How many speak English?

In Cecil’s column (“What’s the international language of business, French or English?”), he states that over 400 million people speak English (does this include the Aussies?) as their primary language and hundreds of millions more speak it as a second.

So, really, how many people speak English in the world, natively and non-natively?

As a little historical (histerical?) aside, didn’t French become the language of diplomacy after and as a result of Norman’s defeat of the English?

Yes, Cecil’s statement is correct, although since it is over 10 years old, the numbers would have to be raised somewhat.

French enjoyed its heyday in the 19th century, and is now learned by ever fewer people as a second language in Europe, despite all French attempts to change this. France still mangages to have its language be the 2nd official working language at the European Union, although only the French, Belgians and Luxembourgeois usually use it (and sometimes others speaking to them.) German is spoken by more people in Europe (nearly 100 million) and there has been talk of making German a working EU language as well.

Welcome to the SDMB, and thank you for posting your comment.

The column can also be found on pages 261-262 of Cecil Adams’ book “Return of the Straight Dope”.

Not as a result. It became the diplomatic language because France was the great power in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Not without rivals, to be sure.)

Now, the great power speaks a different language and French has been reduced to the secondary diplomatic language.

And the “suisses romands”. (Swiss people from the western part of the country.) And Monaco.

Of course, French is also a language often spoken in West Africa and Madagascar. I can’t think of any country besides Germany where German is a first or second language.

How bout Austria, Switzerland and others in that area?

German is also an official language in Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. That makes 5 European countries in which German has official status.

Just for fun, do you know which other /independent/ European country, other than Great Britain and Ireland, has English as an official language?

Thank you Nanook and TRH for making me look like an idiot! :stuck_out_tongue:

I should have said “any country that’s not an immediate neighbour of Germany” or “any country not part of the historic german-speaking part of the world.”

TRH: Isle of Man? Are you counting that as an independent country?

Yuck, maybe this will answer your question.

Incidentally, Arnold et al, the site I referenced above lists 16 countries where German is spoken. I’m not clear on their criteria, but it’s more than just “someone who speaks German lives here” because the US is not listed…

ren, what I should have said was “countries where German (or French) is an official language”.

This site lists 27 countries where French is an official language and 50 countries in which French is widely spoken. I don’t think their list is 100% accurate though, they have Vietnam as a country where French is an official language and don’t have Switzerland. I plan on e-mailing the site author and asking her to correct that.

I grant that there are many German speakers living in other countries, but besides Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg (to prevent yet another correction: and possibly a couple of other neighbouring countries), I can’t think of any country where German is an official language.

Ren, Thanks for the interesting link.

But, it doesn’t answer the question “really, how many?”

It certainly supports the “primary” speaker count offered originally by Cecil (apparantly leaving out Australia!), but , while it lists a bunch of countries where English is the secondary language, there are no counts.

Com’on, all, somebody must know!


yes it is… 6,093,054 German speakers (1970 census)

Many people (including myself) seemd to be confused about the meaning of the data on the Ethnologue site.

I spent some time over there trying to figure it out. So:

nebuli what I said was that the US is not listed as one of the countries where German is a primary language. You can see which countries are considered to have a language as primary by clicking on the 3-letter abbreviation from, for instance, the top-100 page. For “GER”, US is not listed. I dug around and found this explanation as to when to include a country and when not (emphasis mine):

I gather you were looking at the entry for the language itself, which lists speakers regardless of whether it is a first, second, or immigrant language. Arnold was originally asking about “first or second” languages. I believe this is the list you see when you select the 3-letter code.

Arnold, I liked your first wording of the question better. One of the problems with breaking down language usage along political (“official language” or “national language”) rather than sociological (“first language”) lines is that a lot of countries have never formally declared an “official” language. Also, in many cases there may be an official language, but there may be a significant population that speaks another language as a first language who are not immigrants. Switzerland is a really good example of a country where many languages are spoken natively. My point is that whether a language is spoken as a first language is far more significant than whether it is an official language.

finally, Yuck, yes that site does answer your question if you’re willing to do a little field work (again, emphasis mine):

I believe that’s as of 1970.

Gold star to dtilque: yup, Malta is the answer. The Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, etc., are all dependencies of Great Britain, not independent countries.

The longer I hang around all the smart people on the SDMB, the better I feel. Thank you all so much. MTS

Ren, Again, thank you the more.

I was familiar with the approximate 1970 count, but it is 30 years later and apparently English has grown in importance. I typically say that over a billion now speak English based on extrapolating the 1970 figures, but it is a wild guess.

By the way, if you consider Russia as “European,” apparently some town or whole district has independently declared English as the “offical” language so that thier children will have greater opportunities. I read (some time ago and I no longer have the ref) that they now conduct all official meetings in English and all classroom instruction is in English.

When one considers that business is communication, it makes sense!

Yes, but alas la Suisse has continued to reject membership to the EU (or should I say UE) thus far. Monaco is also not a member of the EU, but is more or less integrated into France.

German is spoken by more EU citizens (Germany, Austria) as a native language than any other, including English (UK, Ireland), yet is still not a working language of the organization (although translators are provided for all EU member languages, often creating chaos in Brussels.)

Ummmm…you might wanna lower your guess. On second look, the reference for the 470 million number appears to be more recent than 1970. Can’t see how I missed that the first time, what with it following directly after the number. ::slaps self on forehead::

Even so, assuming that another 530 million people acquired English in the last 30 years is a stretch…