Episode 20 – Language Families

In this episode I talk about language families – what they are, and how they develop, and I introduce some major and minor language families.

According to Wikipedia, a language family is “a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family”.

According to Ethnologue there are currently 142 different language families and 7,111 living languages. The ten largest languages families account for about 88% of the world’s population, and 74% of the world’s languages.

[table id=1 /]

Here’s an illustration a the family tree of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages:

Elvish language family

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvish_languages_(Middle-earth)

More information about language families

The tune featured in this episode

Dancing Donkeys / Asynnod sy’n Dawnsio

See the score for this tune

Costa Pacifica

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

Episode 14 – Alphabets and Writing Systems

Most people know, or at least have some idea what an alphabet is, but many people might not be so familiar with abjads, abugidas, syllabaries and other writing systems. In this episode I explain what these words mean, and how these writing systems work. I also talk a bit about the history of writing.

Here are some definitions:

Alphabet – a set of letters or other signs, usually arranged in a fixed order, used to represent the phonemes (sounds) of a language [source].

Some alphabets

Abjad – a type of writing system where each symbol stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel [source]. Also known as a consonant alphabet. Long vowels can be indicated by consonants, and short vowels can be indicated by lines, dots and other squiggles added to the consonants letters. When written with the short vowel symbols, they are said to be ‘vocalised’. Normally they are written ‘unvocalised’.

Some abjads

Abugida – a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary [source]. Also known as a syllabic alphabet or alphasyllabary.

Some abugidas

Syllabary – a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words [source].

Some syllabaries

Logograph – a single written symbol that represents an entire word or phrase without indicating its pronunciation [source].

Some Mayan logograms

Ideograph – a graphic character that indicates the meaning of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it [source].


Pictograph – a picture representing a word, phrase, or idea, especially one used in early writing systems. A picture or symbol standing for a word or group of words [source].

The development of the Chinese character for horse

Evolution of the character for horse

The tunes featured in the episode are:

The Blackbird’s Tail / Cynffon yr Aderyn Du

The Dragon’s Fancy / Mwmpwy y Ddraig

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

Episode 8 – Polyglottery

This epsiode is about polyglottery and was partly recorded at the 2018 Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana in Slovenia.

I talk about what is a polyglot, how many languages you have to speak to call yourself a polyglot, and discuss what polyglots get up to, including the Polyglot Conference and other polyglot events, such as the Polyglot Gathering and LangFest. There are also some sound bites from participants in the conference in a variety of languages.

Definitions of polyglot:

Definitions of polyglottery:

Other takes on polyglottery

Websites of some of the people who took part in the episode

If you took part in this podcast and have a website, blog, YouTube channel, etc that you’d like to see included here, let me know in the comments.

Videos from Polylgot events

More videos from the Polyglot Conference

More videos from the Polyglot Gathering

My photos and videos from polyglot events


Tunes featured in this episode