Insights April 8, 2021

Celebrating the world’s language diversity with ten curious facts

By Living Word

From a language that relies entirely on whistling sounds to an island nation that has over 840 languages for only eight million people – in this post, we celebrate the planet’s wonderful linguistic diversity with ten fascinating language facts from around the world.

Did you know that Papua New Guinea has more languages than any other country in the world? It boasts a whopping 840 languages within its borders, despite a population of only eight million people. That’s also why the country is often called the world’s most linguistically diverse. But why does this island nation have so many languages? As the country is populated by many tribes who live in separate villages and on different islands, and as such have remained isolated from each other for thousands of years, many different languages developed without foreign influence. When the country was colonised by English speakers, the language Tok Pisin (pidgin) became popular. It is now the country’s most widely spoken language.

According to UNESCO, 2,400 languages in the world are currently in danger of extinction, with India having the highest number of endangered languages, followed by the US. The languages at stake here are mostly indigenous ones, with one language becoming extinct about every two weeks. Luckily, there are ongoing efforts to turn the tide on this development in order not to lose these important cultural pillars of humanity.

Did you know that English contains more words than any other language? English boasts over 250,000 words, and the language is continuously growing.

People who speak Mandarin Chinese engage both sides of their brain, while English speakers, for example, only use the left side of the brain for talking. That’s due to the fact that tonal languages, such as Mandarin – a language that relies on registering different tones and pitches – also gives the right side of the brain, which is also used for processing music, a workout.

When it rains, it pours… words! At least in Hawaii. After all, the Aloha state offers up over 200 different words for ‘rain’.

Hearing a whistle inside your head? Chances are you’re on holidays in La Gomera off the coast of Spain. The Silbo Gomero language here consists entirely of whistles that were developed to communicate across the island’s deep valleys. With the language, people can exchange messages over distances of up to five kilometres.

Hate learning new letters? Maybe skip Cambodian then, as the language has the longest alphabet with 74 characters.

Many linguists believe that language as a whole originated around 100,000 BC.

In Japan, people use three different writing systems: Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana. While Kanji is made up of logograms, Hiragana and Katakana represent syllable sounds. Today, all three systems are used together, in particular for the sake of readability. Kanji, for example, creates natural breaks in sentences, while Katakana is pretty useful for foreign-language words or to add emphasis.

Last but not least, learning a new language can improve one’s memory, and some experts even believe that it can help slow down the process of aging. Which language will be your next challenge?