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Linguistic map of the world

Apart from the two largest families of languages, both fragmented on the map (Indo-European and Ural-Altaic, which includes Europe's Finno-Ugric languages), the main linguistic groups occupy precisely definable regions.

North Africa is the territory of languages classed as Afro-Asiatic, or sometimes Hamito-Semitic; of these the dominant one is Arabic, in the Semitic group. South of the Sahara the largest linguistic family is the Bantu group, of which Swahili - the lingua franca of the east coast - is the most widely known. The academic term for this entire very numerous group is Niger-Khordofanian.

The largest group of languages in east Asia is the Sino-Tibetan, covering China, Burma and Thailand. Peninsula and island regions of Asia include the Dravidian languages of south India; a southeast Asian linguistic family in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; Malayo-Polynesian from Malaya and Indonesia into the Pacific (but also including Madagascar on the other side of the India Ocean); and a small separate group in Korea and Japan.

The two remaining continents are predominantly Indo-European in their language groups as a result of colonial history. But both north and south America contain populations speaking American-Indian languages, and the aboriginal language survives in Australia.

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