List of language families

List of language families

This List of language families includes also language isolates, unclassified languages and other types of languages.


Major language families

By number of native speakers

Pie chart of world languages by percentage of speakers

Distribution of the major language families.
For a legend, see language family.
For more details, see Distribution of languages in the world. This is a list of the top ten families that are fairly often recognized as phylogenetic units, in terms of numbers of native speakers as a proportion of world population, listed with their core geographic areas.

  1. Indo-European languages 46% (Europe, Southwest to South Asia, North Asia, North America, South America, Oceania)
  2. Sino-Tibetan languages 21% (East Asia)
  3. Niger–Congo languages 6.4% (Sub-Saharan Africa)
  4. Afro-Asiatic languages 6.0% (North Africa to Horn of Africa, Southwest Asia)
  5. Austronesian languages 5.9% (Oceania, Madagascar, maritime Southeast Asia)
  6. Dravidian languages 3.7% (South Asia)
  7. Altaic languages (controversial combination of Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic families) 2.3% (Central Asia, Northern Asia, Anatolia, Siberia)[1]
  8. Austro-Asiatic languages 1.7% (mainland Southeast Asia)
  9. Tai–Kadai languages 1.3% (Southeast Asia)

Phyla with historically wide geographical distributions but comparatively few contemporary speakers include Eskimo–Aleut, Algic, Quechuan and Nilo-Saharan.

By number of languages

According to the numbers in Ethnologue, the largest language families in terms of number of languages are the following. Some families are controversial, and in many the language count varies between researchers.

  1. Niger–Congo (1,532 languages)
  2. Austronesian (1,257 languages)
  3. Trans–New Guinea (477 languages)
  4. Sino-Tibetan (449 languages)
  5. Indo-European (439 languages)
  6. Afro-Asiatic (374 languages)
  7. Nilo-Saharan (205 languages) (controversial)
  8. Pama–Nyungan (178 languages)
  9. Oto-Manguean (177 languages) (number varies; Lyle Campbell counts 27)
  10. Austro-Asiatic (169 languages)
  11. Tai–Kadai (92 languages)
  12. Dravidian (85 languages)
  13. Tupian (76 languages)

Language families

In the following, each "bulleted" item is a known or suspected language family. The geographic headings over them are meant solely as a tool for grouping families into collections more comprehensible than an unstructured list of a few hundred independent families. Geographic relationship is convenient for that purpose, but these headings are not a suggestion of any "super-families" phylogenetically relating the families named.

Africa and Southwest Asia

The language families of Africa.
  1. Afro-Asiatic languages (formerly Hamito-Semitic)
  2. Niger–Congo languages (sometimes Niger-Kordofanian)
  3. Nilo-Saharan languages
  4. Khoe languages (part of the Khoisan proposal)
  5. Tuu languages (part of Khoisan)
  6. Kx'a languages (part of Khoisan)
  7. Ubangian languages
  8. Mande languages (perhaps Niger–Congo)
  9. Songhay languages (perhaps Nilo-Saharan)
  10. Kadu languages (perhaps Nilo-Saharan)
  11. Koman languages (perhaps Nilo-Saharan)

Europe and North, West and South Asia

A Simplified map of European Languages.
  1. Indo-European languages
  2. Tyrsenian languages (extinct)
  3. Dravidian languages
  4. Northwest Caucasian languages (often included in North Caucasian)
  5. Northeast Caucasian languages (often included in North Caucasian)
  6. Hurro-Urartian languages (extinct, perhaps related to Northeast Caucasian)
  7. South Caucasian languages
  8. Turkic languages (part of the Altaic proposal)
  9. Mongolic languages (part of Altaic)
  10. Tungusic languages (part of Altaic)
  11. Uralic languages
  12. Yukaghir languages
  13. Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
  14. Yeniseian languages (part of proposed Dené–Yeniseian family)

East Asia, Southeast Asia, Northeast India and the Pacific

  1. Austro-Asiatic languages
  2. Austronesian languages (part of the Austro-Tai proposal)
  3. Great Andamanese languages (part of the Andamanese proposal)
  4. Hmong–Mien languages
  5. Japonic languages (part of an expanded Altaic proposal)
  6. Ongan languages (part of the Andamanese proposal)
  7. Sino-Tibetan languages
  8. Tai–Kadai languages (part of Austro-Tai proposal)

New Guinea and neighboring islands

Area of the Papuan languages.
  1. Baining languages
  2. Border languages
  3. Central Solomons languages
  4. East Bird's Head – Sentani languages
  5. Eastern Trans-Fly languages (one in Australia)
  6. Fas languages
  7. East Geelvink Bay languages
  8. Lakes Plain languages (upper Mamberamo River)
  9. Left May languages
  10. Kwomtari languages
  11. Mairasi languages
  12. Nimboran languages
  13. North Bougainville languages
  14. Piawi languages
  15. Ramu – Lower Sepik languages
  16. Senagi languages
  17. Sepik languages
  18. Skou languages
  19. South Bougainville languages
  20. South-Central Papuan languages
  21. Tor–Kwerba languages
  22. Torricelli languages
  23. Trans–New Guinea (the largest family)
  24. West New Britain languages
  25. West Papuan languages
  26. Yuat languages


Map of the Australian languages.
  1. Bunaban languages
  2. Daly languages
  3. Limilngan languages
  4. Djeragan languages
  5. Nyulnyulan languages
  6. Wororan languages
  7. Mirndi languages
  8. Arnhem Land languages (3 families and 2 isolates)
  9. Gunwinyguan languages
  10. Pama–Nyungan languages (the largest family)

North America and Mesoamerica

Distribution of language families and isolates north of Mexico at first contact.
  1. Algic languages (incl. Algonquian languages) (14)
  2. Alsean languages (0)
  3. Caddoan languages (4)
  4. Chimakuan languages (1)
  5. Chinookan languages (1)
  6. Chumashan languages (0)
  7. Comecrudan languages (0)
  8. Coosan languages (0)
  9. Eskimo–Aleut languages (5)
  10. Iroquoian languages (7)
  11. Kalapuyan languages (0)
  12. Keres languages (2)
  13. Maiduan languages (3)
  14. Mayan languages (Mesoamerica) (31)
  15. Mixe–Zoquean languages (Mesoamerica) (19)
  16. Muskogean languages (5)
  17. Na-Dene languages (44) (part of proposed Dené–Yeniseian family)
  18. Oto-Manguean languages (Mesoamerica) (27)
  19. Palaihnihan languages (1)
  20. Plateau Penutian languages (a.k.a. Shahapwailutan) (3)
  21. Pomoan languages (5)
  22. Salishan languages (16)
  23. Shastan languages (0)
  24. Siouan–Catawban languages (10)
  25. Tanoan languages (6)
  26. Tequistlatecan languages (Mesoamerica) (2)
  27. Totonacan languages (Mesoamerica) (2)
  28. Tsimshian languages (3)
  29. Utian languages (5)
  30. Uto-Aztecan languages (North America & Mesoamerica) (31)
  31. Wakashan languages (7)
  32. Wintuan languages (1)
  33. Yokutsan languages (1)
  34. Yukian languages (0)
  35. Yuman languages (10)

Central America and South America

The major South American language families.
  1. Alacalufan languages (2)
  2. Arauan languages (8)
  3. Araucanian languages (2)
  4. Arawakan languages (South America & Caribbean) (73)
  5. Arutani–Sape languages (2)
  6. Aymaran languages (3)
  7. Barbacoan languages (7)
  8. Cahuapanan languages (2)
  9. Carib languages (29)
  10. Catacaoan languages (0)
  11. Chapacuran languages (5)
  12. Chibchan languages (Central & South America) (22)
  13. Chimuan languages (0)
  14. Choco languages (10)
  15. Chon languages (2)
  16. Esmerelda–Yaruro languages (2)
  17. Guaicuruan languages (a.k.a. Waikurian) (8)
  18. Hibito–Cholon languages (0)
  19. Hodï languages (2)
  20. Ge languages (13)
  21. Jicaquean languages (Central America)
  22. Jirajaran languages (0)
  23. Jivaroan languages (4)
  24. Katembri–Taruma languages (0)
  25. Katukinan languages (3)
  26. Lencan languages (Central America)
  27. Lule–Vilela languages (1)
  28. Mascoian languages (5)
  29. Mashakalian languages
  30. Matacoan languages (4)
  31. Misumalpan languages (Central America) (9)
  32. Mosetenan languages (1)
  33. Mura languages (1)
  34. Nadahup languages (4)
  35. Nambiquaran languages (5)
  36. Otomakoan languages ? (3)
  37. Pano–Tacanan languages (36)
  38. Peba–Yaguan languages (2)
  39. Puinavean languages (Maku) (9)
  40. Quechuan languages (46)
  41. Salivan languages (2)
  42. Tequiraca–Canichana languages (2)
  43. Tucanoan languages (25)
  44. Tupi languages (70)
  45. Uru–Chipaya languages (2)
  46. Witotoan languages (6)
  47. Xincan languages (Central America)
  48. Yabutian languages (2)
  49. Yanomam languages (4)
  50. Zamucoan languages (2)
  51. Zaparoan languages (7)

Language isolates

Central & South America

  1. Abishira
  2. Aikaná (Brazil: Rondônia)
  3. Andoque (Colombia, Peru)
  4. Betoi (Colombia)
  5. Camsá (Colombia)
  6. Candoshi-Shapra (Peru)
  7. Cayubaba (Bolivia)
  8. Cofán (Colombia, Ecuador)
  9. Fulniô
  10. Guató (Brazil, Bolivia)
  11. Huaorani (a.k.a. Sabela, Waorani, Waodani) (Ecuador, Peru)
  12. Irantxe (Brazil: Mato Grosso)
  13. Itonama (Bolivia)
  14. Kapixaná (Brazil)
  15. Koayá (Brazil: Rondônia)
  16. Leco (Bolivia)
  17. Mapudungun (Chile, Argentina)
  18. Movima (Bolivia)
  19. Omurano (Peru)
  20. Otí (Brazil: São Paulo) [extinct]
  21. Paez (see also Paezan)
  22. Puelche (Argentina,Chile)
  23. Puquina (Bolivia) [extinct]
  24. Taushiro (Peru)
  25. Ticuna (Colombia, Peru, Brazil)
  26. Timote (Venezuela)
  27. Tiníwa (Colombia)
  28. Warao (Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela)
  29. Wayuu (a.k.a Goajiro) (Colombia, Venezuela)
  30. Yámana (a.k.a Yagan) (Chile)
  31. Yuracare (Bolivia)
  32. Yuri (Colombia, Brazil)
  33. Yurumanguí (Colombia)

North America

  1. Chimariko (US: California) [extinct]
  2. Chitimacha (US: Louisiana) [extinct]
  3. Coahuilteco (US: Texas, northeast Mexico) [extinct]
  4. Cuitlatec (Mexico: Guerrero) [extinct]
  5. Esselen (US: California) [extinct]
  6. Haida (Canada: British Columbia; US: Alaska)
  7. Huave (Mexico: Oaxaca)
  8. Karankawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  9. Karok (a.k.a. Karuk) (US: California)
  10. Kootenai (Canada: British Columbia; US: Idaho, Montana)
  11. Natchez (US: Mississippi, Louisiana) (sometimes linked to Muskogean)
  12. P'urhépecha (a.k.a. Tarascan) (Mexico: Michoacán)
  13. Salinan (US: California) [extinct]
  14. Seri (Mexico: Sonora)
  15. Siuslaw (US: Oregon) [extinct]
  16. Takelma (US: Oregon) [extinct]
  17. Timucua (US: Florida, Georgia) [extinct]
  18. Tonkawa (US: Texas) [extinct]
  19. Tunica (US: Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas) [extinct]
  20. Washo (US: California, Nevada)
  21. Yana (US: California) [extinct]
  22. Yuchi (US: Georgia, Oklahoma)
  23. Zuni (a.k.a. Shiwi) (US: New Mexico)


  1. Enindhilyagwa (AKA Andilyaugwa, Anindilyakwa)
  2. Laragiya
  3. Minkin [extinct; perhaps a member of Yiwaidjan or Tankic]
  4. Ngurmbur (perhaps a member of Macro-Pama–Nyungan)
  5. Tiwi (Melville and Bathurst Islands)

New Guinea

  1. Abinomn (Baso, Foia) (north Irian)
  2. Anêm (New Britain)
  3. Ata (Pele-Ata, Wasi) (New Britain)
  4. Busa (Sandaun)
  5. Isirawa (north Irian)
  6. Kol (New Britain)
  7. Kuot (Panaras) (New Ireland)
  8. Massep
  9. Pyu
  10. Sulka (New Britain)
  11. Taiap (Gapun) (Sepik)
  12. Yalë (Nagatman) (Sandaun)
  13. Yawa (Geelvink Bay)
  14. Yélî Dnye (Yele) (Rennell Island)
  15. Yuri (Karkar) (Sandaun)


  1. Ainu language or languages (Japan, Russia) (like Arabic or Japanese, the diversity within Ainu is large enough that some consider it to be perhaps up to a dozen languages while others consider it a single language with high dialectal diversity)
  2. Nivkh or Gilyak (Russia) (sometimes linked to Chukchi–Kamchatkan)
  3. Korean (North & South Korea, China, USA) (sometimes linked to Altaic; its dialect Jeju is often considered a different language)
  4. Kusunda (Nepal)
  5. Nihali (India) (sometimes linked to Munda)
  6. Burushaski (Pakistan, India) (sometimes linked to Yeniseian)
  7. Elamite (Iran) [extinct] (sometimes linked to Dravidian)
  8. Sumerian (Iraq) [extinct]
  9. Hattic (Turkey) [extinct] (sometimes linked to Northwest Caucasian)


  1. Hadza (Tanzania)
  2. Sandawe (Tanzania) (may be related to Khoe)


  1. Basque (Spain, France) (related to extinct Aquitanian)

Unclassified languages

Languages are considered unclassified either because, for one reason or another, little effort has been made to compare them with other languages, or, more commonly, because they are too poorly documented to permit reliable classification. Most such languages are extinct and most likely will never be known well enough to classify.


  1. Iberian (Spain) [extinct]
  2. Tartessian (Spain, Portugal) [extinct]
  3. North Picene (Italy) [extinct]
  4. Pictish (Scotland) [extinct]


  1. Ongota (perhaps Afro-Asiatic)
  2. Gumuz (perhaps Nilo-Saharan)
  3. Kwadi (extinct; perhaps Khoe)
  4. Bangi-me (ethnically Dogon)
  5. Dompo
  6. Mpre
  7. Jalaa
  8. Laal
  9. Meroitic (extinct; variously thought to be Nilo-Saharan or Afro-Asiatic)
  10. Shabo


  1. Quti [extinct]
  2. Kaskian [extinct]
  3. Cimmerian [extinct]
  4. Shompen (Nicobar Islands)
  5. Enggano (Sumatra)


  1. Tasmanian languages [extinct]

South America

  1. Baenan (Brazil) [extinct]
  2. Culle (Peru) [extinct]
  3. Kunza (Chile, Bolivia, Argentina) [extinct]
  4. Gamela (Brazil: Maranhão) [extinct]
  5. Gorgotoqui (Bolivia) [extinct]
  6. Huamoé (Brazil: Pernambuco) [extinct]
  7. Kukurá (Brazil: Mato Grosso) [extinct]
  8. Malibu languages (Colombia) [extinct]
  9. Munichi (Peru)
  10. Natú (Brazil: Pernambuco) [extinct]
  11. Pankararú (Brazil: Pernambuco)
  12. Sechura
  13. Tarairiú (Brazil: Rio Grande do Norte)
  14. Tuxá (Brazil: Bahia, Pernambuco) [extinct]
  15. Xokó (Brazil: Alagoas, Pernambuco) [extinct]
  16. Xukurú (Brazil: Pernambuco, Paraíba) [extinct]
  17. Yurumanguí (Colombia) [extinct]

North America

  1. Adai (US: Louisiana, Texas) [extinct]
  2. Alagüilac (Guatemala)
  3. Aranama-Tamique (US: Texas) [extinct]
  4. Atakapa (US: Louisiana, Texas) [extinct]
  5. Beothuk (Canada: Newfoundland) [extinct]
  6. Calusa (US: Florida) [extinct]
  7. Cayuse (US: Oregon, Washington) [extinct]
  8. Cotoname (northeast Mexico; US: Texas) [extinct]
  9. Maratino (northeastern Mexico) [extinct]
  10. Naolan (Mexico: Tamaulipas) [extinct]
  11. Quinigua (northeast Mexico) [extinct]
  12. Solano (northeast Mexico; US: Texas) [extinct]

Mixed languages

  • Michif, a mixture of French and Cree, where the nouns and adjectives tend to be French (including agreement), and the polysynthetic verbs are entirely Cree. There are two simultaneous gender systems, French masculine/feminine as well as Cree animate/inanimate, and the Cree obviative (fourth person).
  • Mednyj Aleut, a mixture of Russian and Aleut, which retains Aleut verbs but has replaced most of the inflectional endings with their Russian equivalents.
  • Cappadocian Greek, comprising mostly Greek root words, but with many Turkish grammatical endings and Turkish vowel harmony, and no gender.
  • Mbugu or Ma’a: an inherited Cushitic vocabulary with a borrowed Bantu inflectional system.

Possible examples include:


Like mixed languages, the world's numerous creoles do not fit easily into language families.

Sign languages

The family relationships of sign languages are not well established, and many are isolates (cf. Wittmann 1991).

  • French Sign Language family

Proposed language stocks

Note that many of the listed proposals disagree with one another (for example Nostratic with Pontic, or Keresiouan with Hokan–Siouan).

See also


  1. ^ Since the Mongolic and Tungusic language families have only a relatively small number of speakers, the majority of the Altaic percentage represents speakers of Turkic languages

External links

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