own regional differences and variations.
8. The Rotokas Language Has the Shortest Alphabet
This indigenous language spoken in Papua New Guinea contains only 12 letters, namely A, E, G, I, K, O, P, R, S, T, U, and V.
9. The Word “Language” Comes From the Latin Root “Lingua”
Lingua appropriately means “tongue.”
10. The Most Widely Spoken Language in the World is Mandarin Chinese
You may think that English is the most widely spoken language. But, if you only count native speakers, Chinese wins, with over 1.2 billion speakers worldwide.
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11. The Most Commonly Spoken Second Language in the World Is English
English is spoken as a second language in about 55 countries.
12. The Shortest Word in the English Language Containing All Vowels in “Eunoia”
This six-letter word refers to a feeling of goodwill toward someone.
13. The Most Translated Document in the World Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
Today, the six-page document is available in over 500 languages.
14. The Arabic Language Has Influenced Many Other Languages
Certain English words like “algebra,” “alcohol,” and “lemon” are all derived from Arabic. Other languages like Portuguese, Spanish, and French also have many words with Arabic origins.
15. The Language With the Largest Vocabulary Is English
English has a total of over one million words. Of these, about 170,000 are actively in use, while there are about 47,000 obsolete words.
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16. The Most Translated Book in the World is the Bible
The Bible is widely considered the most translated book in the world, with portions or complete versions available in more than 2,800 languages and dialects.
17. There Are More Non-Native English Speakers
While English is a very popular language, the majority of its speakers are non-native speakers. Only about 370 million of the roughly 1.4 billion speakers have English as their native language.
18. The Oldest Written Language in the World is the Sumerian Language
The Sumerian language originated in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) around 3100 B.C. Sumerian writing was based on cuneiform script, a technique that involved pressing a reed stylus into clay tablets.
19. The Little Prince is the Second Most Translated Book in the World
The Little Prince, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is considered the second most translated book in the world after the Bible. The book, first published in 1943, has been translated into over 300 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
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20. The Most Commonly Used Language for Classical Music is Italian
In classical music and opera, the lyrics and libretto (the text of an opera) are an important part of the overall musical experience. Italian was seen as a natural choice for this due to its musicality and rhythmic structure.
21. The Language With the Lowest Information Density is Japanese
Information density refers to the amount of information that can be conveyed in a given unit of language. This is usually measured by the number of words or characters required to convey a message. So, a language with a low information density requires more words to be used to convey information.
Japanese is considered to have a low information density for several reasons. These include the use of indirect language and formal and polite speech.
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22. Languages With Low Information Densities Tend to be Spoken Faster
Interestingly, languages with low information densities, like Japanese, Spanish, and French, tend to be spoken at a faster rate. In contrast, languages with higher information densities are usually spoken at a slower rate. So, in the end, the pace at which information is conveyed remains relatively similar across languages.
23. The Most Widely-Used Sign Language is American Sign Language (ASL)
It is estimated that over 500,000 people in North America use ASL as their primary means of communication.
24. Language is Estimated to Have Developed About 100,000 Years Ago
This theory is supported by evidence like the detection of the FOXP2 gene — often referred to as the language gene — in fossils from that time.
25. More than Half the World is Bilingual
It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population can speak more than one language.
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26. Papua New Guinea is the World’s Most Multilingual Country
Papua New Guinea is considered to be the world’s most multilingual country, with an estimated 840 different languages spoken in the country.
27. The First Printed Book in Europe Was the Bible
German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg, created the movable-type printing press in the mid-15th century. The first book to be printed with his new technology was the Gutenberg Bible, which was printed in the German city of Mainz around 1455.
28. The Most Francophone City in the World is Not in France
Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is considered to be the most Francophone city in the world. The city has over 12 million people, and French is the dominant language spoken there.
You may have expected Paris to be the most Francophone city. But, with a slightly smaller population of around 11 million people, Paris gets second place.
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29. There Are Over 200 Constructed Languages
It is estimated that there are over 200 constructed or artificial languages, also known as conlangs.
These are languages that did not develop naturally but were rather created by individuals or groups, usually for artistic, personal, or communicative purposes. Some of the most well-known conlangs include Esperanto, Elvish, and the Star Trek language, Klingon.
30. The First Language Spoken in Outer Space Was Russian
The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, was a Russian cosmonaut who spoke Russian during his historic flight on April 12, 1961.
31. There Are Over 500 Extinct Languages
Almost half of those went extinct between 1950 and 2010. Over 3,000 languages are considered endangered today.
32. The Letter “E” is the Most Commonly Used in the English Language
It is estimated that the letter “E” appears in approximately 11% of all English words.
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33. Sign Language Does Not Only Involve Hand Gestures
Sign language also involves the use of facial expressions to convey emotions and emphasis, as well as the use of body language.
34. Asia Has the Most Indigenous Languages, Followed by Africa
Asia is home to over 2,300 indigenous languages, while Africa follows closely with about 2,100 languages.
35. Basque Has No Relation to Any Other Language
Basque is one of Europe’s oldest languages. It is indigenous to the Basque Country, an autonomous community located in the western Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain.
Linguists have been unable to establish a clear relationship between Basque and any other language, making it one of the few remaining isolated languages in Europe.
36. Bolivia Has the Most Official Languages
Bolivia takes the lead with 37 officially recognized languages. Zimbabwe and South Africa follow with 16 and 11 official languages, respectively.
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37. Over 300 Languages Are Spoken in London
This diverse and interesting city of London is home to a variety of cultures and languages, so you’re sure to find someone who speaks your mother tongue.
38. There is No Official Language in the United States
While English is widely spoken and recognized as the de facto national language, the United States does not have a legally designated official language at the federal level.
39. There is a Language Completely Made Up of Whistles
The “Silbo Gomero” is a unique form of communication used by the residents of La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. It is a language that consists entirely of whistles and is used to communicate over long distances across the rugged terrain of the island. The language is a whistled form of Castilian Spanish.
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40. Twins Often Develop Secret Languages
Cryptophasia is a phenomenon that occurs when twins develop their own language. It is most often only understood by them and can include made-up words, distorted words, or exaggerated sounds. Many twins will grow out of this “twin talk” as they learn more conventional languages.
41. The German Language Has Three Grammatical Genders
While many languages have either masculine or feminine nouns, the German language includes a third, neuter gender. These genders are purely grammatical and unrelated to sexuality, gender, or identity.
42. Learning a New Language is Good for Your Brain and Memory
Studies have shown that learning a new language can improve memory function, particularly in areas such as attention, concentration, and working memory.
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43. The Game Scrabble Has Different Letter Distributions Based on the Country it’s Sold in
Because different languages make more and less frequent use of different letters, the game’s letters are adjusted to reflect that.
44. About 30% of the English Language is Derived from French
It is estimated that about 10,000 to 15,000 French words are used in modern English.
45. Onomatopoeias Are Not Shared Across Languages
A cow may go “moo” in English, but in Bengali, cows go “hamba.” While a dog might “woof” in English, in Japan, dogs go “wan wan.” The same goes for many other sound-imitating words across languages.
46. The Pope Tweets in Nine Languages
His Spanish account has the most followers, standing at about 14.6 million. This is followed by English and Italian. The Latin account has a following of over 840,000.
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47. William Shakespeare Created and Introduced over 1,700 New Words
Shakespeare is credited for providing written records of over 1,700 new words in the English language through his many plays and poems.
48. There is an Interesting Biblical Myth on the Origin of Language Diversity
According to the Bible, everyone originally spoke one language until a group of people decided to build a tower to heaven. In response, God made everyone speak different languages to hinder communication and bring construction to a halt.
49. English is the Most Digitally Dominant Language in the World
An estimated 80% of all digital documents in the world are in English.
50. The Taa Language Contains the Most Click Sounds
This language spoken in Botswana and Namibia utilizes five distinct clicks, along with a wide variety of unique tones and vowels.
51. Mandarin Chinese Speakers Use Both Sides of Their Brain
In contrast with English speakers, who only use the left side of their brains when communicating.
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52. New York City is the World’s Most Linguistically Diverse City
It is estimated that over 800 languages are spoken in New York City.
53. Mandarin is Thought to be the Hardest Language to Learn
Not only does it have an intimidating list of characters to memorize, but it also has a nuanced tonal structure that may be hard for English speakers to pick up on.
54. The Japanese Language Has No Distinction between Singular and Plural Words
To an English speaker, this may seem grammatically strange. There are, however, ways of indicating plurality, like using quantifiers and plural suffixes.
55. English Has the Most Loanwords of Any Language
English has incorporated words from a wide variety of languages. These include Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, and over 300 other languages. In total, loanwords are estimated to make up between 60–80% of the English language.