List of language families

Principal language families of the world (and in some cases geographic groups of families). For greater detail, see Distribution of languages in the world.

The following is a list of language families. It also includes language isolates, unclassified languages and other types.

Major language families

By number of languages

Ethnologue 22 (2019) lists the following families as containing at least 1% of the 7,111 known languages in the world:

  1. Niger–Congo (1,542 languages) (21.7%)
  2. Austronesian (1,257 languages) (17.7%)
  3. Trans–New Guinea (482 languages) (6.8%)
  4. Sino-Tibetan (455 languages) (6.4%)
  5. Indo-European (448 languages) (6.3%)
  6. Australian [dubious] (381 languages) (5.4%)
  7. Afro-Asiatic (377 languages) (5.3%)
  8. Nilo-Saharan [dubious] (206 languages) (2.9%)
  9. Oto-Manguean (178 languages) (2.5%)
  10. Austroasiatic (167 languages) (2.3%)
  11. Tai–Kadai (91 languages) (1.3%)
  12. Dravidian (86 languages) (1.2%)
  13. Tupian (76 languages) (1.1%)

Glottolog 4.0 (2019) lists the following as the largest families, of 8494 languages:

  1. Atlantic–Congo (1,432 languages)
  2. Austronesian (1,275 languages)
  3. Indo-European (588 languages)
  4. Sino-Tibetan (494 languages)
  5. Afro-Asiatic (373 languages)
  6. Nuclear Trans–New Guinea (314 languages)
  7. Pama–Nyungan (248 languages)
  8. Oto-Manguean (180 languages)
  9. Austroasiatic (159 languages)
  10. Tai–Kadai (94 languages)
  11. Dravidian (81 languages)
  12. Arawakan (78 languages)
  13. Mande (75 languages)
  14. Tupian (71 languages)

Language counts can vary significantly depending on what is considered a dialect; for example Lyle Campbell counts only 27 Otomanguean languages, although he, Ethnologue and Glottolog also disagree as to which languages belong in the family.

Language families (non-sign)

In the following, each bullet item is a known or suspected language family. Phyla with historically wide geographical distributions but comparatively few current-day speakers include Eskimo–Aleut, Na-Dené, Algic, Quechuan and Nilo-Saharan.

The geographic headings over them are meant solely as a tool for grouping families into collections, more comprehensible than an unstructured list of a few hundred independent families. Geographic relationship is convenient for that purpose, but these headings are not a suggestion of any "super-families" phylogenetically relating the families named.

The number of individual languages in a family and the number of their speakers are only rough estimates: see dialect or language and linguistic demography for further explanation.

The language families of Africa
Map of the Austronesian languages
Map of major Dravidian languages
Distribution of the Indo-European languages across Eurasia
Distribution of the Altaic languages across Eurasia
Area of the Papuan languages
Map of the Australian languages
Distribution of language families and isolates north of Mexico at first contact
The major South American language families
Family name Languages Current speakers [1] Location Proposed parent family
Afroasiatic languages 366 499,294,669 Africa, Asia
Khoe languages 12 337,337 Africa
Kx'a languages 4 104,000 Africa
Tuu languages 2 2,500 Africa
Niger–Congo languages 1,524 519,814,033 Africa
Mande languages 50 27,003,000 Africa Niger–Congo
Ubangian languages 27 2,500,000 Africa Niger–Congo
Nilo-Saharan languages 199 53,359,610 Africa
Berta languages 3 1,800,000 Africa Nilo-Saharan
Kadu languages 6 120,600 Africa Nilo-Saharan
Koman languages 4 50,000 Africa Nilo-Saharan
Kuliak languages 3 7,500 Africa Nilo-Saharan
Songhay languages 11 3,228,000 Africa Nilo-Saharan
Ainu languages 3 2 Asia
Japonic languages 12 129,240,180 Asia Altaic (disputed)
Koreanic languages 2 77,269,890 Asia Altaic (disputed)
Mongolic languages 13 7,269,480 Asia Altaic (disputed)
Tungusic languages 11 55,800 Asia Altaic (disputed)
Turkic languages 35 179,945,933 Asia, Europe Altaic (disputed)
Northeast Caucasian languages 29[2] 4,155,258 Asia, Europe Caucasian, Alarodian
Northwest Caucasian languages 4 1,655,000 Asia, Europe Caucasian
Yeniseian languages 2 211 Asia Dené–Yeniseian family (disputed)
Dravidian languages 84 252,807,610 Asia
Indo-European languages 448 3,237,999,904 Asia, Europe
Kartvelian languages 5 4,850,000 Asia, Europe
Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages 5 6,875 Asia
Yukaghir languages 2 740 Asia
Nivkh languages 2 200 Asia
Austroasiatic languages 169 116,323,040 Asia
Austronesian languages 1,223 325,862,510 Africa, Asia, Oceania Austro-Tai
Kra–Dai languages 94 81,549,828 Asia Austro-Tai
Ongan languages 2 296 Asia
Hmong–Mien languages 38 9,332,070 Asia
Sino-Tibetan languages 453 1,385,995,195 Asia
Siangic languages 2 3,500 Asia Sino-Tibetan
Digaro languages 2 46,000 Asia Sino-Tibetan
Hurro-Urartian languages 2 extinct Asia
Kho-Bwa languages 5 9,000 Asia Sino-Tibetan
Uralic languages 37 20,716,457 Asia, Europe
Tyrsenian languages (3) extinct Europe
Baining languages 6 13,800 New Guinea
Border languages 15 17,080 New Guinea
Central Solomon languages 4 14,810 New Guinea
East Bird's Head – Sentani languages 8 71,730 New Guinea Extended West Papuan
Eastern Trans-Fly languages 4 6,760 New Guinea
Fas languages 2 2,840 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari, Kwomtari–Fas
East Geelvink Bay languages 12 8,005 New Guinea
Lakes Plain languages 19 8,455 New Guinea
Left May languages 6 2,005 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari
Kwomtari languages 3 1,510 New Guinea Left May – Kwomtari, Kwomtari–Fas
Mairasi languages 3 4,385 New Guinea
Nimboran languages 5 8,500 New Guinea
North Bougainville languages 4 10,020 New Guinea
Piawi languages 2 2,600 New Guinea
Ramu – Lower Sepik languages 32 65,830 New Guinea
Senagi languages 2 2,960 New Guinea
Sepik languages 55 162,704 New Guinea
Skou languages 8 5,665 New Guinea
South Bougainville languages 9 68,700 New Guinea
Tor–Kwerba languages 24 16,195 New Guinea
Torricelli languages 57 113,705 New Guinea
Trans-Fly – Bulaka River languages 22 16,312 New Guinea
Trans–New Guinea 476 3,540,024 New Guinea
West New Britain languages 3 6,550 New Guinea
West Papuan languages 23 269,425 New Guinea
Yuat languages 6 7,700 New Guinea
Bunuban languages 2 100 Australia
Wagaydyic languages 2 5 Australia
Western Daly languages 3 21 Australia
Southern Daly languages 2 1980 Australia
Limilngan languages 1 23 Australia
Jarrakan languages 3 130 Australia
Nyulnyulan languages 3 94 Australia
Worrorran languages 3 108 Australia
Mirndi languages 3 261 Australia
Arnhem Land languages (proposed) 7 1811 Australia
Gunwinyguan languages 5 1314 Australia
Pama–Nyungan languages 300 23,539 Australia
Tangkic languages 3 or 4 73 Australia
Algic languages 41 214,768 North America
Caddoan languages 5 46 North America
Chimakuan languages 1 10 North America
Eskimo–Aleut languages 10 108,705 North America
Hokan languages 21 7,171 North America
Iroquoian languages 9 14,543 North America
Keres languages 2 10,670 North America
Mayan languages 31 6,522,182 North America
Mixe–Zoque languages 17 153,612 North America Totozoquean
Muskogean languages 6 15,640 North America
Na-Dene languages 44 208,552 North America Dené–Yeniseian (disputed)
Oto-Manguean languages 176 1,678,214 North America
Penutian (proposed) 16 3,513 North America
Salishan languages 25 1,969 North America
Siouan languages 14 33,399 North America
Takic languages 6 35 North America
Tanoan languages 6 6,000 North America
Totonacan languages 12 282,250 North America Totozoquean
Uto-Aztecan languages 58 1,910,442 North America
Wakashan languages 6 710 North America
Wintuan languages 1 extinct North America Penutian
Yok-Utian languages 42 35 North America Penutian
Yuki-Wappo languages 2 extinct North America
Alacalufan languages 1 12 South America
Arawan languages 8 5,870 South America
Araucanian languages 2 262,000 South America
Arawakan languages 54 699,709 South America
Arutani–Sape languages (proposed) 2 47 South America
Aymaran languages 3 2,808,740 South America
Barbacoan languages 3 24,800 South America
Cahuapanan languages 2 10,370 South America
Carib languages 29 67,376 South America
Catacaoan languages (3) extinct South America
Chapacuran languages 4 2,019 South America
Charruan languages (10) extinct South America
Chibchan languages 20 306,267 North America, South America
Chimuan languages (3) extinct South America
Choco languages 7 114,600 South America
Chonan languages (6) extinct South America
Esmeralda–Yaruroan languages (proposed) 1 6,000 South America
Guaicuruan languages 4 49,350 South America Mataco–Guaicuru
Hibito–Cholon languages 2 extinct South America
Jicaquean languages 1 350 South America
Jirajaran languages 3 extinct South America
Jivaroan languages 4 89,630 South America
Katembri–Taruma languages 1 10 South America
Katukinan languages 2 10 South America
Lencan languages 2 extinct South America
Lule–Vilela languages 1 10 South America
Macro-Jê languages (proposed) ? 51,093 South America
Macro-Otomákoan languages 4 1,961 South America
Mascoian languages 6 20,728 South America
Matacoan languages 7 60,280 South America
Misumalpan languages 4 192,050 South America
Mosetenan languages 1 5,320 South America
Mura languages 1 360 South America
Nadahup languages 4 2,894 South America
Nambikwaran languages 6 1,068 South America
Otomákoan languages 2 extinct South America Macro-Otomákoan
Pano–Tacanan languages (proposed) 27 42,014 South America
Peba–Yaguan languages 1 5,700 South America
Puinavean languages 1 3,000 South America
Quechuan languages 45 7,768,820 South America
Piaroa–Saliban languages 3 18,630 South America
Tequiraca–Canichana languages (2) extinct South America
Timotean languages (2) extinct South America
Tiniguan languages 2 1 South America
Tucanoan languages 23 30,308 South America
Tupian languages 66 5,026,502 South America
Uru–Chipaya languages 2 1,200 South America
Witotoan languages 7 17,478 South America
Xincan languages (5) extinct South America
Yanomaman languages 4 31,670 South America
Zamucoan languages 2 5,900 South America
Zaparoan languages 3 90 South America
International Auxiliary Languages 49 2,000,000 World ?

Language isolates

Language isolates are languages which are not part of any known family, and they can be alternatively described as being their own families' sole representants.




  • Basque (Spain, France) (widely considered a descendant of or related to extinct Aquitanian)

North America

  • Atakapa (US: Louisiana, Texas) [extinct] (part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Chitimacha (US: Louisiana) [extinct] (possibly part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Cuitlatec (Mexico: Guerrero) [extinct]
  • Haida (Canada: British Columbia; US: Alaska)
  • Huave (Mexico: Oaxaca)
  • Karankawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  • Kutenai (Canada: British Columbia; US: Idaho, Montana)
  • Natchez (US: Mississippi, Louisiana) (linked to Muskogean in the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Purépecha (also known as Tarascan) (Mexico: Michoacán)
  • Takelma (US: Oregon) [extinct] (part of the hypothetical Penutian languages)
  • Timucua (US: Florida, Georgia) [extinct]
  • Tonkawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  • Tunica (US: Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas) (part of the hypothetical Gulf languages)
  • Yuchi (US: Georgia, Oklahoma)
  • Zuni (also known as Shiwi) (US: New Mexico)



New Guinea

South America

Unclassified languages

Languages are considered unclassified either because, for one reason or another, little effort has been made to compare them with other languages, or more commonly because they are too poorly documented to permit reliable classification: most such languages are extinct and, most likely, will never be known well enough to classify.




North America



New Guinea

South America

Extinct families and unclassified languages

This section lists extinct languages and families which have no known living relatives; while a minority of these is well known but is still classified as genetically independent (like the ancient Sumerian language), the lack of attestation makes many of these hard to put into larger groups.

Name Languages Year of death Location Well-attested? Proposed parent family
Hurro-Urartian languages 2 7th century BC? Asia Yes Alarodian languages
Tasmanian languages (several families) 5-16 1905 Australia No
Eastern Daly languages 2 2006 Australia Some
Tyrsenian languages 3 3rd century Europe Some
Baenan 1 1940s South America (Bahia) No
Culle 1 20th century South America (North Peru) No
Kunza 1 1950s? South America (Atacama) Some
Gamela 1 ? South America (Maranhão) No
Gorgotoqui 1 17th century South America (East Bolivia) No
Huamoé 1 ? South America (Pernambuco) No
Malibu languages 9 ? South America (Colombia) No
Munichi 1 1990s South America (Loreto) Some Arawakan
Natú 1 19th century? South America (Pernambuco)
Pankararú 1 20th century South America (East Brazil) No
Panzaleo 1 17th century South America (Quito) No
Sechura 1 19th century? South America (Piura) No
Tarairiú 1 ? South America (East Brazil) No
Tuxá 1 19th century? South America (East Brazil) No
Xocó 1-3 ? South America (East Brazil) No
Xukuru 1 ? South America (East Brazil) No Xukuruan
Yurumanguí 1 19th century? South America (Colombia) No
Adai 1 19th century North America (Louisiana) No
Alagüilac 1 18th century? North America (Guatemala) No
Aranama 1 19th century North America (Texas) No
Atakapa 1 20th century North America (Louisiana) Some
Beothuk 1 1829 North America (Newfoundland) No
Calusa 1 18th century? North America (Florida) No
Cayuse 1 1930s North America (Oregon)
Chumashan 6 1960s North America (California)
Cotoname 1 19th century? North America (Texas-Mexico border)
Maratino 1 ? North America (Mexico) No Uto-Aztecan
Naolan 1 1950s North America (Mexico) No
Quinigua 1 ? North America (Northeast Mexico) No
Solano 1 18th century North America (Texas-Mexico border) No

Other language classifications

The classification of languages into families, assumes that all of them develop from a single parent proto-language and evolve over time into different daughter language(s). While the vast majority of tongues fit this description fairly well, there are exceptions. A mixed language often refers to a particular combination of existing ones, which may stem from different families: a pidgin is a simple language used for communication between groups; this may involve simplification and/or mixing of multiple languages. When a pidgin develops into a more stable language which children learn from birth, it is usually called a "creole". Whether for ease of use or created for use in fiction, languages can also be constructed from the ground up, rather than develop from existing ones; these are known as constructed languages.

Sign languages

The family relationships of sign languages are not well established due to a lagging in linguistic research, and many are isolates (cf. Wittmann 1991).[3]

Family Name Location Number of Languages
French Sign Europe, the Americas, Francophone Africa, parts of Asia Over 50
British Sign United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa 4 - 10
Arab Sign Much of the Arab World 6 - 10
Japanese Sign Japan, Korea, Taiwan 3
German Sign Germany, Poland, Israel 3
Swedish Sign Sweden, Finland, Portugal 3

Beyond these language families, there exist many isolates, including:

Proposed language families

The following is a list of proposed language families, which connect established families into larger genetic groups; support for these proposals varies; the Dené–Yeniseian languages for example, are a recent proposal which has been generally well received, whereas reconstructions of the Proto-World language are often viewed as fringe science; proposals which are themselves based on other proposals have the likelihood of their parts noted in parentheses.

Proposed name Description Mainstream consensus[original research?]
Proto-World reconstructed common ancestor of all living languages Widely rejected.
Amerind all languages in the Americas which do not belong to the Eskimo–Aleut or Na–Dene families Widely rejected.
Almosan Algic, Kutenai and Mosan (rejected) Widely rejected.
Mosan Salishan, Wakashan, and Chimakuan languages of Pacific Northwest North America. Sprachbund.
Aztec–Tanoan Uto-Aztecan and Tanoan. Possible.
Coahuiltecan Native languages of modern Texas. Sprachbund.
Gulf Muskogean with four extinct isolates on US gulf. Possible.
Hokan A dozen languages on west coast of North America Some likely, others rejected.
Macro-Siouan Siouan, Iroquoian, Caddoan, and Yuchi. Controversial.
Je–Tupi–Carib Macro-Jê (likely), Tupian and Cariban of South America. Possible.
Macro-Jê 11 language families of South America Some likely, others controversial.
Macro-Mayan Mayan with Totonacan, Mixe–Zoque, and Huave. Widely rejected.
Totozoquean Totonacan and Mixe–Zoque in Mesoamerica. Possible.
Macro-Panoan Pano–Takanan (likely) and Moseten–Chonan (likely) Possible.
Mataco–Guaicuru Matacoan, Guaicuruan, Mascoian, and Charruan of South America ?
Penutian Some languages in western North America Controversial.
Quechumaran Quechuan and Aymaran Controversial.
Yuki–Wappo Yuki and Wappo, both extinct. Likely.
Borean All families except in sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, Australia, and the Andaman Islands. Widely rejected.
Alarodian Northeast Caucasian with extinct Hurro-Urartian Controversial.
Sino-Austronesian Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, and Kra–Dai Controversial.
Austric Austroasiatic, Austronesian and sometimes others. Some controversial, others rejected.
Austro-Tai Austronesian and Kra–Dai Controversial.
Miao–Dai Hmong–Mien and Kra–Dai ?
Austronesian–Ongan Ongan and Austronesian Controversial.
Dene–Caucasian Na-Dené, North Caucasian (controversial), Sino-Tibetan, Yeniseian, and others. Widely rejected.
Karasuk Yeniseian and Burushaski Controversial.
Dene–Yeniseian Na-Dené and Yeniseian Possible.
Nostratic Afroasiatic, Kartvelian, Dravidian and Eurasiatic (widely rejected) Widely rejected.
Eurasiatic Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic Widely rejected.
Indo-Semitic Indo-European languages and Semitic languages or Afroasiatic languages Widely rejected.
Indo-Uralic Indo-European and Uralic or Uralic–Yukaghir Controversial.
Ural–Altaic Uralic and Altaic (widely rejected) Obsolete; considered a linguistic convergence zone.
Altaic Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Koreanic and Japonic (and possibly Ainu) Widely rejected; generally considered a Sprachbund.
Uralo-Siberian Uralic, Yukaghir, Eskimo–Aleut and possibly Chukotko-Kamchatkan Controversial.
Uralic–Yukaghir Uralic and Yukaghir Controversial.
Nivkh–Kamchukotic Nivkh and Chukotko-Kamchatkan ?
Elamo-Dravidian Elamite and Dravidian Widely rejected.
Dravido-Korean Dravidian and Koreanic Obsolete.
Pontic Northwest Caucasian and Indo-European Controversial.
Ibero-Caucasian Northwest Caucasian, Northeast Caucasian, and Kartvelian Controversial.
North Caucasian Northwest Caucasian and Northeast Caucasian Controversial.
Indo-Pacific Several Pacific families. Widely rejected.
Macro-Pama–Nyungan Several Australian language families. Controversial.
Kongo–Saharan Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan Controversial.
Nilo-Saharan Many families of central Africa. Controversial.
Khoisan African click-consonant languages that do not belong to any other macrophyla. Widely rejected.
Na-Dene (with Haida) Sapir's proposal. Controversial.
Macro-Chibchan Lencan, Misumalpan and Chibchan merge into one language family. (probably also Xincan) ?

See also


  1. ^ "What are the largest language families?". Ethnologue. May 25, 2019.
  2. ^ "North Caucasian". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on July 2, 2016. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  3. ^ Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement" (PDF). Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée (in French). 10 (1): 215–288.

External links

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