The Tree of Languages Illustrated in a Big, Beautiful Infographic

in Art, Language Lessons | June 9th, 2015

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

Related Content:

Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More

The History of the English Language in Ten Animated Minutes

How Languages Evolve: Explained in a Winning TED-Ed Animation

Noam Chomsky Talks About How Kids Acquire Language & Ideas in an Animated Video by Michel Gondry

Stephen Fry Gets Animated about Language

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.

by | Make a Comment (64)




Comments (64)

  1. Turgut Berkes says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 10:17 am

    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?

  2. Aziz Baaziz says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 10:31 am

    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.

  3. Manfred says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 10:35 am

    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.

  4. Aleksi says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 11:55 am

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

  5. Ulvin says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 12:38 pm

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

  6. Francois says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 12:43 pm

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

  7. Enes Faruk says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 1:17 pm

    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:

    http://www.sssscomic.com/

  8. Nina says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 1:33 pm

    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.

  9. Korhan says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 2:02 pm

    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.

  10. Elizabeth says . . .
    June 9, 2015 / 2:10 pm

    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.

  11. Irakli says . . .
    June 10, 2015 / 2:54 am

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

  12. Sam says . . .
    June 10, 2015 / 5:30 am

    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.

  13. Dani says . . .
    June 10, 2015 / 9:13 am

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

  14. Pioro says . . .
    June 11, 2015 / 6:13 am

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

  15. MG says . . .
    June 11, 2015 / 11:03 am

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

  16. Joey says . . .
    June 11, 2015 / 1:41 pm

    Ouch.

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

  17. joaco says . . .
    June 11, 2015 / 6:38 pm

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

  18. josep says . . .
    June 17, 2015 / 11:12 am

    And Valencian too!

  19. Iker says . . .
    June 25, 2015 / 12:56 am

    The BASQUE language or Euskara, is missing (like African languages, and many other). It’s Pre-IndoEuropean and noone knows about the origin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_language

  20. Benjamin Geer says . . .
    July 29, 2015 / 2:29 am
  21. Tamara says . . .
    August 4, 2015 / 10:41 pm

    Where is the Georgian Language?

  22. KingkillerLirim says . . .
    September 19, 2015 / 9:01 am

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

  23. Rencia says . . .
    November 3, 2015 / 7:10 pm

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

  24. Mardorwe says . . .
    November 17, 2015 / 1:57 pm

    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.

  25. Roxanne says . . .
    June 6, 2016 / 4:19 am

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

  26. vittorio e. pisu says . . .
    June 7, 2016 / 5:07 am

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

  27. Nicola says . . .
    June 10, 2016 / 4:32 am

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

  28. Aj Drakie says . . .
    June 12, 2016 / 6:06 am

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

  29. mairead says . . .
    June 13, 2016 / 12:12 pm

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

  30. amudha says . . .
    June 22, 2016 / 4:02 am

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

  31. doris lange says . . .
    July 31, 2016 / 5:04 pm

    Disappointed you ignored all Native American languages!

  32. Giorgi says . . .
    August 3, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    creator of this sucks! georgian language is missing from this tree! :)

  33. Dianesta says . . .
    August 3, 2016 / 11:55 pm

    Please dear athor, change the title of this article. Indeed even if you talk about the old world, the nubian langage, and all african langage must be here and other from asia too. Words are important otherwise this May look like another démonstration of white supremacy and brainwash. We cannot have that in 2016

  34. Jule says . . .
    August 4, 2016 / 1:50 am

    What about the indigenous languages of indigenous people – they don’t seem to be there

  35. Thomas Mboa says . . .
    August 4, 2016 / 8:56 am

    I am sorry, but your infography is not relevant as the tree of old world language families. What about Africa? since humanity, writing, reading, philosophy and so on originate from africa, do you think that there was no language at this place?

    You conduct the ideology of european domination and by doing it you contribute to cognitive injustice. I suggest you to remove world in your title and put european.

  36. Sándor Feltóti says . . .
    August 4, 2016 / 11:03 pm

    I look for my native language spoken by ab. 13-14 million people in Central Europa. I am afraid it is a flippant work.

  37. Sándor Feltóti says . . .
    August 4, 2016 / 11:13 pm

    After all I have found hungarian but it does not change my opinoin.

  38. Ruthie Bridges says . . .
    August 5, 2016 / 12:02 am

    Couple of issues already. 1) did you know Ukrainian is more different from Russian than Italian is from Spanish? Spanish is 33% different from Italian, while Ukrainian is 38% different from Russian. Obviously this isn’t depicted correctly on this tree. Second Obviously it would be better interpreted as a vine, a fungus or bamboo rather than a tree. English as it is has many gaelic origins. Sadly this really shouldn’t matter except many governments attempt to hide the true history of things. It’s important to know things true origins. For example, because of soviet occupation of Ukraine, many thousands of Ukraninian words were literally erased, and the language itself was deemed “little russian.” The truth is Ukranian pre-dates modern Russian, and the “russian” we know of today originated as the “kievien rus’ centered in Ukraine almost 5 centuries before Moscow (edit: AND st. petersburg) even existed (edit: even as place names!), and this is “slightly” accurately depicted at least on this branch. However it obviously has a Western Eurocentric bent to it. And why is not Danish linked to Uralic? (sorry armchair linguist) I’m sure real linguists would point out many other flaws in this.

  39. Ruthie Bridges says . . .
    August 5, 2016 / 12:06 am

    There are many many more flaws to it than missing indo-european. For example…did you know Ukrainian is more different from Russian as Italian is from Spanish (Italian and Spanish are 33% similar while Ukrainian and Russian are 38% different?) A very poorly researched diagram indeed. And why does English not show it’s Gaelic connections? There are many many problems. Why is not Danish linked to Uralic? This is a misleading, misinforming diagram. I’m just an armchair linguist. I’m sure real linguists will find many many more problems. How does an armchair linguist do better than this person did?

  40. Daniel says . . .
    August 6, 2016 / 3:38 am

    Do you know anything about languages?
    Which university degree do you have?
    Most of the things here are wrong.
    Please do better research before publishing.

  41. juan soriano says . . .
    August 7, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    Valencian is not considered a language. It is a dialect of Catalan, usually used mixed, by speakers, with Spanish(Castellano), as the Valencian vocabulary is somewhat limited.

  42. juan soriano says . . .
    August 7, 2016 / 12:18 pm

    That’s why it’s not here.

  43. Eugene Kupper says . . .
    August 9, 2016 / 8:36 am

    65% of English is derived from Latin, 35% from Germanic roots.
    This tree has not grown properly.

  44. mair says . . .
    August 11, 2016 / 9:09 am

    so is Welsh and they have scots not Gaelic, missed out our Celtic languages

  45. Samay says . . .
    August 11, 2016 / 11:23 pm

    Even if this was for a comic it is still pretty damn racist to imply that the africans, arabs, and orientals will all be wiped out in this apocalyptic future while those on the map survive.

  46. Dana says . . .
    August 12, 2016 / 3:02 am

    This graphic isn’t comprehensive, or as attractive, but it broadens the perspective a bit: http://eurotalk.com/blog/2015/06/03/the-language-forest-how-are-world-languages-related/

  47. Alien & Stranger says . . .
    August 12, 2016 / 4:28 am

    Going by the comments, perhaps the author should have asked a professor of languages and linguistics for assistance. It’s one thing to have an amateur interest in a subject, but it was perhaps unwise to publish something like this, with many omissions and possibly a good deal of speculation (not that academics don’t speculate!).

  48. Nourdine hadouch says . . .
    August 13, 2016 / 2:21 pm

    One of the oldest language I miss in you’re three the amazigh.Still spoken by a group bigger than 50 million people.

  49. Yüksel says . . .
    August 14, 2016 / 5:58 am

    Unfortunately, this article does not include the main languages (Bantu-African, Altai and Sino-Tibetian languages..):(

  50. Alper says . . .
    August 15, 2016 / 11:49 am

    Uralic languages is not a thin tree and not a part of hindo-europen family… Uralic language is a part of Ural-Altay language family… Learn it…

  51. Ferda Baraz says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:08 am

    I think it’s a big mistake for you as an expert on the matter, not to include Turkic languages in your language tree as Turkic languages are part of the Uralic language family, very similar to Finnish and Hungarian.

  52. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:09 pm

    Yes, this is a tree that shows the Indo-European and Uralic language families. Turkish is not part of these two language families. It’s not an oversight!

  53. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    Georgian is a Kartvelian language, not related to Indo-European and Uralic, that’s all!

  54. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:13 pm

    Baque is a language isolate and not part of the Indo-European and Uralic language families.

  55. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:17 pm

    Nina, that is a very prejudiced and ignorant thing to say. The tree illustrates the Indo-European and Uralic languages which as far as we know are unrelated to the languages of Africa. Just like all modern humans are related in some way, so all languages are probably related, but just how Indo-European and Uralic are related to any of the languages of Africa is as yet poorly understood. I have never met a historical linguist who thought Africans were subhumans, that idea is your own.

  56. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:21 pm

    Alien & Stranger, I’m afraid it’s the comments that are ignorant. They don’t understand that this is a tree that shows two (related) language families, not al the languages of the world. Any linguist can see that, you’d have to be ignorant about language families to not understand this.

  57. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:24 pm

    Ferda Baraz, although Turkic is in some respects similar to Hungarian, it is unrelated to the Fenno-Ugric languages. Typological similarity and genetic relatedness are not the same thing!

  58. Bene says . . .
    August 16, 2016 / 12:27 pm

    Tamara, the Georgian language branches off а different tree, the kartvelian one!

  59. Alison Coelho says . . .
    August 17, 2016 / 5:35 am

    Love to see the history and foundation of indigenous languages as part of the language tree
    Would be truly amazing to see links between the very old and the newer languages!

  60. Inci says . . .
    August 17, 2016 / 5:52 am

    Turgut Bey,

    Clearly, Chinese (a Uralic language) cannot be omitted as well as Turkish. Especially, the impact of these strong languages on the Uralic distribution on the map. Funny though, not acknowledging the name Hakan or Attila coming from the same roots as Turkish, Finnish or Hungarian and excluding Turkish. Clearly this map has no scientific bearence.

  61. Syl Mate says . . .
    August 20, 2016 / 3:09 pm

    Agree… somehow our Hungarian language missed out on the Finno-Ugric group… serious mistake if the author is a language expert…

  62. Saba says . . .
    August 21, 2016 / 6:48 am

    The whining of some people here is pathetic. If you don’t like this language tree, make your own. It tells me a lot about your culture when all you do is to whine about exclusion of something.

    I thought it was a great.

  63. nikitas says . . .
    August 21, 2016 / 11:14 am

    O my gosh , I am sick for people that create face history .
    Totaly incorect ….,how is possible to publish that think …. Read please some ancient history ….

  64. Akis says . . .
    September 10, 2016 / 9:29 am

    ABSOLUTE CRAP, lousy propaganda !

Add A Comment