Global distribution of Indo-European languages

Official languages

Primary and secondary languages

(Correction: I described English as a secondary official language of Iraq, but of course it is the Kurdish language, a language of the Iranian branch of Indo-European.)

Distribution of Indo-European speakers

Indo-European branches in Eurasia

Indo-European languages in the Americas

The language rainbow of the Guyanas

By far the most widely distributed language family in the world is the Indo-European language family.
Here we see a map like this makes it seem like really it’s more than half the world that speaks languages of this family.
But of course, this is only a map of countries where an Indo-European language is an official or national language, one of the official languages.
So we see throughout most of Europe, and through many parts of Africa, southern Asia, most of the New World.
And you also see some surprising exceptions, such as the United States, where there is no official language but it’s effectively English.
And same with Australia.
But here we see a little bit more complexity to the picture, that there are many countries that have an Indo-European language as one of their official languages, but it’s not really a primary official language.
So this would include all these countries of Africa.
So there are no countries in Africa where English or any other Indo-European language is a primary language.
Rather, only at a secondary level.
So you see the same thing here with a place like Kazakhstan, which includes Russian as a secondary language, but its primary language is Kazakh, a Turkic language.
Same thing with Iraq, which now has [Kurdish] in its secondary status, but Arabic is its primary language.
This is certainly very prominent throughout Africa.
Now, there’s a few countries that simply recognize English.
For example, Malaysia here simply says that, you know, we recognize English, but it’s not official.
Same with Laos recognizing English and French.
So the picture is a little bit reduced from the, you know, almost total world coverage that we see here.
But now a map like this really starts to get more of a meaningful picture of the spread of these particular languages.
Because it’s not really about what is the official language of a country.
That’s not what really shows, you know, the way languages are being used.
An official language of a country might colour in, you know, you colour in the entire country on the map just because you have somebody in the capital city who’s speaking the language.
So this map attempts to show a more realistic picture of where these languages are primary.
And again, you can see the movement along these kind of roads or routes.
You really see it sort of spreading out along routes, often along the coast, along rivers, and along plains.
So you see that here with the coastlines generally being covered by Indo-European speakers.
And you can almost see a map here of the Amazon River and some of its branches, as Portuguese especially is spoken along the major riverfronts, but leaving many of the areas of the Amazon rainforest with speakers of other languages.
And you see the same thing with mountains.
Here, the Andes mountains, you have a few valleys where it’s predominantly Spanish, and otherwise other local languages.
Same with the Mayan highlands here.
You see it with the Caucasus mountains over here.
And then lands that might be called wastelands or deserts, more inaccessible lands.
We see here the boreal forest, where you have some inroads of mostly English speakers along here, but then many indigenous language speakers in the other areas.
Eskimo-Aleut speakers, Inuit, in the more Arctic regions.
And one of the clearest pictures of this kind of path is across Siberia, where we see Russian spreading out along the plains of Siberia here, really along the the edges of the boreal forest, whereas like the more inaccessible northern forest here, there are speakers of other language families.
And you see the same in Australia, with the coasts being mainly taken over with English speakers, but then a lot of the Outback still with primary indigenous Australian speakers.
And then, of course there are the parts of the world that are dominated by other language families entirely.
We see Afro-Asiatic and the Niger-Congo languages throughout Africa, with the exception of Afrikaans and English in South Africa.
We see the Dravidian languages of south india.
And Sino-Tibetan languages of China.
Turkic, Mongolian in central Asia.
And so on.
But this is not a bad picture of how Indo-European languages are distributed throughout the world.
And now to take a little bit more detail on what particular languages are involved, we’ll look more closely at the map of Eurasia, and of North and South America.
Outside that, we simply see in South Africa, Afrikaans and English, and in Australia and New Zealand, we see English.
So here’s a picture of some of the different major branches of Indo-European in Eurasia.
And you can see sort of streaming out this blue here being the Indo-Iranian branch, from southern Turkey, Armenia, or through Persia, and into Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, all the way into Bangladesh, and you can see part of Sri Lanka.
You see in green the Balto-Slavic branch, which includes Latvian and Lithuanian here, but otherwise mostly the Slavic branch, so it has all these Slavic countries.
And then in the east, Russian, which is spreading out here.
Now here it shows these stripes between green and grey, showing that there’s a mix between speakers of primarily Russian and other languages.
So you see these inroads of Russian speakers, typically along major riverways, as well as along the plain belt here all the way to the Pacific.
But also some mixing with other language families of Siberia.
Now here along the Mediterranean, we see the Hellenic branch, which of course is Greek, containing the Ggreek mainland and islands.
We have Albanian, which has its own branch here in the light blue.
And then we get to the two major branches of western Europe.
In the south, we have the Romance languages, named after the Roman Empire, the Latin languages, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian.
And, perhaps surprisingly, Romanian, which is separated from the other Romance languages, but even the clue in the name itself, Romania: it’s a country and a people with a legacy from the Roman Empire, which was a Latin-speaking empire, and left this residue of Latin-derived languages, including Romanian.
And then we have the red representing the Germanic branch of the family, including, of course, German, in Switzerland and Austria as well, Dutch, and we have the Nordic languages in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland.
And then, of course, English.
Oh, and not to forget the Celtic branch, which you can see surviving a bit here in Breton, Brittany, Wales.
You can see some of the survivors of the Celtic branch of the family, which was once much more widespread in Europe.
And there may be a few surprising gaps here, like you can see Hungary here is in a separate family.
As is Finland.
Although often grouped together with the Scandinavian countries, its language is completely separate from the neighbouring languages.
And there’s even this little patch here, the famous Basque language, famous because it is not known to be connected to any other language, a completely unknown, mysterious in a sense, language, mysterious because nobody can find any other language to compare it with.
It seems to stand on its own.
Now looking at the New World, we see the way the tiles are laid out here, sort of obviously a simplified picture, and here you can see how this particular map is dealing more with official languages.
It’s being divided country by country, without any detail, whereas here you see, you know, some patches within countries, and trying to show some of the mixture.
But here we simply see one patch for each country, with the exception of Quebec here being the province.
So we have North America in red, red for English, and here we have blue for French.
So French here, official language of the province of Quebec in Canada, and also of Haiti over here, and of French Guyana.
Then we see, well, I’m used to seeing yellow for Spanish, but here we have yellow is actually for dutch.
We have here yellow for Suriname.
And there’s also some islands here, a whole mosaic of different islands in the Caribbean here with different colours.
Oh, and for English, the red, as well as Canada and the United States, we also have Belize, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana as English-speaking areas.
But then, of course, the majority of the rest of the New World, other than North America is mainly number one language being Spanish, all the way from Mexico down to the extent of Chile, all all along here.
And then, of course, Portuguese specifically for the country of Brazil.
And so one little spot here that I really enjoy, consider it kind of like a little linguistic rainbow, a little medley here, and this is this area called the Guyanas.
So this region at the north edge of South America is called the Guyanas.
It includes the country of Guyana, but also many areas around it.
If we zoom into this area, we can see that you have these three countries, and then you have two provinces on either side, make up these five different areas, roughly, you know, on the same order of size, and all in a row, and each of them speaks one of the five major Indo-European languages of the New World.
So we have the Bolivar province of Venezuela speaking Spanish, the country of Guyana speaking English, the country of Suriname speaking Dutch, the country of French Guyana speaking French, and then the state of Amapá in Brazil speaking Portuguese.
So really kind of a microcosm of the bigger picture.

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