Our aims

This exploration of the linguasphere is not a touristic voyage, to visit isolated communities in exotic surroundings. This Odyssey online is an exploration into the totality of human languages, observing them as the interactive working parts of a planetary system of communication. That system is constantly evolving.

We have begun the first observation of this complex system, as a functioning global entity, from the onset of a new world of communication … from the opening of a truly “orbital” linguasphere at the beginning of the present century.

This orbitalisation of plurilingual communications has been the second giant step forward for humankind, since our first step forward in the late Paleolithic era, into a new world of personal speech & artistic expression.

Early evidence of human artistic creativity indicates that the personal cognition & collective symbolism of human speech – otherwise unrecorded – had already been unleashed.

For the first time, our planet had evolved a living species able to contemplate itself & to question its own earthly  environment.

It therefore appears useful to distinguish Homo sapiens (born around 200,000 years ago) from the “new” human species which appeared after human beings, children & adults, had fully attained the means of personal expression, both linguistic & artistic.

That human revolution took place approximately 50,000 years ago, so not much more than five hundred centuries ago, on a planet already about four billion years old.

We forget too easily that the evolution of modern humanity & our abilities has been on a time-scale  much shorter than for the evolution of other species on our planet.

A useful term for describing our new model of human being, our own modern “humankind”, is Persona loquens sapiens (“knowledgeable speaking person”),

This term recognises (1. Persona :) that neither male nor female deserves to dominate the other, (2. loquens :) that the acquisition of speech has marked our launch as a new & unique species, & (3. sapiens :) that this acquisition allows us to accumulate & share our collective discoveries & inventions, a “commonwelth of knowledge” which is the personal birthright of all,

To differentiate us even more, persona loquens has just attained - at the beginning of this 21st century - the status of a continuous, homogeneous species around the entire planet, a global organism.

The most fundamental division within the linguasphere, traversing every language, is the dichotomy between the speech of women (of Femina loquens) & the language of men (of Homo loquens).

The profound semantic differences between these two ways of talking – often using identical words with varying shades of meaning – arise from our different physical & social circumstances & biological make-up.

Yet our two basic forms of human being & of human language are inextricably interwoven: Femina loquens + Homo loquens = Persona loquens.

We are all either “daughters of men” or “sons of women”, sharing equally in the cumulative knowledge & right to education which is the birthright of every girl & boy in every community of the world.

Every person, woman or man, has the right to be  Persona loquens sapiens, “the speaking person who knows”.

To represent this new title of our modern human species, the Observatoire linguistique has chosen the image of the Girl of Brassempouy, a masterpiece les than 4cm high, sculpted from a fragment of mammouth tusk, twenty five thousand years ago.

This online Odyssey is organised by the Observatoire linguistique, a tiny research body, devoted since the 1980’s to the study of human languages as an evolving system.

At the turn of this century, & at the beginning of the first volume of its Linguasphere Register, the Observatoire foresaw that the ten years ahead would be a veritable “Decade of the Linguasphere”.

That prediction showed itself to be true, & the ten years which follwed saw the languages, the collective knowledge & the social networking of humankind launched together into orbit.

That decade saw the launch of plurilingual Wikipedia, of plurilingual Google, Facebook & Twitter, of the decipherment of the human genome …

The political & economic effects began at once, & it became clear that the human species had entered, not only a new millennium, but a new global era its in social evolution.

By 2012, the global tremors of that previous decade of the Linguasphere predict the slow build-up of a worldwide tsunami … a social, economic & political tsunami which threatens to sweep away the post-Neolithic structures which human society had constructed during recent millennia.

In that dramatic context, our exporational Odyssey has two tightly interrelated objectives.


A. The FIRST aim of this website is informative :  
it will seek to maintain a free & accessible  public service of free information & open research on the linguasphere, the original territorial network & now orbital cloud of all our languages. Hence our title : linguasphere.info

For the first time, this site attempts to view all our human languages, whether local or trans-continental, as part of a single but complex system of global communication, transporting our collective commonwealth of knowledge or “corpus du savoir”.

It is the ambition of linguasphere.info to be able to support & to further the ideals & aims of the plurilingual Wikipedia programme.

Without any exaggeration, one may declare that the rapid evolution of the Wikipedia concept, across so many languages, has been the most important collective creation of humankind since the evolution of our own talking species.

We may now observe the evolution of our own species from a new perspective, now that we have been forced – in spite of ourselves – to recognise that we are all members of a remarkably homogeneous species & that our only sustainable destiny is as a responsible global society.

The Linguasphere Register of the World’s Languages & Speech Communities was compiled largely in France & was published in Wales in English at the moment of the millennium celebrations in 1999/2000.

The entire Linguasphere Register  (over 1000 pages) is provided here online not only as a record of the linguistic state of the world at the end of the second millennium, but – more importantly - as a framework for recording & reviewing  the subsequent development of the world’s languages during the present century.

Everyone may freely use the Register as it appears on this website, linguasphere.info, which remains its only official presentation on line.  You are free to quote it as you need, including its system of indexed classification & coding of the world’s languages & their territories, as well as the maps which will support that system.

You may contribute directly to the improvement & expansion of this free public resource, by participating in the research & data-gathering activities of the Observatoire linguistique.

Such scientific contribution will be welcome, not only from individual observers but equally from interested groups, such as schools or teams of researchers.

You may also participate in our Odyssey by sponsoring our research, our cartography, our IT work, our translations & our explorations online, in whatever way you wish, either financial or material.

All we ask is that you do not of course print parts or the whole of the Register to sell. But you are welcome to use it freely as an integral part of your teaching materials or research assignments.

Please do advise us of any improved or new data or maps on languages which could be used freely, with acknowledgement, to improve & update the information already available here on linguasphere.info .

Inform us of new developments & changes among spoken languages around the world, & help us to present such materials in French & English, & in other “geo-arterial languages”, each of which may reach more than one hundred million persons.


B. The SECOND aim of this website is ethical & strategic :
it will seek to encourage a plurilingual approach to the free diffusion of knowledge, including the common understanding of human rights & responsibilities ; it will provide practical & plurilingual online support for the worldwide advance of universal education - the École sans frontières - & for a global but linguistically & culturally diverse civilisation of justice for all.

Today, this website is concerned to observe & document the world’s languages, not only in terms of their shared relationships of structure & vocabulary, but also in terms of their geographical spread & demographic weight - in other words, where & by how many people they are used.

The development of this new geography of languages is based on the division of languages into categories of demographic weight (meaning the approximate number of mother-tongue or “second-language” hearers &/or readers who can be reached by any defined language).

These categories include heritage languages, reaching less than 100 thousand persons each, where the greatest priority is the need to record those often threatened languages for posterity. They represent, & have always represented, the large majority of all languages spoken on Earth.

At the other extreme are arterial languages, reaching more than 10 million persons each, where the greatest priority is the need to organise the plurilingual flow of knowledge to communities & especially to children throughout the world.

Arterial languages reach around 99% of humankind but represent perhaps only 2% of the total number of languages spoken today.

Within a total of between 4,000 & 11,000 languages (depending on the definition of “language”), there are no more than about 140 arterial languages, including only 14 geo-arterial languages, each reaching over 100 million persons each.

At the moment, the expanding use of English as a dominant international language is limiting the global development of other arterial languages.

Historically, the worldwide spread of English has already destroyed the large majority of all languages previously spoken on two continents, North America & Australasia.

Already, English has invaded the universities & larger companies of the world, giving an automatic advantage to those who have a native command of that language. But the very supremacy of English, & the existence of rival norms, have had negative effect on its stability & precision.

It is for this reason, as a linguist who treasures English as his mother-tongue, that David Dalby has promoted French as the “language of reference” for this plurilingual website on the Linguasphere – as our « langue de référence ».

After English, the use of French extends more widely around the planet than that of any other language.

Like English also, varieties of modern French extend to new dynamic forms of speech created by enslaved children & adults, after they were uprooted from their own languages.

At the same time, we must recognise that these two rival languages, of cities now only two hours apart, have been worldwide transporters, not only of oppression & theft, but also of the precious commodities of liberty & equality & justice.

This is why the Observatoire linguistique presented its bilingual exhibition “Languages of Liberty” at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1989, bicentenary of the French Revolution.

A major difference between modern English & French, however, is that French has the additional advantage of a strictly standardised written form, Academic French.

In planning  plurilingual routes for the flow of knowledge & human ideals among the communities of the world, we need a written language which is rigorously precise.

We also need a language which, by its historical tradition, is prepared to stand up – on behalf of all languages - to the linguistic giant now spinning at the heart of today’s economic storm.