Languages of Asia

There is a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. The major language families spoken on the continent include Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Tai-Kadai. They usually have a long tradition of writing, but not always.

Language groups

The major families in terms of numbers are Indo-European and Dravidian in South Asia and Sino-Tibetan in East Asia. Several other families are regionally dominant.


Sino-Tibetan includes Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Karen and numerous languages of the Tibetan Plateau, southern China, Burma, and North east India.


The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhalese and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia). In addition, other branches of Indo-European spoken in Asia include the Slavic branch, which includes Russian in Siberia; Greek around the Black Sea; and Armenian; as well as extinct languages such as Hittite of Anatolia and Tocharian of (Chinese) Turkestan.

Altaic families

A number of smaller, but important language families spread across central and northern Asia have long been linked in an as-yet unproven Altaic family. These are the Turkic languages, Mongolic languages, Tungusic languages (including Manchu), Korean, and Japonic languages. Speakers of Turkish (Anatolian Turks) are believed to have adopted the language, having instead originally spoken the Anatolian languages, an extinct group of languages belonging to the Indo-European family.[1]


The Mon–Khmer languages (Austroasiatic languages) are the oldest family in Asia. They include Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian).


The Tai-Kadai languages (or just Kadai) of southern China spread in historic times into Southeast Asia, where Thai (Siamese) and Lao are official languages.


The Austronesian languages include the languages of the Philippines and most of the languages of Indonesia (excluding inland New Guinea), such as Malay (Malaysia) and Tagalog (Filipino).


The Dravidian languages of southern India and parts of Sri Lanka include Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, while smaller languages such as Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan respectively.


The Afroasiatic languages (Hamito-Semitic) are presently represented by the Semitic branch spoken in Southwest Asia. It includes Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian. The Modern South Arabian languages contain a substratum influence from the Cushitic branch of Afroasiatic, which suggests that Cushitic speakers originally inhabited the Arabian Peninsula alongside Semitic speakers.[2]

Siberian families

Besides the Altaic families already mentioned (of which Tungusic is today a minor family of Siberia), there are a number of small language families and isolates spoken across northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (better known for Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (linked to Turkic and to the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and—just barely—Eskimo–Aleut. Some linguists have noted that the Koreanic languages share more similarities with the Paleosiberian languages than with the Altaic languages. The extinct Ruan-ruan language of Mongolia is unclassified, and does not show genetic relationships with any other known language family.

Caucasian families

Three small families are spoken in the Caucasus: Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian; Northeast Caucasian (Dagestanian languages), such as Chechen; and Northwest Caucasian, such as Circassian. The latter two may be related to each other. The extinct Hurro-Urartian languages may be related as well.

Small families of Southern Asia

Although dominated by major languages and families, there are number of minor families and isolates in South Asia & Southeast Asia. From west to east, these include:

Creoles and pidgins

The eponymous pidgin ("business") language developed with European trade in China. Of the many creoles to have developed, the most spoken today are Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole of the Philippines, and various Malay-based creoles such as Manado Malay influenced by Portuguese. A very well-known Portuguese-based creole is the Kristang, which is spoken in Malacca, a city-state in Malaysia.

Sign languages

A number of sign languages are spoken throughout Asia. These include the Japanese Sign Language family, Chinese Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, as well as a number of small indigenous sign languages of countries such as Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many official sign languages are part of the French Sign Language family.

Official languages

Asia and Europe are the only two continents where most countries use native languages as their official languages, though English is also widespread.

Language Native name Speakers Language Family Official Status in a Country Official Status in a Region
AbkhazAԥсшәа240,000Northwest Caucasian Abkhazia Georgia
Arabicالعَرَبِيَّة230,000,000Afro-Asiatic Qatar,  Jordan,  Saudi Arabia,  Iraq,  Yemen,  Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Syria,  Palestine(observer state),  Lebanon,  Oman,  UAE,  Israel
Armenianհայերեն5,902,970Indo-European Armenia,  Nagorno-Karabakh
Assameseঅসমীয়া15,000,000Indo-European India (in Assam)
AzerbaijaniAzərbaycanca37,324,060Turkic Azerbaijan Iran
Banglaবাংলা230,000,000Indo-European Bangladesh India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
BodoBoro1,984,569Sino-Tibetan India (in Bodoland)
Burmeseမြန်မာစာ33,000,000Sino-Tibetan Myanmar
Cantonese廣東話/广东话7,877,900Sino-Tibetan Hong Kong and  Macau
Chinese普通話/普通话,國語/国语,華語/华语Sino-Tibetan China,  Taiwan,  Singapore,  Malaysia
Dariدری19,600,000Indo-European Afghanistan
Dhivehiދިވެހި400,000Indo-European Maldives
Dzongkhaརྫོང་ཁ་600,000Sino-Tibetan Bhutan
EnglishEnglish301,625,412Indo-European Philippines,  Singapore,  India,  Pakistan,  Malaysia Hong Kong
FilipinoWikang Tagalog110,784,442Austronesian Philippines
Formosan171,855Austronesian Taiwan
Georgianქართული4,200,000Kartvelian Georgia
Gujaratiગુજરાતી50,000,000Indo-European India (in Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
HakkaThòi-vàn Hak-fa2,370,000Sino-Tibetan Taiwan
Hebrewעברית7,000,000Afro-Asiatic Israel
Hindiहिन्दी550,000,000Indo-European India
IndonesianBahasa Indonesia240,000,000Austronesian Indonesia East Timor (as a working language)
Japanese日本語120,000,000Japonic Japan
Kannadaಕನ್ನಡ51,000,000Dravidian India (in Karnataka)
Karenကညီကျိး6,000,000Sino-Tibetan Myanmar (in Kayin State)
KazakhҚазақша18,000,000Turkic Kazakhstan Russia
Khmerភាសាខ្មែរ14,000,000Austroasiatic Cambodia
Korean한국어/조선말80,000,000Koreanic South Korea,  North Korea China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
KurdishKurdî/کوردی20,000,000Indo-European Iraq Iran
Kyrgyzкыргызча2,900,000Turkic Kyrgyzstan
Laoພາສາລາວ7,000,000Tai-Kadai Laos
MalayBahasa Melayu/بهاس ملايو30,000,000Austronesian Malaysia,  Brunei,  Singapore
Malayalamമലയാളം33,000,000Dravidian India (in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mahe)
Marathiमराठी73,000,000Indo-European India (in Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
MongolianМонгол хэлᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
2,000,000Mongolic Mongolia China (in Inner Mongolia)
Nepaliनेपाली29,000,000Indo-European   Nepal India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Odiaଓଡ଼ିଆ33,000,000Indo-European India (in Odisha and Jharkhand)
OssetianИрон540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia)Indo-European South Ossetia Russia (in  North Ossetia–Alania )
Pashtoپښتو45,000,000Indo-European Afghanistan Pakistan
Persianفارسی50,000,000Indo-European Iran
Punjabiپنجابی / ਪੰਜਾਬੀ100,000,000Indo-European India (in Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh)  Pakistan (in Punjab, Pakistan)
PortuguesePortuguês1,200,000Indo-European Timor Leste Macau
RussianРусский260,000,000Indo-European Abkhazia,  Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan,  Russia,  South Ossetia Uzbekistan,  Tajikistan and  Turkmenistan (as an inter-ethnic language)
Saraikiسرائیکی18,179,610Indo-European Pakistan (in Bahawalpur )  India (in Andhra Pradesh )
Sinhalaසිංහල18,000,000Indo-European Sri Lanka
Tamilதமிழ்77,000,000Dravidian Sri Lanka,  Singapore India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Teluguతెలుగు79,000,000Dravidian India (in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Puducherry)
Taiwanese Hokkien臺語18,570,000Sino-Tibetan Taiwan
Tajikтоҷикӣ7,900,000Indo-European Tajikistan
TetumLia-Tetun500,000Austronesian Timor Leste
Thaiภาษาไทย60,000,000Tai-Kadai Thailand
Tuluತುಳು1,722,768Dravidian India (in Mangalore, Udupi, Kasargod, Mumbai)
TurkishTürkçe70,000,000Turkic Turkey,  Cyprus,  Northern Cyprus
TurkmenTürkmençe7,000,000Turkic Turkmenistan
Urduاُردُو62,120,540Indo-European Pakistan India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)
UzbekOʻzbekcha/ Ўзбекча25,000,000Turkic Uzbekistan
VietnameseTiếng Việt80,000,000Austroasiatic Vietnam

See also


  1. Z. Rosser et al. (2000). "Y-Chromosomal Diversity in Europe is Clinal and Influenced Primarily by Geography, Rather than by Language" (PDF). American Journal of Human Genetics. 67 (6): 1526–1543. doi:10.1086/316890. PMC 1287948. PMID 11078479.
  2. Blažek, Václav. "Afroasiatic Migrations: Linguistic Evidence" (PDF). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  3. Blench, Roger. 2015. The Mijiic languages: distribution, dialects, wordlist and classification. m.s.
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