As those of us in the translation community no doubt agree, language is a fascinating thing. According to research by Vistawide, there are 6,912 living languages spread across the planet, though 516 of those are on the brink of extinction.
The history of language
To the best of our knowledge, spoken language developed somewhere around 100,000 BC. Written language followed much later, with evidence showing that written Sumerian or Egyptian was used around 3,200 BC. Over the next several hundred years, other languages began to follow suit, until a rich linguistic tapestry of the written word had spread around the world.
Despite the spread of technology and the interconnectivity of the modern world, there are still vast differences between languages. These differences make some languages appear ‘richer’ than others.
The world’s richest languages
English, for example, is considered to be one of the world’s richest languages due to the number of words that it contains. According to Oxford Dictionaries, it is probably the most word-rich language on the planet. While it is impossible to accurately count all of the words in a language, Vistawide estimates that English contains roughly 250,000 words.
By contrast, the ‘poorest’ living language in terms of the number of words is Taki Taki (also known as Sranan), which has just 340 words in total. Despite its relative paucity of words, Taki Taki has some 120,000 speakers in Suriname, South America.
Language is about more than words
Of course, language is about more than just words. Other languages that may be considered rich include the Cambodian Khmer, which with 74 letters has the world’s largest alphabet. The language of Rotokas, spoken in Bougainville Province, Papua New Guinea, has the fewest letters, with just 12.
Another rich language is !Xóõ, which is spoken in Botswana, Africa. !Xóõ has an impressive 112 phonemes, making it the language with the greatest number of sounds. In comparison, Rotokas has only 11.
There are all kinds of reasons that a language can be considered rich. Which language do you feel is the richest and why? Let us know in the comments.