The Atlantic

A Language's Popularity Could Influence Its Grammar and Vocabulary

The number of people who speak a language seems to affect how new words and structures spread.
Source: Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters

It’s a peculiar observation that the more people speak a language, the simpler its grammar tends to be. English and Mandarin, for instance, have notably straightforward structures. On the other hand, languages spoken in just a single mountain valley or village can have gorgeously intricate grammars, full of gender and cases and declensions. They also tend to have rather small vocabularies. Meanwhile, the vocabularies of widely

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic7 min readPolitics
Why Steve Bullock Refuses to Drop Out
Members of the Clinton diaspora are pleading with the Montana governor to stay in the race, even if the rest of the country doesn’t know who he is.
The Atlantic6 min readPsychology
Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers
They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers. Joining their tribe
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
The End of Netanyahu’s Unchecked Reign
The results yielded no clear path to a governing coalition, but represented a rejection of two dangerous ideas.