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10 Amazing Language Facts to Blow Your Mind

Sep 2016

Language ,


With 7.4 billion people and 7,000 different languages, it’s a genuinely exciting linguistic world out there. From the the tip of South America to the far reaches of eastern Russia, there’s exciting stuff going on in every single language.

In this blog, we’ve collected our 10 favourite language facts from all across the world. So sit back and get ready to be amazed.

 

Portuguese is the fastest growing language on the internet

#1 Since 2000, Portuguese is the fastest growing language on the internet

Everyone knows that English is the most widely used language on the Internet, typed and spoken by approximately 25 percent of the total Internet population.

But do you know which language has grown fastest in the past 16 years? Mandarin? Turkish? Russian? Nope.

It is, surprisingly, Portuguese, spoken by 154 million people on the web — a 6,602 percent increase compared to the year 2000!

 

Swedes are the best non-English-speaking English speakers

#2 Swedes are the best non-English-speaking English speakers

English is widely regarded as the lingua franca of the world, which has led billions of people in non-English speaking countries to start studying it.

Whether you’re in the Philippines, Poland or Portugal, there is a tangible economic and social benefit to learning English.

But which non-English speaking nation speaks English the best?

Infographic: The countries with the best English speakers | Statista

The English Proficiency Test has recently released a league table for English language proficiency based on hundreds of thousands of exam results.

Sweden holds the top spot with a rating of 70.94, followed closely by the Netherlands and Denmark.

 

French is the most useful foreign language

#3 British employers think French is the most useful foreign language

According to a survey run by The Independent back in 2015, organisations in the UK rate French as the most useful foreign language.

The language of love attracted 53 percent of the vote, followed by German with 36 percent and Spanish with 27 percent.

Infographic: The top languages demanded by British employers | Statista

So when you’re next headed for an interview, remember to dust off your old French dictionary and practice your moi’s and mon’s.

 

Twitter’s top 3 languages are English, Japanese and Spanish

#4 Twitter’s top 3 languages are English, Japanese and Spanish

Microblogging phenomenon Twitter is synonymous with real-time reactions and intimate reactions. But did you know that only 34 percent of Tweets are written in English?

The remaining Tweets are relatively diverse, ranging from Japanese (16 percent) and Korean (1 percent) to Spanish (12 percent) and Malay (8 percent).

Interestingly, even with over one billion speakers, Mandarin did not make the top 10.

 

Dictionaries occasionally contain “ghost words” that mean nothing

#5 Dictionaries occasionally contain “ghost words” that mean nothing

Ghost words are words published in dictionaries and other highly authoritative works that have rarely, if ever, been used and which have previously been meaningless.

Ghost words typically pop into existence due to human error, for example, misinterpretation, mispronunciation and misreading.

The most famous example in English is dord, which was published in the second edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary and which allegedly meant density.

However, dord had never been used to mean density or, in fact, anything at all.

Dord

When they tracked dord back, they discovered an index card with the note “D or d” referring to the word density. The editor incorrectly interpreted the note as the word dord and the term was officially born.

Webster would continue to include dord in its dictionary until 1947 when the error was identified and the word was finally axed.

 

E is the most common letter in English, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish

#6 E is the most common letter in English, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish

E is well known for being the most commonly used letter in the English language. In an analysis of its own entries, the Oxford Dictionary showed that the letter E is used 11.1607 percent of the time. The least frequently used letter — Q — occurs only 0.1962 percent of the time.

But did you know that E also holds the top spot in a number of other European languages? For example, Norwegian, Hungarian, Finnish, Danish, French, German and Italian.

In the remaining European languages, A is always the most common character, except in Czech where it is O.

 

The Foreign Service Institute says the hardest languages to learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean

#7 The Foreign Service Institute says the hardest languages to learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean

The Foreign Service Institute, the United State’s foreign affairs training institution, has created a list showing the estimated time it takes to learn a specific language as an English speaker.

Languages are divided into one of five categories, ranging from the easiest (Category I) to the hardest (Category V). Here is a brief overview of the table.

  • Category I languages — Afrikaans, Danish, Spanish, etc — will take between 575 and 600 hours of study to master. These languages bear the most similarities to English.
  • Category II languages — when it was published German was the only language included — will take 750 hours to master.
  • Category III languages — Indonesian, Swahili and Malaysian — take 900 hours to master. These languages feature some linguistic and cultural differences to English.
  • Category IV languages — Bengali, Czech, Hebrew, La, Russian, Urdu and Xhosa — take 1,100 hours to master and feature significant differences to the linguistics of English.
  • Category V languages — Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean — are “exceptionally difficult” for English speakers to learn and take the title of trickiest tongues.

 

Over 2,400 languages are considered endangered

#8 Over 2,400 languages are considered endangered

Collaborative language reference work, Ethnologue, introduced a multidimensional framework called the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) to measure the vitality of languages.

This framework ranges from Level 0 (International) through Level 5 (Developing) to Level 10 (Extinct). Languages rated 6b or higher are said to be endangered.

Currently, Ethnologue has records for 7,097 known living languages. Of those languages, 1,495 languages are Threatened (6a) or Shifting (6b). A further 918 are Moribund (8a) or Nearly Extinct (8b), making for a total of 2,413 endangered languages across the world.

 

South Africa has 11 official languages

#9 South Africa has 11 official languages

Some countries have one single official languages. Bahrain has Arabic and Cuba has Spanish.

A few have multiple official languages. Algeria has both Arabic and Tamazight.

A couple have a lot of official languages. Nigeria has English, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

And then there is South Africa.

South Africa has 11 official, statewide languages, the most official languages of any country in the world. Its official languages are Afrikaans, English, Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

The South African national anthem embodies the multilingual country with five stanzas in five different languages. Take a look at the lyrics below.

Language Lyrics Translation
Xhosa Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika

Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,

Lord bless Africa

Rise high, Her glory

Zulu Yizwa imithandazo yethu,

Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Listen also to our prayers,

Lord bless us, we are the family of it (Africa).

Sesotho Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,

O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,

O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,

Setjhaba sa, South Afrika, South Afrika .

Lord protect our nation,

Stop wars and sufferings,

protect it, Protect our nation,

The nation of South Africa, South Africa.

Afrikaans Uit die blou van onse hemel,

Uit die diepte van ons see,

Oor ons ewige gebergtes,

Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Ringing out from our blue heavens,

From the depths of our sea,

Over everlasting mountains,

Where the echoing crags resound!

English

Sounds the call to come together,

And united we shall stand,

Let us live and strive for freedom

In South Africa our land!

Sounds the call to come together,

And united we shall stand,

Let us live and strive for freedom

In South Africa our land!

 

The most translated book is the Bible

#10 The most translated book is the Bible

Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio has been translated into around 250 different languages. The Adventures of Asterix appears in 112. Harry Potter, the novel that created an entire universe, inspired a theme park and made J.K. Rowling a self-made billionaire, was translated into just 68.

The Bible, however, dwarfs all of these translation campaigns. As of 2016, the Bible has been translated into 554 languages in full and 2,932 languages in part.

It is truly amazing to think that you can read the Bible in 41 percent of all languages in the world.


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