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This article ranks human languages by their number of native speakers.
However, all such rankings should be used with caution, because it is not possible to devise a coherent set of linguistic criteria for distinguishing languages in a dialect continuum. For example, a language is often defined as a set of varieties that are mutually intelligible, but independent national standard languages may be considered to be separate languages even though they are largely mutually intelligible, as in the case of Danish and Norwegian. Conversely, many commonly accepted languages, including German, Italian and even English, encompass varieties that are not mutually intelligible. While Arabic is sometimes considered a single language centred on Modern Standard Arabic, other authors describe its mutually unintelligible varieties as separate languages. Similarly, Chinese is sometimes viewed as a single language due to shared culture and a single written form. It is also common to describe various Chinese dialect groups, such as Mandarin, Wu and Yue, as languages, even though each of these groups contains many mutually unintelligible varieties.
There are also difficulties in obtaining reliable counts of speakers, which vary over time due to population change and language shift. In some areas, there is no reliable census data, the data is not current, or the census may not record languages spoken, or record them ambiguously. Sometimes speaker populations are exaggerated for political reasons, or speakers of minority languages may be under-reported in favour of a national language.
The following table contains the top 100 languages by estimated number of native speakers in the 2007 edition of the Swedish encyclopedia Nationalencyklopedin. As census methods in different countries vary to a considerable extent, and given that some countries do not record language in their censuses, any list of languages by native speakers, or total speakers, is effectively based on estimates. Updated estimates from 2010 are also provided.
The top eleven languages have additional figures from the 2010 edition of the Nationalencyklopedin. Numbers above 95 million are rounded off to the nearest 5 million.
|1||Mandarin (entire branch)||935 (955)||14.1%|
|7||Bengali (Bangla)||200 (205)||3.05%|
|13||Wu (inc. Shanghainese)||80||1.20%|
|14||Malay (inc. Indonesian and Malaysian)||77||1.16%|
|24||Yue (inc. Cantonese)||59||0.89%|
|28||Southern Min (inc. Hokkien and Teochew)||47||0.71%|
|80||Northern Min[disputed ]||10.9||0.16%|
|87||Eastern Min (inc. Fuzhou dialect)||9.5||0.14%|
Bubble chart of languages by proportion of native speakers worldwide