Languages of Asia

Of the many language families of Asia, Indo-European (purple, blue, and medium green) and Sino-Tibetan (chartreuse and pink) dominate numerically, while Altaic families (grey, bright green, and maroon) occupy large areas geographically. Regionally dominant families are Japonic in Japan, Austronesian in the Malay Archipelago (dark red), Kadai and Mon–Khmer in Southeast Asia (azure and peach), Dravidian in South India (khaki), Turkic in Central Asia (grey), and Semitic in the Mideast (orange).

There is a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. Asian languages usually have a long tradition of writing, but not always.

Language groups

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


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


The Indo-European family is primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. It includes both Indic languages (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Sinhalese and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Central Asia 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

Main article: Altaic languages

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.


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


Main article: Tai-Kadai languages

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 (Indonesian) and Tagalog (Filipino).


Main article: Dravidian languages

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.


Main article: Semitic languages

The Afroasiatic languages are represented by the Semitic group spoken in Southwest Asia. It includes Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and extinct languages such as Akkadian.

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.

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 South Asia

Although dominated by major languages and families, there are number of minor families and isolates in South 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
Abkhaz Aԥсшәа 240,000 Northwest Caucasian  Abkhazia  Georgia
Arabic العَرَبِيَّة 230,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Qatar,  Jordan,  Saudi Arabia,  Iraq,  Yemen,  Kuwait,  Bahrain,  Syria,  Palestine,  Lebanon,  Oman,  UAE,  Israel
Armenian հայերեն 5,902,970 Indo-European  Armenia  Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan)
Assamese অসমীয়া 15,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Assam)
Azerbaijani Azərbaycanca 37,324,060 Turkic  Azerbaijan  Iran,  Dagestan (Russia)
Bengali বাংলা 150,000,000 Indo-European  Bangladesh  India (in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Jharkhand)
Burmese မြန်မာစာ 33,000,000 Sino-Tibetan  Myanmar
Cantonese 廣東話/广东话 7,877,900 Sino-Tibetan  Hong Kong(China),  Macau(China)
Chinese 普通話/普通话,國語/国语,華語/华语 Sino-Tibetan  China,  Taiwan,  Singapore
Dari دری 19,600,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Dhivehi ދިވެހި 400,000 Indo-European  Maldives
Dzongkha རྫོང་ཁ་ 600,000 Sino-Tibetan  Bhutan
English English Indo-European  Philippines,  Singapore,  India,  Pakistan  Hong Kong (China)
Filipino Wikang Filipino 90,000,000 Austronesian  Philippines
Georgian ქართული 4,200,000 Kartvelian  Georgia
Gujarati ગુજરાતી 50,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Greek Ελληνικά 11,000,000 Indo-European  Cyprus,  Greece
Hebrew עברית 7,000,000 Afro-Asiatic  Israel
Hindi हिन्दी 500,000,000 Indo-European  India
Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia 240,000,000 Austronesian  Indonesia  East Timor (as a working language)
Japanese 日本語 120,000,000 Japonic  Japan
Kannada ಕನ್ನಡ 51,000,000 Dravidian  India (in Karnataka)
Kazakh Қазақша 18,000,000 Turkic  Kazakhstan
Khmer ភាសាខ្មែរ 14,000,000 Austroasiatic  Cambodia
Korean 한국어/조선말 80,000,000 Koreanic  South Korea,  North Korea  China (in Yanbian and Changbai)
Kurdish Kurdî / کوردی 20,000,000 Indo-European  Iraq
Kyrgyz кыргызча 2,900,000 Turkic  Kyrgyzstan
Lao ພາສາລາວ 7,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Laos
Malay/Malaysian Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia, بهاس ملايو/ مليسيا 30,000,000 Austronesian  Malaysia,  Brunei,  Singapore
Marathi मराठी 73,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli)
Mongolian Монгол хэлᠮᠣᠨᠭᠭᠣᠯ
2,000,000 Mongolic  Mongolia  China (in Inner Mongolia)
Nepali नेपाली 29,000,000 Indo-European    Nepal  India (in Sikkim and West Bengal)
Odia ଓଡ଼ିଆ 33,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Odisha and Jharkhand)
Ossetian Ирон 540,000 (50,000 in South Ossetia) Indo-European  South Ossetia  Georgia,  North Ossetia–Alania (Russia)
Pashto پښتو 45,000,000 Indo-European  Afghanistan
Persian فارسی 50,000,000 Indo-European  Iran
Punjabi ਪੰਜਾਬੀ 100,000,000 Indo-European  India (in Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh)  Pakistan (in Punjab, Pakistan)
Urdu اُردُو 62,120,540 Indo-European  Pakistan  India (in Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)
Saraiki سرائیکی/सराइकी 18,179,610 Indo-European  Pakistan (in Bahawalpur )  India (in Andhra Pradesh )
Portuguese Português 1,200,000 Indo-European  Timor Leste  Macau (China)
Russian Pусский 260,000,000 Indo-European  Abkhazia,  Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan,  Russia,  South Ossetia  Uzbekistan,  Tajikistan (as an inter-ethnic language),  Turkmenistan (as an inter-ethnic language)
Sinhala සිංහල 18,000,000 Indo-European  Sri Lanka
Tamil தமிழ் 77,000,000 Dravidian  Sri Lanka,  Singapore  India (in Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Puducherry)
Telugu తెలుగు 79,000,000 Dravidian  India (in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Puducherry,)
Tajik тоҷикӣ 7,900,000 Indo-European  Tajikistan
Tetum Lia-Tetun 500,000 Austronesian  Timor Leste
Thai ภาษาไทย 60,000,000 Tai-Kadai  Thailand
Tulu ತುಳು 1,722,768 Dravidian  India (in Mangalore, Udupi, Kasargod, Mumbai)
Turkish Türkçe 70,000,000 Turkic  Turkey,  Cyprus,  Northern Cyprus
Turkmen Türkmençe 7,000,000 Turkic  Turkmenistan
Uzbek Oʻzbekcha 25,000,000 Turkic  Uzbekistan
Vietnamese Tiếng Việt 80,000,000 Austroasiatic  Vietnam

See also


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