ARTS1691 - Different Language Families of the World

Indo-European Family


IE covers only 100-150 languages (so about 2% of the world's languages), but includes 8 of the 12 languages that have more than 100,000,000 speakers.


There are 9 branches (Hittite and Tocharian are now dead); Armenian, Albanian, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Indo-Iranian, Italic, Slavic.

A number of the branches only have one member, e.g. Armanian, Albanian and Hellenic.

The Indo-Iranian branch includes the Gypsies, who it's believed were an entertainment caste in India who never returned to India after being invited to perform in the Middle East in the Middle Ages.

Sino-Tibetan Family


ST contains about 300 languages covering about 700,000,000 speakers.


There are two main branches; Tibeto-Burman and Sinitic (which splits into Northern (Mandarin) and Southern).

Typological Features

These languages are typically:
Consonant cluster avoiding

Austronesian Family


Austronesian covers hundreds of languages and is split into two branches.


The Western Branch contains Malagasy, Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Tagalog (the basis for Pilipino, the official Phillipines language), Eastern Fijian, Tongan, Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian.

Typological Features

Austronesian is classified by:

  • Reduplication
  • Infixes
  • Use of SVO or VSO

Most VOS languages are Austronesian, though most Austronesian languages are not VOS.

Afro-Asiatic Family


Afro-Asiatic has 250 languages and 170,000,000 speakers. It is spoken mainly in Northern Africa and the Middle East.


There are 5 main branches, although Egyptian no longer contains any living languages.

The other branches are:

  • Cushitic; Somalie
  • Berber; Tuareg
  • Chadic; Hausa
  • Semitic (the biggest); Babylonian (Assyrian), Arabic, Aramaic (biblical language) and Classical Hebrew.

Altaic Family


Altaic covers a continuum of languages spoken from Turkey to China, in Siberia and East Asia. There is not much consent here, so the branch splits and figures are contested.


One view says that there are three branches:

  • Turkic (80 million speakers with Turkish, Kazakh, etc)
  • Mongolian (10 millian speakers)
  • Tungustic

Japanese and Korean may be potentially included here

Typological Features

Altaic typically features hallmarks of:

  • Agglutinating
  • Postpositions
  • Vowel Harmony (LOOKUP)
  • Not being tonal
  • Using SOV

Uralic Family


Uralic contains 20 languages, and is spoken by 20 million people from Norway to Siberia.


The two branches of Uralic are Samoyed and Finno-Ugric (as mentioned in the Indo-European section). The largest languages spoken are Hungarian, Finnish, Lappish and Estonian.

Typological Features

Typically Uralic features:

  • Agglutination
  • Postpositions
  • Cases (e.g. Finnish has 15)
  • Not being tonal
  • Use of SOV or SVO

Dravidian Family


Spoken in Southern Indian, Dravidian covers 23 languages (including Tamil and Malayalam).

Typological Features

Dravidian is found by its:

  • Agglutination
  • Lack of tonality.

Australian Aboriginal Languages


The Australian Aboriginal Languages marks about 20 languages (down from the original 200). Most languages have very few speakers, totalling about 47,000 speakers in total.

There is dispute about whether all of these languages belong to the one family.

Sub-Saharan African Family


The Sub-Saharan African Family contains over 1000 languages with over 190,000,000 speakers.


There are three main branches:

The Niger-Kordofian branch

This holds 900 languages spoken by 180,000,000 people. The largest sub-group is the Bantu group, containing around 100 languages (including Swahili, Zulu and Shona).

Their typological features including agglutinating, tonality, gender classes, and use of SVO.

The Nilo-Saharan branch

This branch covers 100 languages spoken by 10,000,000 people throughout Chad and Sudan.

The Khoisan branch

The Khoisan family has only 50 languages with very few speakers. Traditionally the speakers came from the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert.

Typological Features

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only family that has click sounds.

The Americas

We know very little about the languages of the Americas, and nothing concrete.

It is thought that there are three language families to be found there, caused by three main waves of migration, but we have no conclusive evidence as of yet.

Certainly there are some of the Eskimo families, which are distinct from the Amerindian families.

The Amerindian languages are spoken by 11,000,000 people in South America. We know of 600 Amerindian languages, although data is limited. Quecha is the principal language; the language of the Inca Empire.

The most dominant typological feature is their SOV word order.