When talking about Asian languages, people often assume that their influence is limited to the Asian continent. However, this is not true. Asia is a geometrically expansive continent whose languages have widespread influence on the rest of the world.
The total number of living languages in Asia is close to 2300, with nearly 5 billion people speaking them. In this article, we try to unearth the origin of these Asian languages and then we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common languages of Asia.
Major groups of Asian languages
As with European countries, so many Asian languages fall within the Indo-European language family, but not all of them. In fact, the Asian languages extend to various other language families such as Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, Altaic, and more.
Major families spread across South Asia include Indo-European, Dravidian, and Indo-Aryan languages. If you go to East Asia, then Sino-Tibetan is the dominant family there. Similarly, each region has some language families which are more prominent than others. Here we will cover only 5 popular Asian language families.
It’s the world’s largest language family that comprises almost 445 languages. Out of these 445 languages, most are the languages of Europe and the Americas including English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. And many other languages are in Southern and Western Asia. Almost half of the world’s population (precisely 46%) has an Indo-European language as their first language.
313 of all Indo-European languages come from the branch that’s called Indo-Iranian. Languages in this Indo-Iranian branch include Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Odia, Assamese, and various other languages in Central Asia, South Asia, and more.
Sino-Tibetan is kind of a very mysterious group in Asian languages. Experts continue to debate about the location and period when the Sino-Tibetan family actually emerged. Some claim that these languages have their origin about 4000-6000 years ago in northern China. While others believe that the Sino-Tibetan language family appeared in northeast India or southwest China around 9000 years ago.
According to modern research, the Sino-Tibetan languages originated in northern China in the region of the Yellow River basin. The family started to scatter and diversify around 6000 years ago and now has almost 1.5 billion worldwide speakers. In terms of popularity, the Sino-Tibetan family is just behind the Indo-European family.
However, what languages does it cover in Asia? The Asian languages under the Sino-Tibetan family are Chinese, Burmese, Tibetan, Karen, and other languages of Northeast India, Burma, the Tibetan Plateau, and southern China.
Austronesian is a popular language family with almost 386 million people around the world speaking an Austronesian language as their mother tongue. The languages present within this family are over an impressive figure of 1200. Top languages that fall within this group include Tagalog (Philippines), Fijan (Fiji), Malay (Malaysia, Singapore), and Cebuano, among others.
Altai is actually a mountainous region from which the name Altaic language family gets its name. If we talk about the number of languages present within this Altaic-Congo family, then this family leaves behind other families having around 1432 languages. Most of these Altaic-Congo languages are Mongolic, Turkic, Japonic, Koreanic, and Tungusic.
Language experts confirm that the Semitic language family is basically a branch of the Afroasiatic family which has its origin in West Asia. Over 330 million people in the MENA region and also minorities in North America and Europe speak the Semitic languages. If we’ve to name one single popular language of the Semitic family then it’s Arabic with 315+ million native speakers.
Popular languages of Asia
Chinese (Sino-Tibetan language)
According to estimates, about 1.3 billion in Asia speak the Chinese language. That is approximately 16 percent of the entire world’s population. This also goes on to explain why so many companies consider Chinese traditional translation services for their business.
It’s the official language of China and people in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau also speak this. As a language, Chinese is pretty complex and has various dialects, like Cantonese, Hakka, Min, Jin, Xiang, Wu, Gan, etc. A big shout to LSPs who make chinese translation services simple despite all the complexity and several dialects.
Japanese (Altaic-Congo language)
Japanese is an Asian language that ranks among the top ten famous languages in the world. The language has 120 native speakers in Japan. If you’re thinking about launching in Asia with Japanese translation services then be aware of its complexity.
What makes Japanese one of the most complex languages out there is its unique way of writing, as well as grammar and sentence structure. It has three writing systems that usually work together: these are Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. All this adds to the complexity of the Japanese language. So, be ready to pay some extra bucks when you hire professional Japanese translation services.
Malay (Austronesian language)
Malay is not just the official language of Malaysia but also of Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei. Any business that seeks malay translation services can expect to expand its outreach to at least 33 million new customers. Huge opportunity!
In Malaysia, people call it Bahasa Malaysia. In Brunei and Singapore, the language gets the name Bahasa Melayu. Similarly, in Indonesia, the language is known as Bahasa Persatuan or Permersatu.
Countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore use its northern dialect while Indonesia uses the southern dialect of Malay. Moreover, we can call Malay a mixture of many different languages. It has numerous loanwords from Arabic, Farsi (or Persian), Sanskrit, Tamil, English, Portuguese, Dutch, etc. Due to such intricacies, we always recommend all global companies work with translation agencies with years of experience. Because any freelance or untrained professional would be unable to provide professional Malay Translation services for your needs.
Some other Asian languages
The scope of this article does not allow for an in-detail discussion of all the popular Asian languages. Therefore, we’ll like to just enlist some other major languages here: Burmese, Filipino, Lao, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean, to name a few.
Each of these Asian languages shall give you a good starting point if you want to expand in Asia. Do your research on what language(s) suit your marketing goals and partner with a translation agency that will help you achieve the best results. Hope you find it useful and thanks for reading!