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'Language' vs 'dialect' (working definitions)
Morphological and syntactical classification take into account word forms and the position of words within a sentence.
Language families group languages by genetic origin.
Other language categories

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'Language' vs 'dialect'


A language may include several variants or dialects. But when a language evolves from another one, when does it become a language on its own? Would you say that English is a dialect of Old Germanic? Or that Spanish is a dialect of Latin?

From a linguistic point of view,
the speakers of a language must understand each other's speech well, even if they speak different dialects. There may even be several different standards for a language. For example, there are at least two commonly accepted standards for English, and there are three regional standards for formal Swedish, none of which is considered superior to the other two.

Anyway, this principle is difficult to apply, since there is much politically motivated controversy about this issue:

  • According to this criterion, languages such as Serbian and Croatian are considered to be one and the same language. The same applies to Indonesian and Malay, and to Czech and Slovak .

  • On the other hand, Hindi and Urdu are usually not considered to be the same language, since their literary forms are mutually incomprehensible, due to the strong influence of Sanskrit on Hindi and Persian and Arabic on Urdu.

  • The Arabic "dialects" spoken in Northwestern Africa may be considered different languages than standard written Arabic and Egyptian speech.

  • While formal written Chinese can be considered one language, when it comes to colloquial written Chinese or spoken Chinese, "dialects" such as Mandarin and Cantonese are actually different languages. Even further, Mandarin is again a generic term for dialects that are, in part, mutually inintelligible.

We chose to make the index of homepages and the clickable language tables on this site comply with the scientific definition mentioned above. Of course, no political statement is intended by this approach.


Morphological and syntactical classification


Analytic languages favor the use of words with invariable forms, and the roles words play in a sentence is usually determined by way of word order and grammatical particles. Examples of analytic languages include English and Chinese.

Isolating languages, each word consists of a single morpheme (= the smallest grammatical unit of speech, e.g. a stem, a prefix, or an ending). Examples are Classical Chinese and Vietnamese. (Most words in modern Chinese contain two morphemes.) Most isolating languages tend to be analytic as well.

Synthetic languages, the relationship between the words in a sentence is given by changing word forms. Synthetic languages can be inflected or/and agglutinative.

  • Inflected languages modify words (typically noun, adjective, and verb forms) depending on their role in the sentence. Inflection can take place by way of endings (like in German and Latin), or by changing the vowels around a stem consisting in a series of consonants (like in Arabic). Inflection related to nouns, adjectives, and the like is usually called declension, while inflection pertaining to verbs is called conjugation.

  • Agglutinative languages make extensive use of derivative suffixes, i.e. mostly invariable morphemes, to word stems to give the resulting word a new meaning. Finnish, Turkish, and Japanese are agglutinative.

In Polysynthetic languages a sentence can consist of a single stem with many affixes attached. American Indian languages such as Cherokee belong to this group.


Language families


 Quick jump index

 1. Indo-European family
Uralic family
Altaic family
Caucasian family
Afro-Asiatic family
Niger-Congo family
Nilo-Saharan family
Khoisan family
Austronesian family
13. Papuan group
14. Australian aboriginal group
15. Tasmanian family
16. Austro-Asiatic family
17. Miao-Yao family
18. Tai family
19. Sino-Tibetan family
20. Dravidian family
21. Eskimo-Aleutian family
22. Macro-Algonquian fam.
23. Athabascan phylum
24. Macro-Siouan phylum
25. Aztec-Tanoan phylum
26. Mayan family
27. Quechuan
28. Aymaran
Tupi-Guarani family
30. Ainu

      In order to trace the common source language from which several languages are descended, philologists compare the features of those languages, in particular the vocabulary related to culture-independent notions (which is not likely to have been borrowed). As a result, they try to reconstruct a Proto-language to that family of languages and to identify the laws that have ruled the phonological, morphological, and semantical development of each of the languages in question.

This research method was introduced by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th c. Today we know much more about the etymology of languages. Languages with a common origin are grouped into
families. In turn, families can be grouped in stocks, and stocks in phyla [pl. of "phylum"]. Finally, phyla can be grouped in macrophyla.

On the other hand, when genetic relationship is uncertain, the vague term "
group of languages" is used, defined in terms of either a geographical or an ethnic criterium.

Sometimes a new language with a simplified grammar and very limited vocabulary arises as a means of communication between people belonging to different linguistic communities. In such cases, attributing parentship of that language to a single language is an overt simplification. Such a language is called a
pidgin. A pidgin is never spoken as a first language. If it becomes one, it is called a creole language. Most pidgins and creoles in use today are based on European languages.

Below you will find a list of
some of the language groups existing on Earth. Extinct languages are marked "±". (Please note that not all scholars agree in the genetic classification of languages.)

1. Indo-European family ^

1.1. Italo-Celtic
1.1.1. Celtic:
Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Welsh
1.1.2. Italic
Latin > Romance languages: Catalan, Corsican, French, Galician, Italian, Ladino (Sephardic), Occitan (Provençal), Papiamento, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Romanian, Spanish Umbrian
1.2. Germanic
1.2.1. Low German: Old Saxon ±,
English, Frisian, Dutch / Flemish
1.2.2. Middle German:
1.2.3. Upper German
1.2.2. North Germanic West Scandinavian:
Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian East Scandinavian:
Danish, Swedish
1.2.3. East Germanic: Gothic ±
1.3. Baltic: Latvian (Lettish), Lithuanian, Old Prussian ±
1.4. Slavic
1.4.1. West Slavic:
Polish, Czech / Slovak, Sorbian, Kashubian
1.4.2. East Slavic:
Russian, Ukranian, Belarusian
1.4.3. South Slavic:
Bulgarian, (Slavic) Macedonian, Croatian / Bosnian / Serbian, Slovene
1.5. Illyrian-Albanian: Albanian
1.6. Hellenic: Old Greek ±, Modern Greek
1.7. Thracian-Phrygian: Thracian ±, Phrygian ±
1.8. Anatolian: Hittite ±
1.9. Armenian
1.10. Indo-Iranian

1.10.1. Indo-Aryan:
Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Assamese, Sinhalese, Romany
1.10.2. Iranian: Tajik,
Persian (Farsi)
1.11. Tocharian

2. Uralic family ^

2.1. Finno-Ugric
2.1.1. Ugric:
2.1.2. Finnic:
Finnish, Estonian, Votic, Sami, Erzya
2.2. Samoyedic

3. Altaic family ^

3.1. Turkic: Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek, Uighur
3.2. Mongolian
3.3. Manchu-Tungus

4. Japanese ^

5.1. Japanese

5. Korean ^

5.1. Korean

6. Basque ^

6.1. Basque

7. Caucasian family ^

7.1. Abkhazo-Adyghian: Abkhaz
7.2. Nakho-Dagestanian
: Chechen, Ingush
7.3. Kartvelian: Georgian

8. Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) family ^

8.1. Semitic
8.1.1. Northern peripheral Semitic: Akkadian (Assyro-Babilonian) ±
8.1.2. Northern Central Semitic: Phoenician ±, Canaanite ±, Aramaic ±,
8.1.3. Southern Central Semitic:
Arabic, Maltese
8.1.4. Southern Peripheral Semitic: Ge`ez ±, Tigrinya, Tigre, Amharic
8.2. Egyptian: Old Egyptian ±, Coptic
8.3. Berber: Guanche (?) ±, Tamazight
8.4. Cushitic
8.5. Chadic: Hausa

9. Niger-Congo family ^

9.1. Mande
9.2. Atlantic-Congo
9.2.1. Atlantic
9.2.2. Volta-Congo Benue-Congo Bantu:
Swahili, Lingala, Zulu, Xhosa, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Setswana, Shona, Tsonga Kru Kwa:
Ewe Gur Adamawa-Ubangi: Sango, Ngbandi Dogon
9.2.3. Ijoid
9.3. Kordofanian

10. Nilo-Saharan family ^

10.1. Nilotic: Maa
10.2. Surmic
: Surmic
10.3. Nubian
: Nile Nubian
10.4. Taman
: Tama, Sungor, Mararit
10.5. Saharan
: Kanuri

11. Khoisan family ^

11.1. North Khoisan / North San: !Kung, //Kh'au-//'en
11.2. Central Khoisan / Khoe
11.2.1. Khoekhoe: Nama, !Ora, Griqua
11.3. South Khoisan / South San: /'Auni, //Ng-!Ke, Khomani

12. Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family ^

12.1. Formosan
12.2. Western Malayo-Polynesian: Malay / Indonesian, Javanese, Tagalog, Malagasy
12.3. Central Malayo-Polynesian
12.4. South Halmahera — West New Guinea
12.5. Oceanic
12.5.1. Polynesian: Tongan, Tahitian, Maori,
12.5.2. Micronesian

13. Papuan group of languages ^

13.1. Ramu phylum
13.2. Torricelli phylum
13.3. West Papuan phylum
13.4. Bougainville phylum
13.5. Central New Guinea macrophylum

13.5.1. East New Guinea Highlands phylum
13.5.2. Finisterre-Huon phylum
13.5.3. Central and South New Guinea phylum
13.5.4. West New Guinea Highlands phylum
13.5.5. South-East New Guinea phylum
13.5.6. Madang phylum
13.5.7. Adelbert Range phylum (?)
13.5.8. Middle Sepik–Upper Sepik–Sepik Hill phylum (?)
13.5.9. Anga stock (?)
13.6. [Other phyla and isolates]

14. Australian Aboriginal group of languages ^

14.1. Andilyaugwan
14.2. Bunaban
14.3. Bureran
14.4. Daly
14.5. Djeragan
14.6. Djingili-Wambayan
14.7. Gunavidjian
14.8. Gunwingguan
14.9. Kakadjuan
14.10. Karawan
14.11. Kungarakanyan
14.12. Larakian
14.13. Mangaraian
14.14. Mangerian
14.15. Maran
14.16. Minkinan
14.17. Murinbatan
14.18. Nagaran
14.19. Ngewinan
14.20. Nunggubuyuan
14.21. Nyul-Nyulan
14.22. Pama-Nyungan
14.23. Tiwian
14.24. Warraian
14.25. Wororan
14.26. Yanyulan
14.27. Yiwadjan

15. Tasmanian family ± ^

16. Austro-Asiatic family ^

16.1. Munda: Santhali, Mundari, Ho
16.2. Mon-Khmer
: Vietnamese, Khmer (Cambodian), Mon

17. Miao-Yao family ^

17.1. Hmong (Miao), Yao, Sho

18. Tai family ^

18.1. Northern: Zhuang
18.2. Central
18.3. Southwestern
: Thai, Lao

19. Sino-Tibetan family ^

19.1. Sinitic (Chinese)
19.1.1. Mandarin: Standard Chinese
19.1.2. Wu
19.1.3.Hsiang (Hunanese)
19.1.4. Kan
19.1.5. Hakka
19.1.6. Yüeh: Cantonese
19.1.7. Min: Hokkien (Taiwanese)

19.2. Tibeto-Burman
: Tibetan, Burmese (Myanma), Bhutanese (Dzongkha)
19.3. Karen

20. Dravidian family ^

20.1. North Dravidian: Brahui
20.2. Central Dravidian: Telugu
20.3. South Dravidian: Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam

21. Eskimo-Aleutian family ^

21.1. Inuit: Kalaallisut, Inuktitut, Inuktitun, Inupiaq
21.2. Yupik
21.3. Aleut

22. Macro-Algonquian phylum ^

22.1. Ojibwa, Algonquin, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Arapaho

23. Athabascan phylum ^

24. Macro-Siouan phylum ^

22.1. Siouan: Catawba (?) ±
22.2. Iroquoian: Cherokee
22.3. Caddoan

25. Aztec-Tanoan phylum ^

25.1. Uto-Aztecan / Uto-Nahuan
25.1.1. Shoshonean Numic Tubatulabal Takic Hopi
25.1.2. Sonoran Pimic Yaquian / Taracahitian Coran Nahuan: Nahuatl
25.2. Kiowa-Tanoan

26. Mayan family ^

26.1. Western Maya: Tzeltal
26.2. Eastern Maya: Quiché, Cakchiquel
26.3. Yucatec: Yucatec, Lacandón, Itzá, Mopán
26.4. Huastec

27. Quechuan ^

27.1. Quechua

28. Aymaran family ^

28.1 Central Aymara
28.2 Southern Aymara
28.3 Jaqaru

29. Tupi-Guarani family ^

29.1 Tupi
29.2 Guarani

30. Ainu ^

30.1 Ainu

Other language categories

      Someone's first language, native language or mother tongue is the language that person learns in their childhood. Accordingly, a second language is a

lingua franca is a language that is being used as a means of communication between people who have no first language in common. Some languages acting as such are not native to anyone, typically pidgin languages and auxiliary languages.

cultural language is a language in which a many literary and scientific works have been written over a considerable period of time. Certain languages were created exclusively as literary languages and have never been spoken by anybody as a first language. This is the case of Pali.

The term
language planning refers to interventions orchestrated by (mostly public or state-sponsored) institutions. The purpose of this is, in most cases, to set a standard for the language, constructed from several varieties. This usually implies a spelling reform and improving the fitness of the language for literary or scientific use. Examples of natural languages affected by extensive planning include Norwegian, Indonesian, Hebrew, and Basque. The more spread a language, the more difficult it is to put through such a planning (this is the case of English.)

world language is spoken by a sizable sector of the population of the Earth, but not necessarily as a first language. Today, only Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and possibly Portuguese, are considered as world languages. See this page for more information.
    Updated: 2017 January 28
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