The Post World Languages Quiz: Answers

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How well did you do with the language quiz? Check out the answers.

The Post World Languages Quiz: Answers

Examples of the Russian language.

1. Name the five most-spoken languages of the world in decreasing order of their number of speakers.

The five most-spoken languages are:

  1. Chinese, with over a billion native speakers, counting all dialects together.
  2. Hindi, with 336 million.
  3. English, with 341 million.
  4. Spanish, with 322 million.
  5. Arabic, with 280 million.

Some figures put the number of Spanish speakers higher, so English and Spanish are running neck-and-neck as world languages. Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, whereas English is the official language of 83 countries. That does not include Australia, the UK, or the US, because they've never made it official.

2. Ah, but are they on the web? Name the top five internet languages in decreasing order of use.

Here's the rundown:

  1. English, with 636 million users (and counting).
  2. Chinese, with 444 million users.
  3. Spanish, with 163 million users.
  4. Japanese, with 99 million users.
  5. Portuguese (Portuguese???), with 82.5 million.

In case you were wondering (and you were, Bel), German comes in at number six, with 75 million. All we can say is, either Portugal or Brazil has an awful lot of computers.

3. What country leads the world in number of languages spoken?

Papua New Guinea. There are 820 languages there. Indonesia follows with 742, then Nigeria (516) and India (427). The US is number five with a measly 311.

Full Ogham Alphabet

4. What is the oldest written language (that can still be read)?

Okay, those fossil marks that you think are ancient chicken-scratchings may be a message from the dinosaurs, but the oldest language that can be read is Sumerian, from about 2900 BCE. These folks wrote in cuneiform, and seem to have been kind of, well, fussy about details. They've left us a lot of clay tablets with bureaucratic stuff and lists. A bunch of Vogons, the lot of them.

5. Let's get all provincial and Eurocentric. What's the oldest spoken language in Europe?

If you guessed Greek, way wrong. It would be Basque. Basque is an interesting language. There's no way it relates to most European languages, because it isn't Indo-European. The oldest written European language would be Minoan, though, which was used on Crete. It wasn't related to Greek, either.

6. Just how many languages are there in the world?

Linguists quibble, but the site Ethnologue gives the number as 6,909. Better learn them fast, though: there's a linguist who's predicting that 90% of them will be gone by 2050. That's a sad story.

An old-style microphone in front of a speech bubble with antiquated words and phrases

7. What's the world's record for language learning? (We know how competitive you are.)

We're not sure on this one, but we have a good guess. Guinness appears to be less interested in language learning than stuff like 'how many language groups can you get on one internet chat?' The most amazing language learner appears to have been Italian cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774-1849), a hyperpolyglot who knew, for sure, 39 languages. Hats off to the Cardinal.

8. Speaking of learning languages, who first figured out that all the Indo-European languages were related, and what was he smoking doing at the time?

No, it wasn't Sir William Jones. That British worthy wasn't the first scholar to notice the similarity between Sanskrit and European languages. A French Jesuit named Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux (1691-1779) beat him to it. What was he doing? Trying to convert the heathen in Andhra Pradesh. He put together a Telugu-French-Sanskrit dictionary, too.

9. Can you name all the Romance languages?

Sure, you can: French, Proven├žal, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Romanian. All of these modern languages are derived from Latin, which the Romans spoke, hence 'Romance'. If we've left your dialect out of the list, send us a note at the bottom of the page.

10. If you're reading this, one language you know is English. Just how old is English, anyway?

Depends on whom you're talking to. What we call Old English is a dialect of an earlier form of German. After the Norman Conquest beginning in 1066, a new language grew up between Old English and Norman French which eventually became the Middle English we're familiar with from Chaucer1. A language like English is what grows out of a pidgin that gets spoken a lot and becomes a creole, then keeps going till it gets its own army. Creole languages tend to be made up of two main languages plus any other bits and bobs left lying around.

So when you say you speak English, you really have no business feeling superior to speakers of Gullah, Rastafarian, or Hinglish. We all started out trying to talk to the funny foreigners.

Post Quiz and Oddities Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

26.03.12 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote.. . .
Yeah, that one.

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