OFF TOPIC Spanish in the USA [was Re: Explanation of this Python language feature?]

Chris Angelico rosuav at
Sun Mar 30 14:03:26 CEST 2014

On Sun, Mar 30, 2014 at 9:35 PM, Steven D'Aprano
<steve+comp.lang.python at> wrote:
> Network effects explain why, out of the six or seven thousand languages
> in the world, just thirteen account for more than half the world's
> population:
> 1) Mandarin
> 2) Spanish
> 3) English
> 4) Hindi
> 5) Arabic
> 6) Portuguese
> 7) Bengali
> 8) Russian
> 9) Japanese
> 10) Punjabi
> 11) German
> 12) Javanese
> 13) Wu
> adding up to 51%. The next thirteen bring the total to 64%.

Where did that info come from? And more importantly, what does it
count? Is that people's first language, or all languages known, or
what? A bit of Googling brought me to a Wikipedia page [1] which
quotes a similar figure of thirteen languages; that's talking about
native speakers, and is talking about native speakers. But that may
not be the most useful definition here.

An alternative useful definition is "accessibility": if you
communicate a message in Mandarin and English, a large proportion of
humans will be capable of understanding that message. Does it take the
above thirteen to exceed 50% of the world by that definition? Or
wording it another way, is there no set of twelve or less languages
which will reach 50% of the world? There's another Wikipedia page [2]
that tries to estimate total number of speakers, but it's nearly
impossible to get any sort of accurate figure; it puts Mandarin at
somewhere over a billion people, and English as another billion or so;
that's coming up toward 50% right there (say, 1.5b each is 3b, out of
a world population of 7b). Ball-park figures, those two plus Spanish
(another half billion or so) would pretty much hit your half mark.

I've no idea what point I'm trying to make here. Just poking around
with numbers. :)



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