Which country has most number of languages? Not India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Important for prelims

Mains level : Nothing much


The Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea has the highest number of ‘living’ indigenous languages in the world (840), while India stands fourth with 453.


  1. 2019 is the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages
  2. In 2016, the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues pointed out that 40% of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing
  3. Several languages are now “endangered” 
  4. For languages like Tiniguan (Colombian origin), there is just a single native speaker left
  5. Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic are the most widely spoken languages worldwide when only first-languages are considered
  6. U.S. and Australia are among the countries where the highest number of languages are spoken
  7. Asia and Africa account for the highest number of indigenous languages 
  8. ‘Greenberg’s diversity index’ – the probability that any two people selected at random would have different mother tongues. It ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 indicates no diversity and 1 indicates total diversity. A higher diversity index would mean more languages spread across the country.
  9. Most Indian languages are derivatives of languages that are spoken in other parts of Asia as well.
  10. Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken across Northeast India, China, Bhutan, Nepal and other South East Asian countries.
  11. But, Andamanese language family is confined to India alone.
  12. According to UNESCO’s ‘Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger’, in India, five languages have become extinct since 1950, while 42 are critically endangered.
  13. The International Year of Indigenous Languages aims to promote native tongues in five key areas like creation of favourable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices on indigenous languages
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