Languages of Asia
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Languages of Asia
The Language families of Asia

A wide variety of languages are spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. The major language families include Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Kra-Dai. Most, but not all, have a long history as a written language.

Language groups

Ethnolinguistic distribution in Central/Southwest Asia of the Altaic, Caucasian, Afroasiatic (Hamito-Semitic) and Indo-European families.

The major families in terms of numbers are Indo-European and Indo-Aryan languages and Dravidian languages in South Asia and Sino-Tibetan in East Asia. Several other families are regionally dominant.


Sino-Tibetan includes Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Karen and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and North east India.


The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhala Malayalam and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia). In addition, other branches of Indo-European spoken in Asia include the Slavic branch, which includes Russian in Siberia; Greek around the Black Sea; and Armenian; as well as extinct languages such as Hittite of Anatolia and Tocharian of (Chinese) Turkestan.

Altaic families

A number of smaller, but important language families spread across central and northern Asia have long been linked in an as-yet unproven Altaic family. These are the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic (including Manchu), Koreanic, and Japonic languages.


The Mon-Khmer languages (also known as Austroasiatic) are the language family in South and Southeast Asia. Languages given official status are Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).


The Kra-Dai languages (also known as Tai-Kadai) are found in southern China, Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Languages given official status are Thai (Siamese) and Lao.


The Austronesian languages are widespread throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, including major languages such as Fijian (Fiji), Cebuano, Tagalog (Philippines), and Malay (Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei). Javanese, Sundanese, and Madurese of Indonesia belong to this family as well.


The Dravidian languages of southern India and parts of Sri Lanka include Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, while smaller languages such as Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan respectively.


The Afroasiatic languages (in older sources Hamito-Semitic) are represented in Asia by the Semitic branch. Semitic languages are spoken in Western Asia, and include Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian.

Siberian families

Besides the Altaic families already mentioned (of which Tungusic is today a minor family of Siberia), there are a number of small language families and isolates spoken across northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (better known for Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (linked to Turkic and to the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and--just barely--Eskimo-Aleut. Some linguists have noted that the Koreanic languages share more similarities with the Paleosiberian languages than with the Altaic languages. The extinct Ruan-ruan language of Mongolia is unclassified, and does not show genetic relationships with any other known language family.

Caucasian families

Three small families are spoken in the Caucasus: Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian; Northeast Caucasian (Dagestanian languages), such as Chechen; and Northwest Caucasian, such as Circassian. The latter two may be related to each other. The extinct Hurro-Urartian languages may be related as well.

Small families of Southern Asia

Although dominated by major languages and families, there are number of minor families and isolates in South Asia & Southeast Asia. From west to east, these include:

Creoles and pidgins

The eponymous pidgin ("business") language developed with European trade in China. Of the many creoles to have developed, the most spoken today are Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole of the Philippines, and various Malay-based creoles such as Manado Malay influenced by Portuguese. A very well-known Portuguese-based creole is the Kristang, which is spoken in Malacca, a city-state in Malaysia.

Sign languages

A number of sign languages are spoken throughout Asia. These include the Japanese Sign Language family, Chinese Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, as well as a number of small indigenous sign languages of countries such as Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many official sign languages are part of the French Sign Language family.

Official languages

Asia and Europe are the only two continents where most countries use native languages as their official languages, though English is also widespread as an international language.

Language Native name Speakers Language family Official status in a country Official Status in a region
Abkhaz 240,000 Northwest Caucasian Abkhazia
Arabic 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Bahrain
Saudi Arabia
Armenian ? 5,902,970 Indo-European Armenia
Assamese ? 15,000,000 Indo-European India
Azerbaijani Az?rbaycanca 37,324,060 Turkic Azerbaijan


7,600,000 Indo-European Pakistan


Balti ?


392,800 Sino-Tibetan Pakistan
Bengali 230,000,000 Indo-European Bangladesh India
Bodo '/
1,984,569 Sino-Tibetan India
Burmese ? 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Cantonese / 7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan China
Chin Kukish 3,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Chinese Mandarin /
1,200,000,000 Sino-Tibetan China


Dari 19,600,000 Indo-European Afghanistan
Dhivehi ? 400,000 Indo-European Maldives
Dzongkha ? 600,000 Sino-Tibetan Bhutan
English English 301,625,412 Indo-European India
Filipino Wikang Filipino 93,000,000 Austronesian Philippines
French Français 4,716,670 Indo-European
Formosan 171,855 Austronesian Republic of China
Georgian ? 4,200,000 Kartvelian Georgia
Gujarati ? 50,000,000 Indo-European India
Hakka /
2,370,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
Hebrew 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic Israel
Hindi 550,000,000 Indo-European India
12,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
18,570,000 Sino-Tibetan Republic of China
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia 240,000,000 Austronesian Indonesia
Japanese 120,000,000 Japonic Japan (de facto)
Kachin Jinghpaw 940,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Kannada 51,000,000 Dravidian India
Karen 6,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar

7,000,000 Indo-European India
Kayah Karenni 190,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Kazakh ?
18,000,000 Turkic Kazakhstan China


Khmer 14,000,000 Austroasiatic Cambodia
80,000,000 Koreanic North Korea
South Korea
Kurdish Kurdî
20,000,000 Indo-European Iraq Iraq


2,900,000 Turkic Kyrgyzstan China
Lao ? 7,000,000 Kra-Dai Laos
Malay Bahasa Melayu
30,000,000 Austronesian Brunei
Indonesia (as Indonesian)
Malaysia (also called Malaysian)
Malayalam 37,000,000 Dravidian India
Marathi 99,000,000 Indo-European India
Meitei ?
2,000,000 Sino-Tibetan India
Mon ? 851,000 Austroasiatic Myanmar

2,000,000 Mongolic Mongolia China
Nepali 29,000,000 Indo-European Nepal India
Odia 33,000,000 Indo-European India
Ossetian ? 540,000
(50,000 in South Ossetia)
Indo-European South Ossetia
Pashto ? 45,000,000 Indo-European Afghanistan Pakistan
130,000,000 Indo-European Afghanistan (as Dari)
Tajikistan (as Tajik)
Portuguese Português 1,200,000 Indo-European Timor Leste China
100,000,000 Indo-European India
Rakhine ? 1,000,000 Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Rohingya Ruáingga 1,800,000 Indo-European
Russian ? 260,000,000 Indo-European Abkhazia (co-official)
Kazakhstan (co-official)
Kyrgyzstan (co-official)

South Ossetia (state)
Tajikistan (inter-ethnic communication)
Turkmenistan (inter-ethnic communication)
Uzbekistan (inter-ethnic communication)

Shan 3,295,000 Kra-Dai Myanmar
Sindhi ? 40,000,000 Indo-European Pakistan
Sinhala 18,000,000 Indo-European Sri Lanka
Tajik 7,900,000 Indo-European Tajikistan
Tamil 77,000,000 Dravidian Singapore
Sri Lanka
Telugu 79,000,000 Dravidian India
Tetum Lia-Tetun 500,000 Austronesian Timor Leste
Thai ? 60,000,000 Kra-Dai Thailand
Tibetan 1,172,940 Sino-Tibetan China
Tulu ? 1,722,768 Dravidian India
Turkish Türkçe 70,000,000 Turkic Cyprus
Northern Cyprus
Turkmen Türkmençe 7,000,000 Turkic Turkmenistan
Urdu 62,120,540 Indo-European Pakistan India
Uyghur 10,416,910 Turkic China
Uzbek O?zbekcha
25,000,000 Turkic Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Ti?ng Vi?t 80,000,000 Austroasiatic Vietnam (de facto)
Zhuang Vahcuengh 16,000,000 Kra-Dai China

See also


  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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