Most maps are structured according to the world’s geopolitical borders, but there are other ways to map the globe. In his latest infographic, Spanish designer Alberto Lucas López creates a globe filled not with landmasses and oceans, but mother tongues, ending up with a colorful, multi-celled bubble the planet’s languages and dialects.
As López notes, there are over 7,100 known languages in the world today, yet most of them are spoken by very small pockets of people. Only 23 of those 7,100 languages have more than 50 million people speaking them. Yet those 23 languages are extremely influential: though they scarcely number two dozen, those languages account for 56% of the mother tongues on Earth.
As you can see on López’s chart, Chinese is by far the most dominant language on the planet right now, with almost 1.2 billion people speaking dialects like Cantonese, Xiang, and Mandarin. Comparatively, pretty much every other language on Earth is an also-ran: Spanish (399 million speakers), English (335 million), Hindi (260 million), and Arabic (242 million) take up the next four positions. Only when you add them up do they come close to the reach Chinese has.
Although Chinese is the most popular language on Earth, it’s worth noting that its influence wanes greatly outside of Asia. If you take the geographic diversity of where a language is spoken into account, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese are the most influential languages on Earth, because of colonialism.
Another surprising revelation is the number of semi-obscure languages that are still one of the top 23 languages on Earth. Urdu, Lahnda, Tamil, and Telegu are languages that aren’t known to a lot of Americans, but still account for 64, 88.7, 68.8, and 74 million speakers, respectively. That’s more speakers than Persian, Vietnamese, or Italian.
All told, López’s charts accounts for 4.1 of Earth’s 7.2 billion people. It’s worth noting, though, that his infographic only charts native languages, not the number of speakers of the 23 most popular languages in general, in which case, there’d be more combined speakers of the world’s languages than there are people on the planet.