How Many Languages Are There?

The answer is, of course, a bit more complicated than you might think. •
Written with Molly Ruhl and Gretchen McCulloch. Gretchen's podcast has an episode all about this:

Gretchen's book BECAUSE INTERNET, all about the evolution of internet language, is available:
🇺🇸 US:
🇨🇦 CA:
🇬🇧 UK:

(Those are affiliate links that give a commission to me or Gretchen, depending on country!)

Graphics by William Marler:
Audio mix by Graham Haerther:

Eberhard, D.M., Simons, G.F., and Fennig, C.D. (eds.). 2020. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-third edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. .
François, A. (2014). Trees, waves and linkages: Models of language diversification. In Evans, B. \u0026 Bowern, C. The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics. (pp. 161-189). London: Routledge Ltd - M.U.A.
Heeringa, W., \u0026 Nerbonne, J. (2001). Dialect areas and dialect continua. Language Variation and Change, 13(3), 375-400. doi:10.1017/S0954394501133041
Burridge, J. (2017). Spatial evolution of human dialects. Physical Review. X, 7(3), 031008.
Libermann, M. (2003). This is not middle earth. LanguageLog.
Labov, W. (1973). Sociolinguistic patterns (Conduct and communication, 4). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Laakso, J. (2018). Language borders and cultural encounters: A linguistic view on interdisciplinarity in the research of intercultural contacts. In Palander, M., Riionheimo, H., \u0026 Koivisto, V. On the border of language and dialect. (pp. 38-55) Studia Fennica Linguistica
Lupyan, Gary, \u0026 Dale, Rick. (2016). Why Are There Different Languages? The Role of Adaptation in Linguistic Diversity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(9), 649-660.
Bybee, J. L. (2006). From Usage to Grammar: The Mind's Response to Repetition. Language (Baltimore), 82(4), 711-733.
Bucholtz, M. \u0026 Hall, K. (2005) Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies. vol. 7 (4-2): 585-614.
Bucholtz, M. (1999). “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls. Language in Society, 28(2), 203-223.
Steels, L. (2011). Modeling the cultural evolution of language. Physics of Life Reviews, 8(4), 339-356.
Honkola, T., Ruokolainen, K., Syrjänen, K., Leino, U. P., Tammi, I., Wahlberg, N., \u0026 Vesakoski, O. (2018). Evolution within a language: environmental differences contribute to divergence of dialect groups. BMC evolutionary biology, 18(1), 132.
Austin, P.K. \u0026 Sallabank, J. (2011). Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge University Press.
New York Times / Associated Press (2017). Icelanders Seek to Keep Their Language Alive and Out of ‘the Latin Bin’

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  1. Tom Scott

    Tom Scott

    9 måneder siden

    This is the last of the language videos that I filmed earlier this year! There may be more in 2021, but until then, thanks very much to the whole team that work on these: their details, and all the references, are in the description.

    • Tristan The gamer

      Tristan The gamer

      2 måneder siden

      well my language was nearly extinct and has many other related and are extinct what language am i. don't press read more until answered Answer: welsh related Cumbric possibly Pictish same language tree as Gaelic's, Breton, Manx

    • Wil' Balright

      Wil' Balright

      3 måneder siden

      Yes. Definitely yes

    • Luke O'Connor

      Luke O'Connor

      3 måneder siden

      And did that make sense?

    • Luke O'Connor

      Luke O'Connor

      3 måneder siden

      @Jonas Arnesen that’s the NOnet research paradox where if you post it on line someone will have an ancer because (insert reason here) Okay it’s a stretch

    • Jonas Arnesen

      Jonas Arnesen

      3 måneder siden

      @Luke O'Connor to be honest Europe isn't even as diverse as China. Europe has little over 200 languages and China has around 300. Europe may be the continent aside from Antarctica with by far the fewest languages.

  2. pulli23


    Time siden

    Wait wait, I've always learned that a language is only defined by a government - otherwise you havea non civilized dialect. Like for dutch there's a dutch language organization which defines what the language is. Without that you have chaos.

  3. Lewis Thomas

    Lewis Thomas

    5 dager siden

    You sir are a legend for the saying the answer right at the start of the video. Some videos take like 16 or minutes long to answer 1 question

  4. Andre Poncelet

    Andre Poncelet

    9 dager siden

    "you can't go to start. Start is not a place". Tell that to monopoly

  5. lingshan ng

    lingshan ng

    10 dager siden

    wow I did not expect to hear Singlish right off the bat

  6. Sarah White

    Sarah White

    14 dager siden

    I wish you hadn't used THAT book as an example. You made this well after the knowledge that its author is a bigoted monster was common knowledge. 😞 Perhaps you and others don't think that should effect her works... I'll say now it certainly makes me feel ill every time I hear it's name and there is definitely plenty of evidence of her vile opinion within.

  7. Marcellinos Penny (Markus)

    Marcellinos Penny (Markus)

    26 dager siden

    "one global language" Weeps in Esperanto

  8. jowillll


    27 dager siden

    Me, just wanting to know how many languages there are : 😟

  9. hafiz sehbaan abbasi

    hafiz sehbaan abbasi

    27 dager siden

    0:00 ok i got my answer

  10. Tristan mccaskill

    Tristan mccaskill

    29 dager siden

    imma only has one n like ima

  11. a completely normal human

    a completely normal human

    29 dager siden

    I still don't really get why I care even if English was endangered language assuming I know another language it wouldn't matter I mean sure the works I grew up with are in a different language but it's the same ideas being transferred

  12. The-Anh Pham

    The-Anh Pham

    29 dager siden

    I made my own dialect just to subtly annoy people I don’t like. (Mediocre is pronounced how it’s spelt: med-i-oc-cre)

  13. david thomas

    david thomas

    Måned siden

    In the west we take a lot of words for granted , a huge amount of english words are adopted in Russian speaking countries because they have no alternative for them , see it a lot here in Kharkiv bust at the same time there are some that will translate correctly letter for letter , supermarket almost does that but not quite , just one letter does not allow it , the letter ''U''

  14. Raging Blodge

    Raging Blodge

    Måned siden

    I've got a question that I would love you to answer. When quoting and referencing an author in academic text, why do we only ever use their surname once we have established who they are? My old lecturer told me "because the author isn't your friend, so refer to them by their surname" and that it looks more formal. But it baffles me how this ended up being the standard way of reference

  15. Shockanova


    Måned siden

    2:06 Gen z:

  16. Guðmundur Kjartan Kjerúlf

    Guðmundur Kjartan Kjerúlf

    Måned siden

    As an icelander i can tell that my android can support icelantic

  17. Rolf Mikkelson

    Rolf Mikkelson

    Måned siden

    Does that list of ~7K include English as distinct from American? Asking as a native of America...

  18. TinySpyro


    Måned siden

    :) Icelandic people also learn Danish, so I can imagine younger people (who haven't learned English yet) would use Danish on devices

  19. AntonHarboe_


    Måned siden

    The like numbers are 77,777

  20. Scutoid Studios

    Scutoid Studios

    Måned siden

    Or about my Irish and Scotts Gaelic, or my Irish and Irish in Corcaigh?

  21. Coolboi101


    Måned siden

    When you are young you really think of a language as words and so when you try to create a new language as a kid you just translate the words that come up into your mind into some obscure thing, Please don't tell me I am the only on to do this.

  22. SJC


    Måned siden

    no. you're british, therefore the only language is english

    • Callum - カラム

      Callum - カラム

      27 dager siden


  23. LB


    Måned siden

    That's why I like Esperanto.

  24. Azmy Adzkiansyah

    Azmy Adzkiansyah

    Måned siden

    tbh english disappearing would be a blessing

    • Callum - カラム

      Callum - カラム

      27 dager siden


  25. Aravind Suresh

    Aravind Suresh

    2 måneder siden

    Joke? 2000 of those are in India

  26. Slappy Mc Gee

    Slappy Mc Gee

    2 måneder siden

    languages is like evolution, we have little to non control of it.

  27. TM_


    2 måneder siden

    Thanks for the video! Finally I know how to explain what a species is and how new ones emerge. It is like languages. As long as they are similar, they have strong influence on each other and dialects are like sub-species, which still can mate. But, mostly through geographic separation, languages evolve to two distinct forms, just like species.

    • TM_


      2 måneder siden

      And there are also eveolutionary trees out there, which are really cool and interesting! But in comparison to species, such trees show much more horizontal "gene transfer" for languages.

  28. Dan Severns

    Dan Severns

    2 måneder siden

    I have always just heard “It’s raining when it’s sunny” without any folklore attached.

  29. Rainy


    2 måneder siden


  30. NFSHeld


    2 måneder siden

    English native speakers: We should all agree on one common language, probably the one most people speak already. 同意 选择了中文。 *surprised Pikachu face*

    • Callum - カラム

      Callum - カラム

      27 dager siden

      @FlippityFlop Same !

    • FlippityFlop


      Måned siden

      this is more accurate than i want to admit Really though, I wouldn't mind learning Chinese. Hell, I probably should. Actually I will.

    • 名前名前


      2 måneder siden

      death to mandarin long live manchu

  31. Greg B

    Greg B

    2 måneder siden

    I do speak English, and if it died off eventually, it wouldn't really bother me. Who cares if Harry Potter exists as a translation?

  32. Trevor Lewis

    Trevor Lewis

    2 måneder siden

    English could die in a fire for all I'd care.

  33. Esteban Fiddeou

    Esteban Fiddeou

    2 måneder siden

    The spanish version of Imma is Voa, or Wa (voy a), but there is a further agglomeration: Mua (me voy a (Imma […] myself))

  34. Lòhr'rnà


    2 måneder siden

    Another problem with the Ethnologue's list is that a lot of small languages are often forgotten. My language, Lorrain, a minority Gallo-Romance language spoken in modern-day France and Belgium, isn't seen as a language by the Ethnologue And it's not an isolated case

  35. Diego Bizeps

    Diego Bizeps

    2 måneder siden

    It is not "I'm going to start", it is "i am going to think about whether i might begin or not"

  36. John Estupido

    John Estupido

    2 måneder siden

    Well, it is not like a language dies in the snap of a finger.

  37. thehydra A

    thehydra A

    2 måneder siden

    ঠিক আছে, কমেন্ট এবার বাংলাই লিখলাম।

  38. Trevor Clark

    Trevor Clark

    2 måneder siden

    I love your linguistic stuff I also love how you reference everything most things I greatly appreciate that

  39. Quack


    2 måneder siden

    3:30 Jokes on you, I’m not from England so I already grew up on translations and that worked fine

  40. ageofheros animation

    ageofheros animation

    2 måneder siden

    And you get South Africa, with its 12 languages.

  41. ctrl c ctrl v

    ctrl c ctrl v

    2 måneder siden


  42. prince 2.0

    prince 2.0

    2 måneder siden

    Best Language is maths 😁

  43. Sasha Willow Smith

    Sasha Willow Smith

    2 måneder siden

    The translation issue is a problem having many languages causes to be fair Noone can be expected to know even every major language so everyone is cut off from even being able to chose to experience tonnes of culture and stories. But then even if you only speak english there is far too many stories, music etc being created to experience all of just for english speakers *Sigh* really makes you feel small

  44. Louis Francisco

    Louis Francisco

    2 måneder siden

    I don't know if they are good at what they know, but Lingthusiasm is good at saying wrong things about things they really know nothing about. I stopped listening after 5 minutes because there were too many mistakes for me to take them seriously.

  45. Viktória Vadon

    Viktória Vadon

    2 måneder siden

    But imagine how cool it'd be if all families were bilingual (or more), speaking their native language(s) and English!

  46. GydigiGytha


    2 måneder siden

    The Icelandic language is available on phones. My friends in Iceland never seemed to have trouble with it

  47. Riley Carpenter (lopcario)

    Riley Carpenter (lopcario)

    2 måneder siden


  48. Thomas Busse

    Thomas Busse

    2 måneder siden

    711, 71, etc are Magic Numbers in the Occult and Secret Societies.

  49. you is stupid

    you is stupid

    2 måneder siden

    As a person who loves languages. This video broke my heart.

  50. somerandomdudeable


    2 måneder siden

    "How many languages are there?" High tide or low tide?

    • janKelamensa


      2 måneder siden

      frisian disappears at high tide

  51. elisheva barenbaum

    elisheva barenbaum

    2 måneder siden

    A language is a dialect with an army and a navy was said to Max Weinreich, in reference to Yiddish, that has neither.

  52. Silvia Sánchez

    Silvia Sánchez

    2 måneder siden

    "Que no cunda el pánico" Very well played, sir

  53. Ernesto Carrillo

    Ernesto Carrillo

    2 måneder siden

    English and the Yanks are taking over!

  54. Angry Ted

    Angry Ted

    2 måneder siden

    Scots: English? People from another country English: Englush? It's a language used by people all over the world, even the northern British ("Scots")

  55. Mino Arno

    Mino Arno

    2 måneder siden

    1:05 Vlaams, as a Flemish speaker myself I salute you ;P

  56. some person

    some person

    2 måneder siden

    7117 are the four numbers after my name in my school login :D

  57. Aurelia


    2 måneder siden

    You won't guilt me into feeling sorry for the extincition of obscure languages only spokemon by a few thousand people in africa F*ck off

  58. Nic “Fox” Jansen

    Nic “Fox” Jansen

    2 måneder siden

    3:29 Isn't this the exact same as one of the meanings of the word "draft"(or "draught") in English or "tocht" in Dutch? This reminds me somehow that "the day after tomorrow" is more common than "overmorrow" while "overmorgen" is an often used Dutch word and "de dag na morgen" sounds really strange

  59. Kolle4732


    2 måneder siden

    I'm Icelandic and I understand what you mean I don't live in Iceland anymore and I'm near forgetting it even though its the only language I can speak with my granparents and cousins

  60. WhyArePea


    2 måneder siden

    I purposely started spelling "Exactly" as *_“EGGZACKTLI"_* AND NOW 13 PEOPLE I KNOW USES "EGGZACKTLI" INSTEAD OF "Exactly"

    • WhyArePea


      2 måneder siden

      @Baran wokay 🗿👍

    • Baran


      2 måneder siden

      Start a cult. I'll join

  61. ewrilan


    2 måneder siden

    NOOO! Don't do anything to polish and its words like: haluszki kluchy połom bite kluski czarne kluski śląskie kopytka knedliki lane kluski pierogi leniwe przecieraki pyzy szpecle zacierki (all mean noodles)

  62. Bruce Schneider

    Bruce Schneider

    2 måneder siden

    Robert MacNeil's series "The Story of English" was brilliant. Also, as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, explaining English as it is changing provides a lot of good opportunities for discussion.

  63. László B

    László B

    2 måneder siden

    2:40 but Icelandic is there on macbooks tho

  64. Phil Box

    Phil Box

    2 måneder siden

    I wonder if they included the some 1,700 ish distinct languages in Papua New Guinea. Each mountainous valley has a completely distinct language and the next valley over's inhabitants have zero clue about the other's language. Hence why Pidgin English is spoken as a Lingua Franca between Wontoks.

  65. Digaddog


    2 måneder siden

    I feel like it would be fine with me if English disappeared. Of course, chances are it will never happen in my lifetime so I'll never know for sure, but as long as its possible to learn the language, which is much harder when its dead but still possible, especially with the sheer amount of English works and ai, I don't care to much.

  66. David Maes

    David Maes

    2 måneder siden

    @4:01 "They were A computer" ... "They were computers" ?

  67. Firecat the potato

    Firecat the potato

    2 måneder siden


  68. max


    2 måneder siden

    the inclusion of singlish 😱😍😌

  69. You can call me Al “Iván Division”

    You can call me Al “Iván Division”

    2 måneder siden

    Guía del autoestopista galáctico "Que no cunda el pánico"

  70. Verbindungsfehle


    2 måneder siden

    3:37 Did you just assume my native language?

  71. John Patch

    John Patch

    2 måneder siden

    So my language has millions of speakers, yet it isn't the official language in its namesake country (because it's trapped inside a bigger country), however it IS the official language of one of the smallest countries in Europe. Catalan is not the main official language in Catalonia, that would be Spanish. But in Andorra, the official language is Catalan. It won't dissappear soon, even if that's what fascist spanish groups drool over. But then inside catalonia there's a region with its own language, Aranese (a dialect of Occitan), called Val D'Aran (Valley of Aran), within Catalonia. Coincidentially Aran sits practically right next to Andorra. And my own region, Pallars, was once ruled by a king who tried to get independence from Catalonia just to save his ass. We even have a school and other places named after him. So the lesson is, States are just lines on a map, the real countries are defined by culture, and it gets complicated. And also, independence runs in our blood. Catalonia WILL be free. As will the Basque country. (And potentially the Aran Valley might do that themselves at some point too)

  72. Jimmy McGill

    Jimmy McGill

    2 måneder siden

    Danish has kinda the same problem as Icelandic

  73. HalfLife9000


    2 måneder siden


  74. Target _667

    Target _667

    2 måneder siden

    as a dutch speaking Belgian also known as flemish i apreciate the tank with vlaams op

  75. breæd


    2 måneder siden

    BTW Download swift key keyboard It has Icelandic

  76. John Johnson

    John Johnson

    2 måneder siden

    I don’t think anyone is missing out on the Icelandic language

  77. Duskrider


    2 måneder siden

    Tom please cover newfound and it's odd diolect

  78. Felixkjornsberg


    2 måneder siden

    "imagine how it would feel if english was endangered?" vad snackar den här pysen om? Jag kan ju prata svenska när som helst

  79. ccc310


    2 måneder siden

    If only languages weren't a pain in the *** to learn everyone would speak 50 of them.

    • you is stupid

      you is stupid

      2 måneder siden

      Are you a native English speaker?

  80. Fouke


    2 måneder siden

    make it 1 >:]

  81. Diego18


    2 måneder siden

    yo there actually is icelandic now at least in android þþþæöæöþ

  82. Mitch Rogoff

    Mitch Rogoff

    2 måneder siden

    I welcome the rise of English as the sole remaining language

  83. solidus4prez


    2 måneder siden

    We are on the cusp of sentience but I don't know which side we're on and that's exhilaratingly scary

    • Rigboss


      Måned siden


  84. tamooz br

    tamooz br

    2 måneder siden

    2:40 gotta love that hebrew is LTR and not RTL here Just pointing that out

  85. Brandi Raine

    Brandi Raine

    3 måneder siden

    One of the coolest things is theres an entire dialect of English that is just as different as American English or British English, and that’s Online English. Words that are rarely used in localized versions, or are never used Like That, are used online. One of the best examples is Lewd. Most everyone who knows English knows what Lewd means, but it’s really only used online. Other examples are words like “shrimp”. I shrimp for (person). “I platonically love this person and do everything I can to support them” while having a stronger interpersonal connection between the 2 people than your typical fan-celebrity “love”.

  86. MaenINoldo


    3 måneder siden

    Swiss German is a good example of "what constitutes a language?". It never was standardised, and there are no rules on how to write it (it is called mundart, the spoken way. As opposed to Schriftdeutsch, the written German (iem regular German)). Reading text messages from someone from a different region, one that uses vowels in a different way, can be interesting at times 😅 So about every village has its own version, and there are substantial differences between cantons. But it's all one language... Maybe? Along with Elsace German? And southern German regional dialects/languages?

  87. Chaitanya Anand

    Chaitanya Anand

    3 måneder siden

    At 2:40 the spelling for Hindi is wrong.

  88. Pedro Braga

    Pedro Braga

    3 måneder siden

    How did you use future before "going to"?

    • Mr. Hat

      Mr. Hat

      3 måneder siden

      "I will"

  89. A cat on his hind legs.

    A cat on his hind legs.

    3 måneder siden

    I wouldn’t mind losing English but ya know I feel like instead of losing languages so much I think it would be better to learn both your native language and a universally understood one for keeping history.

  90. I.R. Fine

    I.R. Fine

    3 måneder siden

    The Hebrew word for Hebrew on the phone animation at 2:37 has the letters in the reverse order (the video has it as תירבע instead of עברית)

  91. Frederik Gjern Rosenberg

    Frederik Gjern Rosenberg

    3 måneder siden

    Honestly i would be completely ok with the danish language being wiped off the earth and replaced with english

  92. Icwatto


    3 måneder siden

    in my s9 phone ðere are icelandic

  93. DeluxeTux5249


    3 måneder siden

    Oh, you like languages? Name every language. Me: *PROTO-WORLD* (and all of its dialects)

  94. Xaim


    3 måneder siden

    Me an italian downloading a game:

  95. Shawn Deer Williams

    Shawn Deer Williams

    3 måneder siden

    The amount of langauges to satisfy duolingo

  96. Birb64


    3 måneder siden

    I am someone with a personal dialect that is a bit on the latin side. Similis hōc.

  97. W Spann (Fredbear87ps3)

    W Spann (Fredbear87ps3)

    3 måneder siden


  98. Tamara Morrison

    Tamara Morrison

    3 måneder siden

    I just noticed the wort "עברית" is written from left to right on the little phone animation. Which looks really weird, wow

  99. roger van Bommel

    roger van Bommel

    3 måneder siden

    Really, that statement at the end would be a problem, though since I speak Dutch as my native is it not as bad

  100. Sparky 2_0

    Sparky 2_0

    3 måneder siden