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A wide variety of languages are spoken throughout Asia, comprising different language families and some unrelated isolates. The major language families include Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afroasiatic, Turkic, Sino-Tibetan and Kra–Dai. Most, but not all, have a long history as a written language.
The Indo-European languages are primarily represented by the Indo-Iranian branch. The family includes both Indic languages ( Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Odia, Assamese, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhala and other languages spoken primarily in South Asia) and Iranian (Persian, Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi and other languages spoken primarily in Iran, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of South Asia). In addition, other branches of Indo-European spoken in Asia include the Slavic branch, which includes Russian in Siberia; Greek around the Black Sea; and Armenian; as well as extinct languages such as Hittite of Anatolia and Tocharian of (Chinese) Turkestan.
A number of smaller, but important and separately distinguished language families spread across central and northern Asia have long been linked in a hypothetical, controversial and unproven Altaic family. These are the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic (including Manchu), Koreanic, and Japonic languages. But recently, it is often considered as Sprachbund by the majority.
The Austronesian languages are widespread throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, including major languages such as Fijian (Fiji), Cebuano, Tagalog (Philippines), and Malay (Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei). Javanese, Sundanese, and Madurese of Indonesia belong to this family as well.
The Dravidian languages of southern Asia (India) and parts of Sri Lanka include Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, while smaller languages such as Gondi and Brahui are spoken in central India and Pakistan respectively.
The Afroasiatic languages (in older sources Hamito-Semitic) are represented in Asia by the Semitic branch. Semitic languages are spoken in Western Asia, and include Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to extinct languages such as Akkadian.
Besides the Altaic families already mentioned (of which Tungusic is today a minor family of Siberia), there are a number of small language families and isolates spoken across northern Asia. These include the Uralic languages of western Siberia (better known for Hungarian and Finnish in Europe), the Yeniseian languages (linked to Turkic and to the Athabaskan languages of North America), Yukaghir, Nivkh of Sakhalin, Ainu of northern Japan, Chukotko-Kamchatkan in easternmost Siberia, and—just barely—Eskimo–Aleut. Some linguists have noted that the Koreanic languages share more similarities with the Paleosiberian languages than with the Altaic languages. The extinct Ruan-ruan language of Mongolia is unclassified, and does not show genetic relationships with any other known language family.
Three small families are spoken in the Caucasus: Kartvelian languages, such as Georgian; Northeast Caucasian (Dagestanian languages), such as Chechen; and Northwest Caucasian, such as Circassian. The latter two may be related to each other. The extinct Hurro-Urartian languages may be related as well.
Small families of Southern Asia
- extinct languages of the Fertile Crescent such as Sumerian and Elamite
- extinct languages of South Asia: the unclassified Harappan language
- small language families and isolates of the Indian subcontinent: Burushaski, Kusunda, and Nihali. The Vedda language of Sri Lanka is likely an isolate that has mixed with Sinhala.
- the two Andamanese language families: Great Andamanese and Ongan; Sentinelese remains undocumented to date, and hence unclassified.
- unclassified languages in Southeast Asia: Kenaboi.
- Language isolates and independent language families in Arunachal: Digaro, Hrusish (including the Miji languages), Midzu, Puroik, Siangic, and Kho-Bwa
- Hmong–Mien (Miao–Yao) scattered across southern China and Southeast Asia
- several "Papuan" families of the central and eastern Malay Archipelago: languages of Halmahera, East Timor, and the extinct Tambora of Sumbawa. Numerous additional families are spoken in Indonesian New Guinea, but this lies outside the scope of an article on Asian languages.
Creoles and pidgins
The eponymous pidgin ("business") language developed with European trade in China. Of the many creoles to have developed, the most spoken today are Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole of the Philippines, and various Malay-based creoles such as Manado Malay influenced by Portuguese. A very well-known Portuguese-based creole is the Kristang, which is spoken in Malacca, a city-state in Malaysia.
A number of sign languages are spoken throughout Asia. These include the Japanese Sign Language family, Chinese Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, as well as a number of small indigenous sign languages of countries such as Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many official sign languages are part of the French Sign Language family.
Asia and Europe are the only two continents where most countries use native languages as their official languages, though English is also widespread as an international language.
- Asian studies
- Asianic languages
- East Asian languages
- Languages of South Asia
- List of extinct languages of Asia
- Classification schemes for Southeast Asian languages
- Blench, Roger. 2015. The Mijiic languages: distribution, dialects, wordlist and classification. m.s.