Language rankings are fun. It’s exciting to read lists of languages to find your very own mother tongue. Is it better than others? Are there a lot of fellow native speakers? Is the language getting stronger? The basic competitiveness of a human nature is strong when it comes to languages. We all have a personal relationship to our native language. It’s our way to communicate. It defines us. We want to see its position against other languages.
Unfortunately all sorts of language lists and rankings are only estimations. The same is that we don’t know how many people there are in the world. There are surprisingly few countries that can give an exact number of the citizens. Others can only guess. Smart people have put all of their workmanship in action to estimate a number. People just want to take any figures as facts because we love facts.
If we don’t even know how many people are out there around the world, how could we know what languages are they speaking? This doesn’t stop us wanting to know how popular our language is. Ranked items help us to understand the world we’re living in. This is why there are so many blogs and news describing the latest situation. Even we have written a couple of these posts: The Future Speaks Spanish, What Are the Most Spoken Languages in the World? and Cool Infographics About the Multilingual & Multicultural Internet.
In spite of the critical tone, I’m not trying to say that all rankings are incorrect. There are so many ways to rank items that all lists aren’t even comparable. However, they all can’t be right because most of them put the languages in a different order every time. To make it even worse, the situation is evolving all the time, and what might be the correct order today will probably be outdated tomorrow.
The comments reveal that this topic is sensitive. The active defending of one’s own language and its position in the language universe is extremely intense. If one feels that his language is in the wrong place he’ll let people know that. The tension is clearly visible between the languages with most speakers (according to Wikipedia, listed here in the alphabetical order): Arabic, Bengali, English, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
What comes to languages, the offline and online world still differ from each others. Those above mentioned languages are the largest offline languages. There are languages that are spoken in countries where the access to the Internet is still far from its peak. Thus the most-used languages in the online world are slightly different. One of the latest studies states that English, Russian, German, Spanish, French and Chinese rule the Internet at the moment.
As a conclusion I can only quote the famous TV-slogan from the 1990’s: the truth is out there. The challenge is to find a way to actually calculate the real number. Meanwhile we can only rely on the estimations of the most-spoken languages.
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