How much do you know about the world's languages?

Test your knowledge. Answers are at the bottom of the page.

True or False:

  1. More than half of the world's languages have no written form.

  2. Most people in the world are monolingual; that is, they only know how to speak one language.

  3. There is a dictionary of every language in the world.

  4. You can translate information from any language to any other language and have the translation mean exactly the same thing as the original.

  5. If everyone in the world spoke the same language, we would all benefit in increased understanding and efficiency, and lose nothing.

  6. The speakers of the world's 3,586 smallest languages make up less than of 1% of the world's population.

  7. Even though many languages are extinct or endangered, there are no entire families that are endangered.

  8. All speakers of endangered languages want linguists to record their languages.

  9. Most people who speak more than one language learn their second and third languages in school.

  10. If you trace them back far enough, all languages are related to each other.

Multiple Choice:

  1. Around how many languages are spoken in the world today?

    1. 70
    2. 700
    3. 7,000
    4. 70,000
  2. What is the difference between a dialect and a language?

    1. A language has a written form; a dialect doesn't.
    2. A language is spoken across an entire country; a dialect is only spoken in parts of a country.
    3. Speakers of two different languages can't understand each other; speakers of two dialects of the same language can.
  3. What percent of the world's languages are expected to disappear during this century?

    1. 1%
    2. 5%
    3. 25%
    4. 50%
  4. What is one reason why languages disappear?

    1. Some languages are inherently better than others, so people shift to speaking superior languages.
    2. Some languages have higher prestige, so people shift to speaking languages that will allow them to get better jobs.
    3. Some languages are harder to learn than others, so people learn easier languages if they have the opportunity.
  5. What continent holds the largest number of languages?

    1. Asia
    2. Africa
    3. South America
  6. Which list includes the three countries with the most languages?

    1. Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Nigeria
    2. China, Brazil, and Nigeria
    3. The United States, Indonesia, and China
  7. Which list includes the three languages with the most speakers?

    1. English, French, and Russian
    2. Hindi, English and Mandarin
    3. Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic
  8. Around how many people worldwide speak English as a first language?

    1. 100 million
    2. 350 million
    3. 500 million
    4. 750 miliion
  9. Around how many languages are spoken in the U.S.A. today?

    1. 50
    2. 300
    3. 700
    4. 1,000

Answers

  1. True. Probably fewer than a quarter of the world's languages (only around 1,700) have written forms.
  2. False. Most people throughout the world speak more than one language.
  3. False. Fewer than a quarter of the world's languages have a written form, a necessary step towards having a dictionary.
  4. False. Translations lose important cultural context and layers of meaning.
  5. False. Languages hold huge amounts of knowledge, cultural importance, and information about the brain.
  6. True. There is a huge imbalance between the number of speakers of the smallest languages of the world and the number of speakers of the largest languages of the world, so that speakers of over half of the world's languages make up less than one one-hundredth of the population of the world.
  7. False. There are many endangered and recently extinct language families.
  8. False. Many speakers of endangered languages are ashamed of their language, or do not want to talk to foreign linguists.
  9. False. Many people in the world grow up speaking different languages in different contexts during daily life—for example, one language within the family, another within the village, and another for official business—all learned without formal classes.
  10. False. If there was one original source of language, it was too long ago for linguists to trace it to its roots. There are languages, called isolates, that appear not to be related to any other languages of the world.
  11. c. 7,000
  12. c. Speakers of two different languages can't understand each other; speakers of two dialects of the same language can.
  13. d. 50%
  14. b. Some languages have higher prestige, so people shift to speaking languages that will allow them to get better jobs.
  15. a. Asia
  16. a. Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Nigeria
  17. b. Hindi, English and Mandarin
  18. b. 350 million
  19. b. 300