My students always find it funny when I point out that I, as a native English speaker, am in the minority in our classroom. There are 359 million native speakers of English, but 470 million to 1 billion non-native speakers (depending on how the concept ‘non-native’ is calculated in terms of fluency). Whatever the specifics, native speakers of English are outnumbered 3 to 1.
English (365 million) is the third most spoken native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese (935 million) and Spanish (387 million). But if you count the non-native speakers, English is the world’s most spoken language.
This increasing use of the English language globally has had a large impact on many other languages, leading to language shifts and even language death and to claims of linguistic imperialism.
I can see the pressures on English from other languages but I can also notice in my own country (South Africa), where we have 11 official languages, that more and more people are speaking English. I am not a language purist by any means so I don’t mind the bastardisation (for want of a better word) of the English language – language is organic after all – but I mourn the daily death of small languages. By the year 2100, many linguists estimate that half of the world’s 6,912 distinct languages will be extinct. We can expect to lose a language every ten days; and behind each of these disappearances lies a story of cultural loss, sadness and isolation.