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Demographics

Infographic: A World of Languages

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This infographic was originally published in scmp.com
Infographic: A World of Languages

Infographic: A World of Languages

View a high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Languages provide a window into culture and history. They’re also a unique way to map the world – not through landmasses or geopolitical borders, but through mother tongues.

The Tower of Babel

Today’s infographic from Alberto Lucas Lopez condenses the 7,102 known living languages today into a stunning visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.

Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million people. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages as their mother tongue.

Chinese dominates as a macrolanguage, but it’s important to note that it consists of numerous languages. Mandarin, Yue (including Cantonese), Min, Wu, and Hakka cover over 200 individual dialects, which vary further by geographic location.

CountryNative Chinese speakers (millions)
Total1,197 million
China1,152.0
Taiwan21.8
Hong Kong6.5
Malaysia5.1
Singapore1.8
Thailand1.2
Vietnam0.9
Philippines0.7
Myanmar0.5
Macau0.5
Other6.0

Chinese is one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to pick up, in part due its completely unfamiliar scripts. You’d have to know at least 3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper, a far cry from memorizing the A-Z alphabet.

Spanglish Takes Over

After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.

Animation: Map of Colonization (1492 – 2008):
Colonization Map

Today, Spanish has 399 million native speakers, but these are mostly concentrated in Latin America. English has 335 million native speakers under its belt, with a widespread reach all over the globe.

Two Worlds, One Family

While the visualization makes all the world’s languages seem disparate, this linguistic family tree shows how they grew from a common root. It also explains how languages can evolve and branch out over time.

Language Tree

Created by Minna Sundberg. Full version.

This linguistic tree also includes many languages that are not on the large visualization of 23 mother tongues. Some of them might be considered endangered or at risk today, such as Catalan or Welsh. However, with globalization, a few interesting linguistic trends are arising.

1. Language revival
Certain enclaves of marginalized languages are being preserved out of pride for the traditional and cultural histories attached.

While Catalan was once banned, its rebirth is a key marker of identity in Barcelona. More than 150 universities teach Catalan worldwide. In the case of Welsh, a mammoth university project plans to make sure it does not die out. Researchers are compiling ten million Welsh words to preserve the past, present, and future of the language.

2. Language forecast
At this point in time, English is the lingua franca – adopted as a common language among speakers with different mother tongues. However, this status might soon be fuzzier as demographic trends continue.

The rise of China is an obvious one to consider. As China continues to increase its economic might and influence, its languages will proliferate as well.

At the same time, 26 African countries are projected to double their current size, many of which speak French as a first language. One study by investment bank Natixis suggests that Africa’s growth may well bring French to the forefront – making it the most-spoken language by 2050.

Is it possible that French provides a certain je ne sais quoi that no other language can quite replace?

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Demographics

Mapped: The World Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

This simple map visualization will change how you think about global population, and how people are distributed throughout the planet.

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World Map: Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

At the most basic level, a standard world map tells us almost nothing about human population.

While the borders on a map may give us an idea of political boundaries or even aspects of continental geography, in reality they have little to do with showing population density.

That said, it is possible to apply one simple alteration to the world map so that we can make it more interesting from a population perspective – and it turns out that doing so can help us gain insight on where regional population density is the greatest.

Splitting Up the Map

Today’s map comes from Reddit user /u/OrneryThroat and it breaks up the world by grouping countries into four equally populated regions.

While both simple and crude, this mechanism does have some profound results:

RegionPopulation
North America, South America, and West/Central Africa1.9 billion
Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia1.9 billion
South Asia1.9 billion
Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania1.9 billion

More specifically, there is one area that stands out from a visual standpoint, and it resides clearly in the southern portion of Asia.

Home to 1.34 billion people, it’s well-known that India already holds roughly 20% of the global population – but add Pakistan (195 million) and Bangladesh (165 million) into the mix, and you’re already closing in on one quarter of the global total.

Meanwhile, to get to a similar number, you’d need to add the entire populations of North America, South America, Europe, and Oceania together to even come close.

Shown Another Way

While splitting it into four equal portions is one way to transform the world map, here is another geometric route to conveying a similar idea about the world’s population density:

Circle population

On a previous Chart of the Week, we showed that 22 of the world’s 37 megacities are located in the small circle above, putting into perspective the region’s population density in a similar but different way.

These simple transformations of the world map are not only memorable, but they also give our brain an easy heuristic to better understand the planet we live on.

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Demographics

The World Population Pyramid (1950-2100)

The world is in the midst of a notable demographic transition. Here’s how the world population pyramid will change as we close in on the year 2100.

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The world is in the midst of a notable period of demographic transition.

Back in the 1960s, global population growth peaked at a 2.1% annual rate, but since then it has been on a historic downtrend.

In fact, according to the most commonly cited United Nations projection, which is based on a medium fertility rate scenario, it’s expected that annual population growth could drop all the way to 0.1% by the end of the 21st century.

Visualizing a Demographic Transition

Today’s powerful charts come from Our World in Data by economist Max Roser, and they show how global demographics will shift over the next 80 years.

Below you can see one major catalyst of this change, which is the peaking (and then falling) population growth rate:

Growth in world population from 1950 to 2100

Why has population growth been dropping since the 1960s?

A variety of explanations factor into this, including:

  • Falling fertility rates:
    Birth rates tend to fall as nations get richer. First, this happened in the developed world, but as the century progresses this phenomenon will impact more and more developing nations.
  • Government policy:
    China’s “One Child Policy” in particular had an effect on global population growth, and the aftermath of the policy is still contributing to a shrinking Chinese population over the long term.
  • Rural flight
    Urban dwellers tend to have fewer babies – and by 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities globally.

Fewer births combined with improving healthcare – especially in developing nations – will dramatically alter the composition of the world population pyramid, creating both economic opportunities and challenges in the process.

The Changing World Population Pyramid

The following graphic charts how these changes affect the makeup of the world’s population.

World Population Pyramid transition

Over time, the shape of the world population pyramid is expected to shift from Stage 1 (high birth rates, high death rates) to something closer to Stage 4 (low birth rates, low death rates).

As the population distribution skews older, here is how population size and global median age will change:

YearGlobal Population SizeMedian Age
19502.6 billion23.6 years
20187.6 billion30.0 years
20509.7 billion36.1 years
207510.7 billion39.0 years
210011.2 billion41.6 years

Dates past 2018 are projections by the United Nations

Global median age is projected to surpass 40 years by the end of the century, and it will be considerably higher in many Western nations, especially in Japan and Europe.

With the future demographic composition looking very different than today, it will be fascinating to see how the economy responds to these potential tailwinds. Further, it will be even more interesting to see what role automation will play as the old-age dependency ratio hits historic highs.

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