My gut feeling is that, of the 6,000+ languages, almost all of them, probably 90%+ have [s] (although I know that Tamil and Maori are exceptions), and that very few, probably 10% at most, have [θ].
He now returns to the question of [s].
The second question, about the non-occurrence of [s], was equally interesting, but harder to find an answer to. WALS (Ian Maddieson) doesn't investigate precisely this, but states that 8.7% of the sample contained no fricatives, and that if languages have only one fricative, it is usually [s]. In other words, the percentage of languages that do not have [s] is probably less than 10%.Fine. Over to you, my readers.
WALS states that languages that have no fricatives are mostly Australian aboriginal languages, and languages of New Guinea and the interior of South America. I ploughed through phonologies of other languages, and found some Pacific languages without [s]: Hawaiian, Maori, Nauruan, Tahitian and Tokelauan. Frankly, none of the above can be described as major world languages. The only major language without [s] seems to be Tamil.
Could I persuade you to ask your blog's audience whether they know of any other major world languages without [s]?
But first: why does Adam think that Tamil has no [s]? Sorry, but there are thousands of Tamil words containing this fricative. Here is the text of The North Wind and the Sun in Tamil, from the IPA Principles booklet (1949).You can see that the word for ‘sun’ is transcribed suːrijanum, and that the passage contains several other words containing s. OK, Tamil s may sound a bit ʃ-like sometimes, but it still counts as s and is still a fricative.
Perhaps the source of Adam’s misapprehension is this Wikipedia article, which unaccountably omits s from its list of consonants. Go to the Wikipedia article on Tamil phonology, however, and the omission is repaired.
For what it’s worth, the Tamil writing system includes the letters ஸ (Unicode TAMIL LETTER SA) as well as ஶ (SHA) and ஷ (SSA).
But there’s no mistake with the Australian and Polynesian languages, many of which do indeed lack s. Who can forget the Hawaiian version of ‘merry Christmas’, meli kalikimaka?
Since Hawaiian has no s, the medial and final fricatives of Christmas are rendered as k.
Christmas Island in Kiribati, on the other hand, becomes kiritimati. As with the name Kiribati (< Gilberts) itself, this demonstrates the fact that in Gilbertese (like Hawaiian, a Polynesian language) there is no phoneme /s/ as such, although /t/ before i is assibilated to [s]. So English s is rendered as /ti/ and written ti; and we, in return, are supposed to pronounce Kiribati as ˈkɪrɪbæs (though we mostly don’t).