The top 10 languages Superman would know

Superman, of course, is not just an American hero, but the world’s hero at large. As such, there’s been various stories showing his interacting with people all around the world. Of course, not everyone speaks English, so how does Superman interact with the people he’s saving?

Superman’s language skills

Spanish version of "World's Finest" #203
Spanish version of “World’s Finest Comics” #203 (June 1971), published in Mexico. Art by Neal Adams.

In Silver and Bronze Age comics, Superman’s super-intelligence allowed him to learn every language (both major and minor) on Earth. Modern comics have dialed back his super-intellect, but he’s still learned Earth’s major languages. In both cases, it’s so Superman can easily converse with anyone he comes across.

Superman also usually knows Interlac, the galaxy-wide “standard” language shown in many DC Comics. Interlac is most prominently seen in the 30th/31st century-set Legion of Super-Heroes stories.

Finally, Superman also speaks the (obviously now-dead) language of Krypton. Silver/Bronze Age comics called it “Kryptonese,” though 2000s stories and media spin-offs called it “Kryptonian.” I don’t mind the term Kryptonese, though I can see why some would favor Kryptonian. In real life, the word “Italian” refers to the language and the people. The same goes for the terms Russian, Korean, and German. On the other hand, Brazil mainly speaks Portuguese. And of course there’s Chinese, the world’s most spoken native language.

The top 10 languages with the most native speakers

Of interest for this post are the real languages Superman’s most likely to encounter during his global adventures. What languages are those? Here’s a list of the 10 languages with the most native speakers. Information is taken from Ethnologue, and figures are as of this writing.

  • Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers)
  • Spanish (399 million native speakers)
  • English (335 million native speakers)
  • Hindi (260 million native speakers)
  • Arabic (242 million native speakers)
  • Portuguese (203 million native speakers)
  • Bengali (189 million native speakers)
  • Russian (166 million native speakers)
  • Japanese (128 million native speakers)
  • Punjabi (88.7 million native speakers)

All of the above total about 3.2 billion speakers, or 44% of the world’s population (7.3 billion people, as of July 2015).

Other popular languages

Reaching at least 50% of the world’s population will require Superman to learn even more languages. The following are the next most natively spoken languages, in decreasing order.

  • Javanese (84.3 million native speakers)
  • German (78.1 million native speakers)
  • Korean (77.2 million native speakers)
  • French (75.9 million native speakers)
  • Telugu (74 million native speakers)
  • Marathi (71.8 million native speakers)

That totals 3.67 billion people, or 50.3% of the world’s population.

Conclusion

In general, Superman will want to learn a minimum of 15 extra languages, in addition to English, Interlac, and Kryptonese/Kryptonian.

There’s currently an estimated 7,100 different languages spoken on Earth. However, many less widely spoken languages are facing endangerment or extinction. It’d be an interesting story to see Superman helping to preserve one of these endangered languages. However, I suppose it’d be at odds with modern superhero stories’ heavy emphasis on action.

(Updated 6/13/17)

5 comments

    1. Of course, Superman would also have to learn the different dialects/variations of said languages, as well—what’s collectively labelled “Chinese” has multiple versions.

        1. Since the Fortress of Solitude has computers in pretty much every version, I’d assume Superman knows something about programming. (He was even pushing TRS-80s in a few Radio Shack giveaway comics in the 80s!) Of course, Supes could also get help from Batman and/or Barbara Gordon, depending on continuity…

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