About 4.46 billion people call Asia home; these individuals speak nearly 2,300 languages from many of the linguistic groups. Some of the most significant language families are Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Turkic, Sino-Tibetan and Kra-Dai. Of course, not every spoken language has a written form.
In order to simplify the distribution and map of Asian languages, we have included a short description of each language group as follows:
The Sino-Tibetan language family is home to more than 400 different languages. The vast majority of them are composed of 1.3 billion native Chinese speakers. Additional languages belonging to the Sino-Tibetan family that have a sizeable population of speakers include Burmese (with 33 million native speakers) and the Tibetic languages (6 million speakers). The Himalayas, the Southeast Asian Massif and the eastern boundary of the Tibetan Plateau are all places where you can find speakers of other languages in this family. Most of them have very small linguistic communities which are only found in remote mountainous areas.
The Indo-Iranian branch of languages is the largest and most significant within the Indo-European family. It encompasses not just the languages of Iran but also those of South Asia, including more widely spoken Indic languages like Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Odia, Assamese, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Maharashtra, Gujarati, Sinhala and a number of others (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia).
For a long time, scholars have speculated about and argued over the existence of an Altaic language family that would unite a number of smaller but significant and individually differentiated language families distributed throughout central and northern Asia. This group includes Turkic, Mongolian, Tungusic (which includes Manchu), Korean and Japanese. However, in recent years, the majority have become inclined to refer to it as a Sprachbund.
In South and Southeast Asia, the Mon–Khmer languages make up the family of languages collectively referred to as Austroasiatic. Vietnamese and Khmer are languages amongst these recognised as having an official status (Cambodian).
The regions of southern China, northeast India and Southeast Asia are home to speakers of the Kra–Dai language family, which is also known as Tai-Kadai. Lao and Thai (sometimes known as Siamese) are recognised as official languages within this group.
Major languages in Maritime Southeast Asia that belong to the Austronesian family include Fijian (Fiji), Bikol (Philippines), Cebuano (Philippines), Tagalog (Philippines) and Malay (Malaysia) (Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei). These include the more widely used Indonesian as well as the smaller but still significant Javanese, Sundanese and Madurese languages.
In addition to the Altaic families (of which Tungusic is a minor Siberian family), several tiny language groups and isolates are spoken in northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (related to Turkic and the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and – barely – Eskimo-Aleut. Some linguists say Koreanic is closer to Paleosiberian than Altaic. Extinct Mongolian Ruan-ruan is unclassified and has no known genetic ties.
Kartvelian languages such as Georgian and Northeast Caucasian, Dagestanian languages such as Chechen, and Northwest Caucasian languages such as Circassian are the three tiny language families spoken in the Caucasus. There may be a connection between the last two. It's also possible that the now-extinct Hurro-Urartian languages are linked.
Languages like Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan, whereas larger Dravidian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam are spoken in southern Asia (India) and parts of Sri Lanka.
The Semitic language family represents the Afroasiatic (also called Hamito-Semitic) languages of Asia. Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as extinct tongues like Akkadian, are all examples of Semitic languages spoken in Western Asia.
However, apart from these groups, what is the language that is spoken the most across Asia?
It is most certainly Chinese, since Chinese is the most widely spoken language in Asia, with 1 billion native speakers in Asia and 1.2 billion native speakers globally. There are several variations of the Chinese language. In addition to being China's official language, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely used variant. In fact, Mandarin is understood by around 51% of the continent's entire population. Wu, Min and Yue are three more important varieties of Chinese spoken today.
More over 550 million people worldwide are native speakers of Hindi, making it the fourth most spoken native language. It is the most widely used language in India and is based on Sanskrit, an ancient language. Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu are all extensively spoken in India. Hindi is the language of communication in the Hindi belt, which runs across the country's geographic centre and is named after the language. Then there’s Urdu, which can also be understood by Hindi speakers. The linguistic proximity of these two languages makes it possible for speakers of both languages to understand one another.
There are 260 million Russian speakers scattered across Asia. This makes perfect sense taking into account the fact that Russia is the largest country in the world (by land mass). Countries that were a part of the Soviet Union of the past still use Russian as their primary language. These countries include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, as well as the disputed territory of Georgia. Russian is recognised as an official language by the United Nations.
Indonesian is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. It is Indonesia's official language and is regarded as a standardised variant of Malay, an Austronesian language that has long served as the country's de facto international lingua franca.
With 275 million inhabitants, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. The majority of Indonesians speak one of the country's 700 indigenous languages, such as Javanese or Sundanese.
Indonesian is the official language of education, the media, government, the courts and most administrative and judicial sectors.
Bengali is the native, official and most spoken language of Bangladesh, and only ranks second out of out of India's 22 formally recognised languages. According to the most recent census conducted in Bangladesh, roughly 98 percent of the population speaks Bengali as their native tongue. Bengali has around 300 million native speakers and an additional 37 million people speak it as a second language in many parts of India, including West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Jharkhand.
Learning Japanese is not a task for the fain-hearted. Even so, it hasn't prevented would-be students from giving it a go. This is because of the widespread acclaim given to many forms of Japanese pop culture, including films, songs, video games and anime.
Because it is the third largest market in the world, Japan is one of the most significant markets for localisation. Its economy is robust and reliable, and its purchasing power is huge.
Nonetheless, not every business is prepared to enter the Japanese market. Linguistic and cultural barriers are major obstacles. The Japanese market is well-known for its high standards and maturity, and the country's 120 million native speakers are a testament to this. They are used to purchasing and using products of the highest possible quality produced in their own country. Furthermore, they only know the bare bones of English.
Given these factors, localisation is now a must for every business hoping to break into the Japanese market. Further, you should strive for nothing less than absolute excellence if you want to make a lasting impression on the Japanese customer.
Boasting over a hundred million native speakers throughout Asia, Punjabi is classed as an Indo-European language.
The language is the official language of the Indian state of Punjab and used widely in advertising, publications, films and even product specifications. Some companies may decide to use Punjabi translations to increase global brand recognition and sales.
Punjabi is also the third most spoken language in Canada, after English and French, and the fourth most spoken language in the United Kingdom.
There are an estimated 93 million native speakers spread over the continent of Asia.
Tagalog is the moniker that some people may be more acquainted with, and technically speaking, Tagalog is the original language and Filipino is just a standardised version of it. According to the most recent statistics, around one third of the population of the Philippines speaks Filipino as their first language, while an additional 45 million people speak it as a second language.