The Indo-European language family is descended from Proto-Indo-European, which is believed to have been spoken thousands of years ago. Early speakers of Indo-European daughter languages most likely expanded into Europe with the incipient Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago (Bell-Beaker culture).
Romance languages, 20th century
Roughly 215 million Europeans (primarily in Southern and Western Europe) are native speakers of Romance languages, the largest groups including
French (c. 72 million),
Italian (c. 65 million),
Spanish (Castilian) (c. 40 million),
Romanian (c. 23 million),
Portuguese (c. 10 million),
Catalan (c. 9 million),
Sicilian (c. 5 million, also subsumed under Italian),
Venetian language (c. 4 million),
Galician (c. 2 million),
Sardinian (c. 1 million),
Occitan (c. 500,000),
besides numerous smaller communities.
The Romance languages are descended from varieties of Vulgar Latin spoken in the various parts of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. Latin was itself part of the (otherwise extinct) Italic branch of Indo-European.
Romance is divided phylogenetically into Italo-Western, Eastern Romance (including Romanian) and Sardinian. The Romance-speaking area in Europe is often referred to as Latin Europe.
We can further break down Italo-Western into the Italo-Dalmatian languages (sometimes grouped with Eastern Romance), including the Tuscan-derived Italian and numerous local Romance lects in Italy as well as Dalmatian, and the Western Romance languages. The Western Romance languages in turn separate into the Gallo-Romance languages, including French and its varieties (Langues d'oïl), the Rhaeto-Romance languages and the Gallo-Italic languages; the Occitano-Romance languages, grouped with either Gallo-Romance or East Iberian, including Occitan, Catalan and Aragonese; and finally the West Iberian languages (Spanish-Portuguese), including the Astur-Leonese languages, Galician-Portuguese and Castilian.
The present-day distribution of the Germanic languages in Europe: North Germanic languages West Germanic languages
Dots indicate areas where multilingualism
The Germanic languages make up the predominant language family in northwestern Europe.
An estimated 210 million Europeans are native speakers of Germanic languages, the largest groups being German (c. 95 million), English (c. 70 million), Dutch (c. 24 million), Swedish (c. 10 million), Danish (c. 6 million) and Norwegian (c. 5 million).
There are two extant major sub-divisions: West Germanic and North Germanic. A third group, East Germanic, is now extinct; the only known surviving East Germanic texts are written in the Gothic language. West Germanic is divided into Anglo-Frisian (including English), Low German and Low Franconian (including Dutch) and High German (including Standard German).
German and Low Franconian
German is spoken throughout Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, much of Switzerland (including the northeast areas bordering on Germany and Austria), northern Italy (South Tyrol), Luxembourg, and the East Cantons of Belgium.
There are several groups of German dialects:
Low German (including Low Saxon) is spoken in various regions throughout Northern Germany and the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands. It is an official language in Germany.
It may be separated into Low Saxon (West Low German) and East Low German.
Dutch is spoken throughout the Netherlands, the northern half of Belgium, as well as the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France, and around Düsseldorf in Germany. In Belgian and French contexts, Dutch is sometimes referred to as Flemish. Dutch dialects are varied and cut across national borders.
The Anglo-Frisian language family is now mostly represented by English (Anglic), descended from the Old English language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons:
The Frisian languages are spoken by about 500,000 Frisians, who live on the southern coast of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. These languages include West Frisian, Saterlandic, and North Frisian.
The North Germanic languages are spoken in Scandinavian countries and include Danish (Denmark), Norwegian (Norway), Swedish (Sweden and parts of Finland), or Elfdalian (in a small part of central Sweden), Faroese (Faroe Islands), and Icelandic (Iceland).
English has a long history of contact with Scandinavian languages, given the immigration of Scandinavians early in the history of Britain, and shares various features with the Scandinavian languages.
Political map of Europe with countries where the national language is Slavic. Pale green represents West Slavic languages, wood green represents East Slavic languages, and dark green represents South Slavic languages.
Slavic languages are spoken in large areas of Central Europe, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. An estimated 250 million Europeans are native speakers of Slavic languages, the largest groups being
Russian (c. 110 million in European Russia and adjacent parts of Eastern Europe, Russian forming the largest linguistic community in Europe),
Polish (c. 55 million),
Ukrainian (c. 40 million),
Serbo-Croatian (c. 21 million),
Czech (c. 11 million),
Bulgarian (c. 9 million),
Slovak (c. 5 million)
Belarusian and Slovene (c. 3 million each)
and Macedonian (c. 2 million).
Phylogenetically, Slavic is divided into three subgroups:
- West Slavic includes Polish, Czech, Slovak, Lower Sorbian, Upper Sorbian and Kashubian.
- East Slavic includes Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Rusyn.
- South Slavic is divided into Southeast Slavic and Southwest Slavic groups: Southwest Slavic languages include Serbo-Croatian and Slovene, each with numerous distinctive dialects. Serbo-Croatian boasts four distinct national standards, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian, all based on the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect; Southeast Slavic languages include Bulgarian, Macedonian and Old Church Slavonic (a liturgical language).
- Greek (ca. 13 million) is the official language of Greece and Cyprus, and there are Greek-speaking enclaves in Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, North Macedonia, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Turkey, and in Greek communities around the world. Dialects of modern Greek that originate from Attic Greek (through Koine and then Medieval Greek) are Cappadocian, Pontic, Cretan, Cypriot, Katharevousa, and Yevanic.
Distribution of the Baltic languages in the Baltic (simplified).
- Continental Celtic languages had previously been spoken across Europe from Iberia and Gaul to Asia Minor, but became extinct in the first millennium AD.
- The Indo-Aryan languages have one major representation: Romani (c. 1.5 million speakers), introduced to Europe in the late medieval period.
- The Iranian languages in Europe are natively represented in the North Caucasus, notably with Ossetian (ca. 600 000).