93, Vol. 24, No. 1 (March 2008). Printed in the United Kingdom © 2008 Cambridge University
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth –the first, thatis, from 1558 to 1603 –the number of Englishspeakers in the world is thought to have beenbetween 5 and 7 million. At the beginning of the reign of the second Queen Elizabeth in1952, the figure had increased almost fiftyfold.In 1962, Randolph Quirk estimated in
The Useof English
that 250 million had English as amother tongue, with a further 100 million usingit as a second or foreign language.Fifteen years later, and we find Joshua Fish-man and his colleagues, in
The Spread of Eng-lish
, citing 300 million for the mother tonguecategory. A further 300 million is said to use itas an additional language. These figures are theones which are repeatedly quoted throughoutthe statistically-conscious 1970s. They areadopted by Bailey and Görlach as recently as1982, in their
English as a World Language
. Butthey are now very much out of date. In 1984,several sources collected by the Centre forInformation on Language Teaching in Londonindicated that the figure would have to beraised by 100 million. One analysis, quite oftenreferred to, gives mother-tongue use as 300million, second language use also as 300 mil-lion, and foreign language use as 100 million.This was the total used by Quirk in his addressto the British Council’s anniversary conferenceon ‘Progress in English Studies’ in September1984. So, there we are. 700 million.But actually, there we aren’t. For in Erik Gun-nemark and Donald Kenrick’s geolinguistichandbook,
What Language Do They Speak?
,published privately in 1983, we are given adetailed list of English speaker totals. The homelanguage total is unremarkable –they cite ‘over300 million’. It is the figure for English as an‘official language’ which grabs the eye: over1,400 million! Allowing a further 100 millionfor speakers as a foreign language, we herereach a total not far off a third of the current world population. Has this enormous jump inthe estimates, from 700 to 1400 million, any justification?Guinnemark and Kenrick do provide one cluethat their total may be less dramatic than itseems. Their figure, they say, ‘includes some800 million inhabitants in countries where Eng-lish is an associated official language (above allIndia)’. Ah, India. A country whose populationincreased by a quarter between 1971 and 1981.The 1983 population estimate for India was698 million –a convenient figure for me to usein the present discussion, as it relates very nicely to the 700 million difference cited above.Indeed, it is already an underestimate, when werecall the world growth rate of 1.8 per cent. Or,to put this another way,
if this article takes you aquarter of an hour to read, you must revise yourestimate of India’s population upwards by 4,000.
The significance of India is obvious, when
DAVID CRYSTAL is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at theUniversity of Bangor, andworks from his home in Holyhead, North Wales,dividing his time betweenauthorial writing on languageand editorial management in general reference publishing. Recent books on Englishinclude ‘By Hook or By Crook: A Journey in Searchof English’ (HarperCollins, 2007) and ‘Think on my Words: Exploring Shakespeare’s Language’ (CUP, 2008). For further information, see the websitehttp://www.davidcrystal.com<http://www.davidcrystal.com%22>
Two thousand million?
Updates on the statistics of English
Excerpt from David Crystal,
How many millions use English?