What does English have in common with Hindi? To the confused English-speaking traveller in India, not much. But the similarities are there, obvious enough if you look, in words that sound strikingly similar. That’s because both languages are part of the Indo-European language family. In fact, most of Europe and many parts of Asia speak an Indo-European language.
Around the world, 3.2 billion people speak an Indo-European language. That’s nearly 42% of the global population, and it makes Indo-European the most commonly spoken language family. There are 445 living Indo-European languages. Tribes who spoke Proto-Indo-European began spreading out through Asia and into Europe starting at around 4000 BCE. Their languages spread along with them.
However, not every European language is an Indo-European language. There are a few outliers, remanents of the cultures that existed before the Indo-European expansion.
Here are six European languages that are not part of the Indo-European language family.
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Finnish
Spoken in: Finland and parts of Sweden
Number of Native Speakers: 5.4 million
While Finland is considered a Nordic country, the Finnish language bears little resemblance to nearby languages like Swedish.
That’s because it’s not even in the same family. Finnish is part of the Finnic language branch of the Uralic language family. Long ago, before Indo-European speaking tribes arrived in Europe, near the Ural Mountains and the bend in the middle of the Volga River, people spoke a language called proto-Uralic. The Finnish language is descended from this ancient tongue.
Fun facts about Finnish:
- The first written example of Finnish was found in a German travel journal from 1460. It wasn’t written by a native Finnish speaker, and it perfectly captures the lament of many travellers to Finland. It reads “Mÿnna tachton gernast spuho somen gelen emÿna daÿda”, which translates to “I want to speak Finnish but I am unable).
- Horns up! With more heavy metal bands than any other country, Finland is the metal capital of the world. So, if there were a prize for the “most metal” language, Finnish would probably win.
- J. R. R. Tolkien used Finnish as the basis for Quenya, the language of the high elves in the Lord of the Rings.
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Hungarian
Spoken in: Hungary, of course, but also parts of Austria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.
Number of native speakers: 13 million
Like Finnish, Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family.
Fun facts about Hungarian:
- Hungarian has 14 vowels. No, really.
- The longest Hungarian word is Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért. It has 44 letters!
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Estonian
Spoken in: Estonia, primarily.
Number of native speakers: 1.1 million
Like Finnish, Estonian is a Finnic language and is part of the Uralic language family.
Fun facts about Estonian:
- Estonian syllables have three different lengths: short, long and “overlong.”
- The Estonian language has no genders and no future tense, leading Estonians to joke that their language has “no sex and no future.”
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Basque
Spoken in: Basque Country in Spain and France
Number of native speakers: 750,000
The Basque language is a language isolate- it is not related to any other known languages. Nobody quite knows where it comes from, though scholars believe that Basque predates the arrival of Indo-European speakers to the European continent.
Fun facts about Basque:
- Basque is one of the world’s oldest living languages.
- The British Foreign Office ranks Basque as the hardest language for English speakers to learn.
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Sámi
Spoken in: Parts of Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden
Number of native speakers: 30,000
Sámi is a group of closely-related languages spoken by the Sámi people. Traditionally, the Sámi were semi-nomadic and lived off the land, often by herding reindeer. The Sámi languages are in the same family as Finnish.
Fun facts about the Sámi languages:
- Ume Sami and Pite Sami are both in the top 10 most endangered languages in Europe.
- The Sami have at least 180 different words for snow and ice.
European Languages That Are Not Indo-European: Maltese
Spoken in: Malta
Number of native speakers: 520, 000
Unlike other European languages, the Maltese language evolved from Arabic and is classified as a Semitic language. Although it comes from Arabic, it has also been heavily influenced by Italian.
Fun facts about the Maltese language:
- Amongst the official languages of the European Union, Maltese is the only Semitic language.
- Maltese is the only Semitic language that’s written in the Latin script.
Whether you need to translate content into an Indo-European language or a non-Indo-European language, K International has you covered. Our expert native-speaking translators and other experts are here to be your voice in another language. Take a look at our language services and contact us for your next project.