Featured Language


Latgalian is a Baltic ethnolect spoken in eastern Latvia in the region called Latgalia (Latgale in Latvian). It is considered...

Find the language on the interactive map



What's it all about?

Do you have any idea how many languages exist in the world? You probably know that there are about 200 independent states. The number of natural languages however is… almost 7000! Sadly, a year from now the number of languages across the globe will diminish by 100-150, as we lose 2-3 natural languages each week. More than half of the languages spoken today are endangered languages. This website invites you to a journey in the world of languages, providing not only information about languages, but also ideas what you can do to explore, document and preserve the linguistic diversity of our globe. It may be the beginning of a life-long adventure, and you may become a hero: with your help languages may stay alive!


Tonal languages (where different tones distinguish words, for example Chinese) are not found among the native languages of...


Australia is the only continent where tonal languages have not been found. The use of tones is widespread in Asia and in Africa, but also found in the Americas (especially Central America) and in Europe (for example, in Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Croatian). See a map of the distribution of tonal languages in the world and read about it at: http://wals.info/chapter/13 (The World Atlas of Language Structures Online). Read more about tones in sound systems in Chapter 4 of the Book of Knowledge.

Soqotri is spoken on an island that belongs to…


Soqotri is spoken on the island Socotra and two smaller islands of the Socotra Archipelago that belongs to the Republic of Yemen The island is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Soqotri belongs to the group of Modern South Arabic languages – this name is misleading because these languages are quite different from Arabic. On the islands Soqotri has over 50,000 speakers, it is spoken by the greatest part of the inhabitants. Nevertheless its position today is vulnerable. Read more on the language and factors that endanger it in two articles by Mira Baz, available at: http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/5410/guide

Tifinagh is...

a dialect
a language
a writing system

Tifinagh is an alphabet used by Tuareg and some other Berber people in the Sahara. It has an old history, going back to the third century B.C., and a modern form that was added to the UNICODE standard in 2005 and is available as a Microsoft font. There are many sources about Tifinagh on the Internet – explore!

How many languages are spoken in Bolivia?


Ethnologue (web edition) writes: “Republic of Bolivia, República de Bolivia. 9,182,000. National or official languages: Spanish, North Bolivian Quechua, South Bolivian Quechua, Central Aymara. Literacy rate: 63%–81%. Immigrant languages: American Sign Language, Corsican (60,000), Standard German (160,000), Wichí Lhamtés Vejoz. Information mainly from SIL 1956–2003. Blind population: 1,070. Deaf population: 46,800. Deaf institutions: 9 or more. The number of individual languages listed for Bolivia is 45. Of those, 37 are living languages 1 is a second language without mother-tongue speakers, and 7 have no known speakers.” (Ethnologue, http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=BO consulted 15/09/2012). The site lists the 45 languages with short information. Learn a bit about two of these languages, Chipaya and Yurakare, with our exercises on the Map.

According to the constitution of 2011, the two official languages of Morocco are...

Arabic and French
Arabic and English
Arabic and Amazighe (Berber)

Morocco is the first state where a Berber language has received official status. Berber languages are spoken all over North Africa. They are very similar to each other and it is difficult to distinguish dialects and individual languages. The Berber language spoken in Morocco is called Amazight and has about 3 Million speakers. In recent years it has been introduced into schools, and teaching materials and children's books are developed. The Royal Institute of Amazight Culture has a nice homepage for teachers and children (look at the French version at http://www.ircam.ma/ecoleamazighe/index.html you may understand it even without knowing French). French, the former colonial language, still plays an important role in Morocco but has no official status.

A language is bound to die if...

it is not used in schools
it is not spoken by children
it does not have a writing system

The use of a language in writing and in education may strengthen the position of a language and delay language death, but many languages of the world have existed for centuries without writing and schools. On the other hand, when a language is not passed on to the next generation, it's death is almost inevitable – one may count the time when the last speaker will die.

Read more about factors of language endangerment in the Book of Knowledge.

Cornish is spoken fluently by...

200 people
350 people
1, 000 people

350 people – three hundred of them in Cornwall and fifty of them in the London area. More information can be found on the BBC Voices website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/multilingual/cornish.shtml. You can learn more about languages which have been revived in chapter 9 of the Book of Knowledge.

How many Quechua dialects are there?


There are nine Quechua dialects, spoken across Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. See here for a map of their distribution: http://runasimi.de/dial-en.htm.

Which country is known as Shqipëri in its official language?


Albania. In standard (or Tosk) Albanian, the country is known as Shqipëri/Shqipëria; in Gheg Albanian (spoken mainly in Kosovo) it is known as Shqipnia. The country is officially known as the Republic of Albania (Republika e Shqipërisë).

The colour ‘grue’ refers to:

Dark gray
Light green

Many languages do not have separate terms for blue and green, instead using a cover term for both. In Thai, เขียว (khiaw) means green except when referring to the sky or the sea, when it means blue. Chinese has a word 青 (qīng) that can refer to both green and blue, and sometimes black. The Korean word 푸르다 (pureuda) can mean either green or blue. In Japanese, the word for blue (青 ao) is often used for colours that English speakers would refer to as green, such as the colour of a traffic signal meaning "go".

Read more on colour terms and find references in Chapter 2 of the Book of Knowledge.

Where will you find these place names:
1. Llanfairpwyllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
2. Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion
3. Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole 

Wales, UK
Australia, Indonesia

These are some of the longest place names in Europe and are in Welsh. Llanfairpwyllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch means ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of Llatysilio of the red cave’. Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion means ‘The Mawddach station and its dragon under the northern peace of the Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay’. This was adopted recently for promotional purposes. Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole means ‘the lovely silent church, ancient place of the rare kite under wretched threat from misplaced blades’ and refers to the Carmarthenshire village of Llanfynydd and was adopted by the village as a form of protest against a wind farm, but the protest only lasted for a week.

Which of these languages uses Cyrillic alphabet as the main writing system?


Rusyn (or Ruthenian) is a language spoken by the Rusyns in Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Serbia and other countries (including the diaspora in North America). Earlier considered a dialect of Ukrainian, recently commonly recognized as separate Eastern Slavic language. Both the standardized and local varieties use predominantly Cyrillic alphabet (very similar to Ukrainian and Russian). Yiddish (the language of Central and Eastern European Jewry) has been traditionally written with the Hebrew alphabet (although occasionally also with Latin letters), while Romani (the language complex spoken by the Roma throughout the world) – if written at all – traditionally used the same writing system as the local majority language. The standardized (although much disputed) Romani version uses Latin orthography. All three languages can be considered endangered. More on the Rusyn language and culture at: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/rusyn.htm, http://www.rusyn.org

The word Нью-Ёрк is written in:

Low German

Belarusian is one of two official languages of he Republic of Belarus, the other one being Russian. It is one of very few examples of endangered langauges, which loose their prestige and speakers in spite of their official status. In fact, the state language policy in Belarus supports a higher social, cultural and public prestige for Russian. As one can see – the word Нью-Ёрк (New York) is written with Cyrillic letters, which has always been the most common writing system used for Belarusian, although occasional attempts at Latinization in the history of Belarusian literature should be mentioned. Kashubian is a regional language spoken by the Kashubs in Northern Poland, while Low German a regional language of Northern German Bundesländer. Both Kashubian and Low German used the Latin alphabet. Even if still used by considerable numbers of people, both Kashubian and Low German (and Belarusian) can be considered endangered in their intergenerational transmission.

More: http://www.belarus-misc.org/bel-ling.htm

Which of these African states has 11 official languages?

the Arab Republic of Egypt
the Republic of Rwanda
the Republic of South Africa

Republic of South Africa – after political changes of he 1990s, which disestablished the policy of apartheid (racial segregation) in South Africa, the 1997 Constitution established 11 official languages of the Republic – next to the previously offical Afrikaans and English, that status was granted to: Ndebele (or IsiNdebele – meaning ‘the Ndebele language’), Xhosa (IsiXhosa), Zulu (IsiZulu), Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa), Sotho (Sesotho), Tswana (Setswana), Swati (siSwati), Venda (Tshivenda), and Tsonga (Xitsonga). The only official language of the Arab Republic of Egypt is (Modern Standard) Arabic – although numerous other varieties are spoken throughout the country. The Republic of Rwanda, the least multilingual country of continental Africa, has the native Kinyarwanda (spoken by 98% population), as well as English and French as official languages.

More on South African endangered languages: http://www.yourdictionary.com/elr/extinct.html

Which of the following languages has a special variety called “mother-in-law-language”?


In many Australian, Austronesian and Bantu languages, as well as in some languages of North America, a special variety other than everyday language is used in presence of certain people. In Dyirbal, one should not use everyday speech called 'Guwal' when speaking to their mother-in-law and opposite-sex children-in-law. Instead, it is expected that they use the Dyalnguy variety, which has a similar grammar to Guwal, but differs significantly from it in terms of vocabulary. Some Dyirbal examples of mother-in-law-language, otherwise known as avoidance language can be found here Unfortunately, Dyirbal is now gone.

Which of the following languages does not belong to the same language family as Arabic?


Hebrew and Amharic both belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family and so does Arabic. Farsi, also known as Persian, is an Indo-European language spoken in Iran and its neighbouring countries. Farsi uses an Arabic script. Here you can learn some Farsi online: http://www.easypersian.com/lesson-archive-1/

A phenomenon in which there are two varieties of a language used in different domains by the same community is called:


Diglossia is common occurrence in many parts of the world: one would use a regional dialect when speaking e.g. to relatives at home or in other informal situations and standard language in the news or during parliamentary sessions etc. Sometimes the varieties are labelled Low and High variety, respectively. In some societies, the Low variety is often associated with backwardness, low level of education etc. whereas the High variety is associated with power and prestige. Many endangered languages and dialects become endangered precisely by being regarded non-prestigious: people are no longer eager to use them and they gradually shift towards obsolescence. Do you think any variety of a language can be better than other?

Find out more in BoK Chapter Language and Culture. You can also find out what the remaining two – multilingualism and derivation are by having a look at the Book of Knowledge.

In which language do you use words that designate body parts for counting?

Pite Saami

Foe uses a system of numerals that is based on body parts. When counting, one is supposed to point at a proper part of body that stand for a numeral. You can watch a speaker of Foe count here

Which of the following European countries declares bilingualism in its constitution?


Of the three countries listed here, only in Belarus two languages – Belarusian and Russian – have an official status in the entire territory of the state.

Which of the following languages is not spoken in France?


Alsatian is a Germanic language spoken in the region of Alsace in eastern France. Franco- Provençal, a Romance language used by over 100,000 people altogether, is native to Switzerland, Italy and France. Jèrrais is an endangered language spoken in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands which constitute a dependency of the British Crown. Here you can listen to a Jèrrais poet Michael Vaûtchi reading his poem Lé Jèrrais Ma Langue (‘Jèrrais My Language’) in the Jèrrais language: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkz34f_P1pM&feature=relmfu

Of all the languages documented so far, an extinct Caucassian language possesses the highest number of consonants – 84, with only 2 vowels. Which language is that?


Tevfik Esenҫ – the last person able to speak Ubykh – died on October 7, 1992 thus making the language with world’s largest consonant inventory disappear. Here you can find more information about Tevfik Esenҫ and listen to him speaking Ubykh.

Adigbaze, otherwise known as Adyghe, is used by around half a million people in the Republic of Adygea in the Russian Federation. Adigbaze is vulnerable to endangerment. Svan is a definitely endangered language spoken in northwestern Georgia. Go to the Interactive Map and try solve some exercises in Svan.

The term used to cover languages previously known as Taita and Chaga spoken in Kenya and Tanzania is:

Serengethi Bantu
Kilimanjaro Bantu
Safari Bantu

The term ‘Kilimanjaro Bantu’ is used as reference to numerous languages of peoples of Mt Kilimanjaro and the surrounding areas. The groupings suggested so far by linguists are misleading. For example, there is no ‘Chaga language’, but diverse languages spoken by the Chaga people of Mt Kilimanjaro and ‘Taita’ covers two substantially different languages: Dawida and Saghala, which are not closely related to each other. None of the Kilimanjaro Bantu languages has official status in neither Kenya nor Tanzania, and only some of them exist in written form.

Which of the following languages is extinct?

Crimean Tatar

Hebrew is one of the most famous revived languages: it used to be extinct but it was brought back to life by the community of speakers and now is the official language of Israel. Crimean Tatar - the language of Crimean Tatars - emerged from dialects of the Kypchak language in the Middle Ages and is currently used by almost half a million speakers in the Crimean Peninsula, several countries in Central Asia and in Romania. Tocharian is an extinct Indo-European language branch that died out in 9th century A.D. Research done on Tocharian provided one of the most crucial pieces of data that enabled the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European - the language that all the Indo-European languages stem from. There are actually two Tocharian languages which have been reconstructed: Tocharian A and Tocharian B.

Find out more about Tocharian and its script here.

Which language has living relatives?


Although there are several theories about genetical relationships between Japanese and other, so-called Japonic languages, none of them is widely accepted. Pirahã, one of the very many languages of Amazonia, used to have relatives, but they all became extinct. Of the three languages, only Yalawapiti has remaining relative languages, such as Wauja and Mehinako. The language itself has only a few remaining speakers and is extremely endangered. At http://pib.socioambiental.org you can learn a lot more about indigenous languages of Brazil and the communities who use them.

Which language does not possess the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative sound [ɬ] ?


You won’t find [ɬ] in the phonetic system of Basque. [ɬ] is present in quite many languages of the world, including Welsh, Khanty and Navajo. In Welsh orthography the sound is represented by ‘ll’ and can be found e.g. in place names such as Llanelli and Llanberis. Can you find any place names with [ɬ] in them on the audio pronunciation map of Wales?

Which of the following languages is not a tonal language?


Ladakhi is an atonal language, although many of its language relatives from the Sino-Tibetan language family are tonal. Both Nyamwezi of the Bantu language family and genetically unclassified Wãnsöhöt are tonal. Learn more about tone in language in chapter 4 of the Book of Knowledge.

Most of the world’s languages express the concept 'tea' by a word derived from either Min Nan Chinese te or Sinithic 'cha'. Which of the following languages have words for tea coming from 'cha'?

Hindi, Pashto and Telugu
Gamilaraay, Acehnese and Marathi
Chamorro, Nubian and Mandarin Chinese

Chamorro, Nubian and Mandarin Chinese have words for tea coming from 'cha'. More on words for tea in different languages can be found in chapter 138 of the World Atlas of Language Structures.

Efforts to halt the process of language shift and to promote the usage of heritage language are called:

language maintenance
language revitalization
language revival

‘Language maintenance’ are all efforts to support vitality of a language in order to prevent shift. Employment of the term ‘language revitalization’ automatically implies the language in question is already subject to the process of language shift: the language is not any more present in all the domains it used to be, the community of speakers is less and less willing to use it etc. Actions that can be labeled ‘language revival’ are efforts concerned with bringing back a language which is extinct to usage.

Languages of which of the following pairs are not related genetically to each other?

Thai and Burmese
Mansi and Estonian
Kaiwá and Aweti

Burmese is a Sino-Tibetan, whereas Thai - a Tai-Kadai language. Both Estonian and Mansi are members of the Uralic language family. Mansi is an endangered language, whereas Estonian is safe and enjoys an official status in Estonia. Kaiwá and Awetï are both endangered languages belonging to the Tupian language family with the former having around 34,000 and the latter only 140 speakers.

In which country does Lithuanian have an official minority language status?


Poland is the only country to officially recognize Lithuanian as a minority language.

Which of the following is a polisynthetic language?


Polisynthetic languages express sophisticated concepts that in most languages known to us are represented by whole sentences by means of long and complex words. In the Tiwi language 'ngirruunthingapukani', with morphemes for 1st person Singular and Past Tense and for concepts: ‘eat’, ‘repeatedly’ and ‘for some time’, is a word translatable into English as: ‘I kept on eating’. Polisynthesis is typical for Eskimo-Aleut languages, but polysynthetic languages can be found also elsewhere, mainly in the Americas and in Papua.

Names such as 'avocado', 'chocolate', 'guacamole' and 'Mexico' all come from one of the indigenous languages of Central America. Which language is that?


The names 'avocado', 'chocolate', 'guacamole' and 'Mexico' all come from Nahuatl. Other words that originally come from Nahuatl include: 'cocoa', 'coyote' and 'tomato'.

The 'Principality of Monaco' is 'Principatu de Múnegu' in one of the languages used in Monaco. Which language is that?


Monaco is 'Principatu de Múnegu' in the Munegascu dialect of the Ligurian language. Munegascu is one of the language varieties used in everyday communication by inhabitants of the Principality of Monaco. Other languages spoken in Monaco are: French, Occitan and Italian.

What do you call a phenomenon in which words are built up from units each representing one grammatical meaning?


In agglutinating languages, ideally one morpheme stands for just one grammatical meaning. Turkish is the ‘purest’ agglutinating language in this sense. Basque, Ingrian, Swahili, Yuchi and Gagauz and many more are all examples of agglutinating languages.

‘Inflection’ refers to morphological differences between words that express grammatical relations, e.g. singular vs. plural. In many languages words inflect for number, case, tense etc. (Learn more about interesting grammatical features from chapter 3 of the Book of Knowledge).

The term ‘polisynthesis’ refers to such type of word-building in which many morphemes that cannot function as separate entities are put together to form very long words which are translatable to languages used in Europe often by whole sentences.

In which of the sign languages negated forms are built up with a sign standing for a concept one wants to negate followed by a separate marker of negation?

Indo-Pakistani Sign Language
Hong Kong Sign Language
German Sign Language

In Indo-Pakistani Sign language there is a particle meaning ‘not’ and if one wants to express negation, the sign denoting the thing being negated needs to be followed by the sign for ‘not’.

In other sign languages of the world, so-called ‘irregular negations’ are more popular. In irregular negations, there are two separate signs for, say, ‘interesting’ and ‘not interesting’.

More information on the typology of negation in sign languages can be found in chapter 139 the World Atlas of Language Structures Online.

One word denotes both ‘hand’ and ‘finger’ in which language?


There are ca. eight time as many languages that make a distinction between ‘finger’ and ‘hand’ as languages that do not distinguish the two. Interestingly, the latter are concentrated in specific areas: the central part of North America and Australia (Navajo is one of them). This is connected with type of livelihood: languages used by not fully agrarian communities are typically identifying, whereas languages of communities who have made the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists tend to differentiate between ‘hand’ and ‘finger’.

Which language uses an alpha-syllabic script?


Cree uses an alphasyllabaric, which can be viewed here: http://www.kuhmann.com/Cree/index.htm Alpha-syllabic scripts have features of both alphabetic and syllabic writing systems: most typically, the basic unit represented in writing is the consonant and a diacritic is added to inform about the type of consonant-vowel combination. Japanese uses a syllabic, while Uyghur – an alphabectic script.

The idea of language nests was first introduced in the revitalization of on of the following languages. Which one?

Inari Saami

Language nests were introduced in the ‘80s by the Māori people of New Zealand. The idea of a language nest is to put small children for a few hours a day in a sort of pre-school environment in which adults speak the heritage language to children thus immersing children in the heritage language from early childhood. Language nest programmes were successfully implemented to help revitalize other languages as well, including Hawaiian and Inari Saami.