We can’t think of Asia without mentioning its diverse culture and heritage. It is the largest and most populated continents of the planet earth. The estimated population is around 4.7 billion with 2300 languages. Compared to Europe, in Asia the scale of languages in way longer. It includes Sino-Tibetan, Dravidian, Altaic and Indo-European languages. If we go back to primitive times, we will notice that the geological structure of the continent contributed to this multilingualism. According to the geological structure the continent is divided into mountains, tremendous lowlands, islands and jungles which led the communities to detach and evolve their own means of verbal communications.
Major Asian Languages
Chinese languages, also known as Sinitic languages is an umbrella language which includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka and more. Around a million people across Asia speaks Chinese making it the top-ranking language among Asian languages and second in rank around the world. Chinese falls under the Sino-Tibetan language group which is also known as Trans-Himalayan. Mandarin is the most widely spoken among the Sinitic languages. It is mostly used in the northern and southwestern China with and estimation of more than 920 million native speakers. Mandarin has been a common language since the 14th century and in 20th century a standard form of Mandarin was developed based Beijing dialect along with elements of other dialects of Mandarin which was later adopted as the national language of People’s Republic of China and Taiwan as well as one of the four languages of Singapore.
Hindi is a member of Indo-Aryan group within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is the official language of India alongside English and other state languages acknowledged by the constitution of India. Hindi is the fourth most spoken first language in the world and second most spoken language in Asia with an estimate of 637 million speakers around the world. Hindi is a bridge language for northern India alongside being the official language of the government of India. A significantly large number of nonresidential Indians as well as people of Indian ancestry who live in USA, UK, UAE, South Africa, also speak Hindi. The language is mutually intelligible with Urdu spoken in Pakistan.
Arabic is a Sematic language, a branch of Afro-Asiatic languages which is spoken in western Asia which include, Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic etc. Around 292 million people around the world are native speakers, making it the sixth most spoken first language in global ranking. It is also one on the six official languages of the United Nations. The language has many dialects such as Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Gulf Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic, Levantine Arabic and many others. Countries that use Arabic as their official language are mostly in the Middle East, and is native to Arab League which consists of countries in Northern Africa and Southwest Asia.
The language Bangla is most widely known as Bengali in English. It is the most eastern Indo-Aryan language, developed from a language called Pali which is similar to Sanskrit. The language is native to Bangladeshis and in the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. There are about 260 million Bengali speakers around the globe making it the seventh most widely spoken language in the world. The Bengali language movement brought Bangla to its national status in 1952 as the official language of the then East Pakistan (formerly known as East Bengal and present-day Bangladesh). To this day 21st February has been marked as International Mother Language Day by UNESCO as a tribute to the Language Movement and ethno-linguistic rights of the people around the world. The father of Modern Bengali literature is Iswar Chandra Bandyopadhyay who is better known as Vidyasagar Mahashay. One must mention Rabindranath Tagore when it comes to Bengali Language who became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and greatly influenced the Bengali literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bengali also became an honorary official language on Sierra Leone in 2002 after Bangladesh UN Peacekeeping Force contributed in the country’s Civil War.
Southeast Asian Languages
Malay or Bahasa Melayu is an Austronesian language which is the official language of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It is also unofficially spoken in East Timor and some regions of Thailand and used as a trading language in southern Philippines. The language has around 290 million speakers across the Strait of Malacca. Linguistics agree that Malay homeland was in western Borneo stretched to Bruneian coast and it was found that a form also known Proto-Malay was spoken in Borneo at least by 1000 BCE. Malay is written using Latin script known as Rumi in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. There is also and Arabic script called Arabic Melayu or Jawi.
Bahasa or more widely known as Indonesian language is officially spoken in Indonesia. It is a standard isolect of Malay that has been used as a language bridge in the multilingual Indonesian archipelago among the diverse ethnic groups in the region. It is one of the most widely spoken languages of the world given that Indonesia is the fourth most populated country. There are more than 700 indigenous local languages including, Javanese, Sudanese, Balinese and others. In the first half of 20th century nationalist movement brought Indonesian to its national language status by rejecting Dutch.
Thai also known as Siamese is the national language of Thailand and is the first language of most Thai Chinese. The language is a part of the Kra-Dai language family also known ask Tai-Kadai and is one of over seventy languages of the country. The language is derived from Pali, Sanskrit, Mon and Old Khmer. Thai is similar to Chinese and Vietnamese and uses analytic tones. The language is partially intelligible with Lao, Isan and some southwestern Tai languages. The language is spoken by over 20 million people with various dialects such as Central Plains Thai, Capital Core Thai, Sukhothai dialects, Khorat Thai and Southwestern Thai. The sole official language of Thailand is Central Thai widely spoken around Bangkok Metropolitan Area, along with Southwestern and Eastern Thailand.
Filipino is the national language of Philippines and is a standardized isolect of Tagalog language as well as an official language along with English. Tagalog, an Austronesian language, is the first language to 24 million people and is one of the 185 languages of Philippines. Filipino is a language with several interacting coding standards with other existing Philippine languages. Filipino and Tagalog are considered separate language by the country’s government but in practical term Filipino can be considered as a synonym for Tagalog since they are mutually intelligible varieties and hence belong to one language. The language acts as an auxiliary language among Filipinos from various ethnolinguistic background. Due to the Spanish and colonial experiences, the language is written in Latin script along with the Arabic script used in the Muslim areas.
This article was written by Nafisa Ahmad.