Sunday, September 2, 2012

Language diversity in New Guinea

English is an Indo-European language like French, Persian, Urdu, Catalan, Russian, Greek or Bengali. It is the most largely-spoken language family in our world: half the inhabitants of our planet speak one Indo-European language. But out of the current 7,000 living languages in the world, only 6.5% (about 450 languages) belong to this family. Therefore, it is a family with few languages but many speakers.
On the island of New Guinea we find the opposite situation: there are many languages but few speakers. It is the world’s area with the richest language diversity by far, although it has less than 8 million inhabitants.
New Guinea is the world’s second largest island after Greenland (Australia is considered to be a continent), covering a land area of 786,000 km2 (more or less like Turkey or one and a half Spain). The western part belongs to Indonesia whereas the eastern part is an independent state since 1975: Papua New Guinea.
According to Ethnologue: Languages of the World, one of the main references in this field, a total of 1,073 languages are spoken on this island: 826 in Papua New Guinea and 257 in the western part of the island. These figures represent more than 15% of the 6,909 living languages recorded by this encyclopaedic catalogue in the whole world. Most of these languages belong to the Austronesian group and the Papuan group, which are the world’s second and third families with most languages after the Niger-Congo language family.
In Spain we have less than a dozen autochthonous languages, and only five of them are considered to be co-official. However, there are still many Spaniards who consider that such “language diversity” may pose some problems. What may New Guineans think of a country like Spain?

  1. Indo-European languages:
  2. New Guinea island:
  3. List of countries by area:
  4. Indonesia:
  5. Papua New Guinea:
  6. Ethnologue: Languages of the World web site:
  7. Austronesian languages:
  8. Papuan languages:
  9. Languages of Spain:


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