A sprachraum is an area or region defined by a common language or dialect. This word stems from German origins, and can be translated as "area of language." Sprachraum typically refers to all the places on earth where one single language or group of languages are spoken. It may also be used to describe a group of similar languages. For example, the West African sprachraum could refer to all languages spoken in the western region of Africa.
Geography has little impact on linguistics in many parts of the world, and sprachraum are often not defined by any borders. A single language may be spoken in countries around the world, even in areas that appear to have little common heritage. These regions typically result from exploration and settlement throughout history, where new people in an area bring their home language and customs with them rather than adopting any existing local language. For example, Portuguese in spoken not only in the country of Portugal, but also thousands of miles away in Brazil. This can be attributed to Portuguese conquistadors during the 16th century, who brought their native tongue to South America.
While a sprachraum may cover a large geographic area, it can also be very small and concentrated, such as with island linguistics or local dialects. One small area can also be home to many sprachraum, such as in Switzerland, where many languages are regularly spoken.
Groups of languages may also be referred to as a sprachraum, even if they share relatively little in common liguistically. For example, the Chinese speak many languages, but Chinese is often considered a single sprachraum. The same is true of the Arabic world, and parts of Africa that have their own unique dialects. This grouping often occurs due to shared history or proximity rather than language similarities.
Even very different languages that stem from a single origin can be considered a single sprachraum. This is often true of Romance languages, which all stem from Latin, yet have very different sounds. This type of classification can also occur when languages have a similar writing system or alphabet, even if they sound very different. For example, the English language reaches far and wide across the globe, from North America to Australia and Britain. Despite international variations and even local accents and slang, these dialects all belong to the English sprachraum.
The four biggest language groupings in the world are English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. Many other linguistic groupings of substantial size can also be found, such as the Scandanavian sprachraum, which extends throughout Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and a number of island nations. Other large linguistic groups include many Asian tongues, as well as India's Hindi, Bengali, and Tegulu throughout central Asia.