Language Map of Europe: Discover and Explore its History

Indo-European languages are the most spoken, but the Uralic languages and Basque also define multilingualism
Thalita Lima
8 min
Table of Contents


Language Map of Europe

Language Families

What’s the difference between language and dialect?

Playing with the language map

Multilingualism is a relevant aspect of cultural diversity in Europe. It’s an essential part of its cultural heritage and very important for education and social life. No wonder multilingualism is present in various university programmes and in the work of big institutions. 

Many Europeans are bilingual or multilingual. The most spoken languages are Russian, German, French, English, Spanish, Italian and Turkish, which is related to the populous countries where these languages spread.

The EU (European Union) has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. 

Check out in the map below to see how these languages are distributed across the European territory. 

Language Map of Europe

Map showing minority/majority languages.Image by

Language Families


It’s estimated that 94% of Europeans speak languages from the “Indo-European” (IE) language family, which has many subfamilies, such as Romance languages, Germanic languages, Slavic languages and Celtic languages. 

The “Indo” part shows that it also has an Eastern branch, indicating that the origin of the Indo-European language is around the Black Sea and the Caucasian Mountains in Eastern Europe.

Finno-Ugric languages

The second major family is Finno-Ugric languages, which is a traditional grouping of all languages in the Uralic language family, except the Samoyedic languages.

From this family comes languages such as Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Sami, just to name a few. The Uralic languages may have originated in the area of the Ural Mountains, a range of mountains in Russia that typically define the border between Europe and Asia.

The languages of this group are spoken nowadays in Northeast Europe and Eastern Europe.


Turkic languages may have originated from further east Asia, in the regions around Mongolia. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between the Turkic languages, among the various Oghuz languages (a subfamily), which include Turkish, spoken in Southeast Europe as in Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and others parts in the Balkans.

Outside the line of large families we have small representants that are worth highlighting: 

The Basque

Represents an isolated language, because there are no existing relatives. It’s grammatically more similar to Turkic or Caucasian languages than to the Indo-European family. Is the official language in the autonomous communities Basque country and Navarre, in the north of Spain. 

The linguistic families of Caucasus

The language families of the North and South Caucasus are important in the southeastern tip of the European continent. It includes smaller families such as Georgian and Chechen.

What’s the difference between language and dialect?

Image by

A language differs one from another in terms of vocabulary, morphology and phonology. Even if two languages came from the same origin, to be considered a language, each one must be unique. On the other hand, the dialect is just the standard language pronounced in a different way

This can be confusing to distinguish in real life, because we tend to call a dialect a proper language or to identify another language when there’s actually just a different accent. 

For example, in Italy there are many languages that developed independent from standard Italian, especially in the Northeast, such as Lombardi, Venetian, Ligurian. They are languages, not dialects. But because of the native language differences, the speakers may have different Italian accents in each region. In this case, there are dialects of italian. 

Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin are all pretty similar to Serbian-Croatian, but they are different languages. The same occurs with Macedonian and Bulgarian.

Playing with the language map

The similarities and differences between languages can be better illustrated when you put some words side by side.

There is an interactive European language map, created by James Trimble of UK Data Explorer, that allows you to play with words. We’ve tested the word “work” among the European languages. 

Check out how it looks on a map.

The Interactive European language map

It’s evident the similarities between the word in romance languages, such as French (travail), Spanish (trabajo) and Portuguese (trabalho). We can tell the same about the similarities between the Germanic languages such as Swedish (arbete), Norwegian (arbeid) and Danish (arbejde). This is not only because of technical linguistic reasons.

Taking the main groups in the Indo-European family, you can see that the Romance languages, descendents from a vernacular Latin, shared a heritage left behind by the Roman Empire. While the Germanic tribes are known for having been Barbarians in the Roman Empire, e.g. Franks, Lombards, Vandals. As well some Northern languages are associated with vikings and all nordic culture. 

The cultural and the language origins are super interrelated. That’s why exploring the Language Map of Europe is about traveling throughout the continent's history. 

Thalita Lima
Passionate about languages and the power of localization to connect minds. Journalist, writer, photographer, and ecology student
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