This is fun for those of us who spend our time poring over books like Compendium of the World’s Languages: list all the living languages you can without looking them up. I’ve come up with 242 (I had provisionally put down my pencil when it suddenly occurred to me I’d completely forgotten about Balto-Slavic); as I said in the post at Tenser, said the Tensor, where I found this pastime (you probably shouldn’t click on the “post” link if you’re going to try it yourself, since he provides his own list therein), “it’s very frustrating when you know there’s a language in a particular spot but you can’t remember the name. (For instance, I could only remember three of the four main Dravidian languages, and there’s two Siberian languages with very similar names that are staying stubbornly on the tip of my tongue…).”


  1. Эвены и эвенки?

  2. I got 264. There are five sign languages in my list.. And also languages where there is controversy about their status as separate languages like Macedonian/Bulgarian, Moldovan/Romanian, Flemish/Dutch. And I am probably wrong about some of the Amerindian languages I listed.
    My list is here
    I saw Tenser’s list – there were so many more that I had forgotten. Like Guraní. I was going to include Piraha but I kept on thinking Piranha. lol. And oh man, I just remembered Haida and Comanche. Darnit.

  3. Mark Williamson says

    By continent will make this easier.
    OK… Haida, Tlingit, Yup’ik, Dogrib, Slavey, Carrier, Cree, Ojibwe, Inuktitut, Inupiaq, Inuvialuktun, Yuit, Mohawk, Chinook, Apachean languages, Muscogee, Kikapu, Seminole, Oneida, Alabama, Atakapa, Choctaw, Cheyenne, Massachusett, Digueño, Zuñi, Yuma, Kiliwa, Cocopa, Maricopa, Shoshone, Nahuatl, O’odham, Yavapai, Walapai, Havasupai, Yaqui, Zapotec, Quiche, Lakota, Cherokee, Carib, Guarani, Hopi, Ute, Paiute, Nez Perce, Salishan languages, Kakchiel, Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Garifuna, Mapudungun, Quechua, Aymara, Tupi, Taino.
    Lots more, but this is boring me… *sigh*

  4. TSTT forgot Sesotho, but I know you didn’t, right?

  5. sredni: Yup, that’s them!
    Rethabile: Right!

  6. I stopped at 350. Mark, I don’t think Seminole, Cheyenne or Massachusett have speakers anymore.

  7. Aren’t there 100 dialects of Inuit, based on their different words for snow?

  8. David Costa says

    Mark, I don’t think Seminole, Cheyenne or Massachusett have speakers anymore.
    Seminole and Cheyenne assuredly DO still have speakers. But Massachusett hasn’t been spoken natively since the early 19th century or thereabouts.

  9. David Costa says

    In Mark’s list, I think Atakapa and Massachusett are the only languages that are unequivocally extinct.

  10. Damn, I had Massachusett too. Make that 241.
    How about Coptic (on the Tensor’s list)?

  11. Cool! I love being wrong about dead languages.
    I don’t know about Coptic – I have a vague feeling it’s known only as a liturgical language, so if Latin counts it should too, but otherwise not.

  12. I think, not that anyone should care, that liturgical languages should be included.
    I remember reading that the dead liturgical language is called Ge’ez or Ethiopic. I haven’t been able to Google Ge’ez contrastive to Coptic. Perhaps Coptic is the Hellenistic version, and Ge’ez a later (also extinct) descendant of Coptic.

  13. Ge’ez is the liturgical language of Ethiopia; it bears a relationship to Amharic similar to that of Sanskrit to the modern Indic languages. Coptic is a distant relation, the later version of Ancient Egyptian.

  14. Then I would say that Coptic is thoroughly, utterly dead. But I’d list Amharic and Ge’ez separately as two languages, based on the liturgical exemption.

  15. i saw some statistics for the community college i tutor at: students here represent 140 countries & 90 languages. and i thought: i can’t even NAME 90 languages.

  16. I tried this when I first saw the Tensor’s post. I got ~155 (some of which are probably wrong in one way or another, but I didn’t really feel like checking them all against Ethnologue). I could certainly have got more if I’d spent longer on it, but I was really just trying to beat his 138 :-). Looking at his list afteward, I realized that I even omitted languages which I’d thought of while making the list but had set aside for when I reached the appropriate part of the globe.
    I’d be inclined to include liturgical languages too, but didn’t for this exercise.

  17. by the way, are the two Siberian languages Yakut and Yokuts?

  18. No, the first commenter had it: it was Even and Evenk. Sorry, I should have mentioned that in my first comment for those who don’t read Russian!

  19. Kilian Hekhuis says

    I got 264. (…) And also languages where there is controversy about their status as separate languages like (…) Flemish/Dutch.
    I don’t think there’s any controversy about the status of Flemish. It’s a group of (iirc three groups of) dialects spoken in northern Belgium (Flanders). The other examples you give are controversial in as far as the goverments of these countries officially declare the languages/dialects as a different language, Flanders (i.e. Belgium) certainly does not. Did you also count Croation/Bosnian/Serbian as different languages?

  20. Im verry busy writing a new language
    I am doing this toghether with raising funds for clean drinking water for poor countries
    i would like to know if the waterlanguage does exist.
    Its language da aquarikki or H2o

  21. Garrigus Carraig says

    I just found this the other day & tried to beat out Hat’s 242. After clearing out some dubious entries I landed on 237. I would have kept trying, but I couldn’t name a single Australian language, & so stopped, feeling unworthy.

    Just came up with Dyirbal: 238.

  22. marie-lucie says

    I won’t even try, but Yakut and Yokuts are not at all the same. Yakut is a Siberian language and Yokuts a language of Southern California.

  23. Another possible Siberian pair is Koryak and Kerek. Both are very closely related.

    There are also three languages on both sides of the Bering Strait called Alyutor, Alutiq and Aleut, these names often cause confusion among lingusts

  24. David Marjanović says

    these names often cause confusion among lingusts

    Oh, there’s worse. Literally everything spoken on the plain on both sides of the Urals has been called “Ostyak”.

  25. Also many people confuse Ostyak with Votyak…

  26. David Marjanović says

    …which is how almost everything in the region has been called. 🙂

  27. Reminds me, I once saw an ethnic map translated from German in which “Ostjaken” had become “East-Yaks.”

  28. Thanks, that gave me a good laugh!

  29. I’ve seen a map where Okhotsk sea was labelled “Hunter’s sea”

  30. Talking of Siberia, there’s a whole confusible triad of Tungusic languages there: Orok, Oroch, and Oroquen. Not unlike Slovak, Slovene, and Slovincian.

  31. David Marjanović says

    It’s Oroqen without u, in a Pinyin-derived orthography.

  32. —Orok, Oroch, and Oroquen

    I wonder if Tolkien knew about them

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