In general, European languages can be split into three different categories – Germanic, Romance and Slavic. Germanic- and Slavic-based languages are mostly spoken in central and northern Europe, while Romance languages belong to western and southern Europe. The European Union contains 24 official languages, as well as many more “unofficial” ones – so let’s take a look at some surprising facts about them.
- There are roughly 225 indigenous languages in Europe alone, which comprise about 3% of the total languages spoken throughout the world (with most found in Asia and Africa).
- European languages have been in constant contact with each other over the last thousand years – mostly due to the fact that educated members of society travelled and spoke around five different languages.
- Although the core of English is the language of the Anglo-Saxons who settled in England during the 6th century, modern English has a very strong French influence. This is partly due to the 11th century conquests of England by the Normans. This originally Norse people had settled in France in the 10th century and mixed their Old Norse language with Latin and early French.
- European languages also tend to be related to each other like the members of a family. Most European languages belong to the large Indo-European family of languages that predominated in what is now the Middle East.
- Most European languages have a Latin alphabet, as Latin was once the common language spoken by all educated members of society in Europe. However, languages of countries that were very advanced in antiquity – such as Greece – have their own alphabets to this day.
- Due to a continuous movement of migrants and refugees over many centuries, most countries in Europe have a number of regional or minority languages – with some even obtaining official status. There are some 300 different languages spoken in London alone!
- In Europe as a whole, the languages most widely used are Arabic, Chinese and Hindi. These three languages also have their own alphabet and writing system.
- There are five languages with more than 50 million native speakers in Europe – Russian, German, French, Italian and English. However, English has the largest number of European speakers in total, including some 200 million speakers of English as a second language.
- The modern standardised Italian language was largely fixed during the process of Italian unification during the 19th century. Italian also happens to be one of the official languages of Switzerland; much Swiss Italian vocabulary stems from French.
- German contains the longest word of all European languages. This word is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which roughly translates as “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef”. However, the word has been said to be impractical due to – you guessed it – being too long.
Europe is a fantastic place, rich in history and landmarks with plenty of interesting things to do. While you are backpacking, come and check out our Bucksmore Three Capitals programme, combining English language learning with travel around the UK.