Education: Cataloguing Babel

In what languages does the modern world speak? Classifying the world's tongues has been the task for the past seven months of a bleary-eyed crew of linguists at Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University. They can still only guess at the number of existing languages: somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000. But the significant languages—that is, those that are the mother tongues of at least 1,000,000 of the world's 2.9 billion people—number only 130. The top dozen, and the number of people who speak them:

Chinese-Mandarin 460 million

English 250 million

Hindustani 160 million

Spanish 140 million

Russian 130 million

German 100 million

Japanese 95 million

Arabic 80 million

Bengali 75 million


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