The Tree of Languages Illustrated in a Big, Beautiful Infographic

Language Infographic

Click image, then click again, to enlarge

Call it counterintuitive clickbait if you must, but Forbes’ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry made an intriguing argument when he granted the title of “Language of the Future” to French, of all tongues. “French isn’t mostly spoken by French people and hasn’t been for a long time now,” he admits,” but “the language is growing fast, and growing in the fastest-growing areas of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. The latest projection is that French will be spoken by 750 million people by 2050. One study “even suggests that by that time, French could be the most-spoken language in the world, ahead of English and even Mandarin.”

I don’t know about you, but I can never believe in any wave of the future without a traceable past. But the French language has one, of course, and a long and storied one at that. You see it visualized in the information graphic above (also available in suitable-for-framing prints!) created by Minna Sundberg, author of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent“When linguists talk about the historical relationship between languages, they use a tree metaphor,” writes Mental Floss’ Arika Okrent. “An ancient source (say, Indo-European) has various branches (e.g., Romance, Germanic), which themselves have branches (West Germanic, North Germanic), which feed into specific languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian).”

Sundberg takes this tree metaphor to a delightfully lavish extreme, tracing, say, how Indo-European linguistic roots sprouted a variety of modern-day living languages including Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Italian — and, of course, our Language of the Future. The size of the branches and bunches of leaves represent the number of speakers of each language at different times: the likes of English and Spanish have sprouted into mighty vegetative clusters, while others, like, Swedish, Dutch, and Punjabi, assert a more local dominance over their own, separately grown regional branches. Will French’s now-modest leaves one day cast a shadow over the whole tree? Perhaps — but I’m not canceling my plans to attend Spanish practice group tonight.

via Mental Floss

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Turgut Berkes says:

    As a Turk I’m amazed that Turkic languages, spoken as a native language by some 170 million people is not in your tree. The total number of Turkic speakers, including second-language speakers.

    Any explanation for this omission?

  • Aziz Baaziz says:

    Yes, and also the Arabic Language, spoken as a native language by 290 million people (2010)…
    Modern Standard Arabic is an official language of 27 states, the third most after English and French.

  • Manfred says:

    I assume, because the tree represents the Indo-European languages (and the Uralic languages, I guess because of their spread in northern Europe).

    The Turkic languages are not part of these, but of the Altaic languages. Also not shown are the Sino-Tibetan languages with more than a billion speakers, the Hamito-Semitic languages with around 500 million speakers and other language families.

  • Aleksi says:

    Georgian language missing! It has its own alphabet and history longer than most langeages on the image:(

  • Ulvin says:

    The Basque language is missing, too. A unique language with almost no communalities with any other language.

  • Francois says:

    Why are the African languages missing from this article and infographic?

  • Enes Faruk says:

    I’ll just copy one of my earlier comments from facebook.

    “First of all, this inforgraphic is a part of an ongoing web-comic series called “SSSS” (“Stand Still. Stay Silent – webcomic”) which is about a post-apocalyptic future where only Nordic countries (Scandinavia + Iceland + Finland) remains on earth. So it is makes sense that the artist only mentioned the roots of theese countries’ languages in her artwork.”

    Noıw go figure it out:

  • Nina says:

    Francois you know why. The authors of this infographic and this article do not believe that Africans are humans or that they’re subhuman and therefore their languages don’t count. Gotta love white supremacy! It’s so…consistent.

  • Korhan says:

    The problem lies in the writer of this article who misnamed their article. The title of the infographic is very clear, while the writer, for some reason, either carelessness or ignorance, named their article as the tree of languages. A common mistake done by many Westerners.

    Turkish and any language/language family that have nothing to do with the Nordic languages do not belong here.

  • Elizabeth says:

    The language tree specifically concerns the languages still spoken in the post-apocalyptic world the comic is set in. So she wasn’t trying to map all world languages, just the ones that her characters speak. It’s a really good comic, by the way.

  • Irakli says:

    … და რა ხდება ქართული ენის შესახებ ?? (… and what about Georgian ??)

  • Sam says:

    A strange tree of languages that doesn’t mention Sanskrit, Latin, Japanese, or Chinese. Cute, but useless.

    Looking more closely, I see that it declares itself a tree of “Nordic” languages. The speakers of Indic languages would have a good laugh at that! It’s the other way around. The Indic languages turned into the tiny handful of Nordic languages spoken by almost no one, not the other way around.

    Very misleading– don’t like. Not educational– at all.

  • Dani says:

    Can people here actually read? If so, look up the definition of “Old World” – the title in the centre of the map.

  • Pioro says:

    A ton of Slavic languages missing like Sorbian, Kashubian, Silesian, Rusyn, and Lusatian – all of which are still spoken living languages.

  • MG says:

    Under Indic languages “Gujarati” is missing. One of the largest after Marathi I believe.

  • Joey says:


    Presumptuous — and perhaps even more spiteful than the perpetrators of the assumed offense.

  • joaco says:

    Hey all of you whose amazing language is not on the tree:
    Get over yourselves. Nobody will care about your dumb comments.

  • josep says:

    And Valencian too!

  • Iker says:

    The BASQUE language or Euskara, is missing (like African languages, and many other). It’s Pre-IndoEuropean and noone knows about the origin.

  • Tamara says:

    Where is the Georgian Language?

  • KingkillerLirim says:

    I would also do a more in-depth research on hellnic and not be so fast to really credit the Greeks there..

  • Rencia says:

    Not only missing languages, all the leaves go to ENGLISH, so desproporcional: real subliminal crap.

  • Mardorwe says:

    Please don’t be so cranky, people. It’s the Indo-European tree. So, no, it doesn’t include Turkish and Basque. It doesn’t include Asian and African languages. And it doesn’t include Native American languages either. Or Semitic languages. That doesn’t make the creator of this particular diagram a white supremacist, any more than I’m a white supremacist.
    On the other hand, people pointing out missing languages aren’t making “dumb comments” either.
    Is there a diagram for every language everywhere? Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s go look for one. We don’t have to hold hands and skip while we look, but we should be able to have a civil conversation about it.

  • Roxanne says:

    We need to create another tree with the arabic languages :D

  • vittorio e. pisu says:

    You also forgot Sardinia with several languages “campidanese, barbaricino, gallurese, sulcitano”
    who existe before latin.
    Thank you for make a corection of your tree.

  • Nicola says:

    Shall i buy a poster of this beautyfull picture? There is it?

  • Aj Drakie says:

    You’re right, Mardorwe. Why is there so much negativity?

  • mairead says:

    also missing are the ancient Berber languages – Kabyle, Chaoui – it’s ridiculous to miss these out!

  • amudha says:

    its strange that i couldn’t find “TAMIL” Language which is one of the oldest language in the world which still exist.

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