English is a West Germanic language originating in England, and the first language for most people in Australia, Canada, the Commonwealth Caribbean, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States (also commonly known as the Anglosphere). It is used extensively as a second language and as an official language throughout the world, especially in Commonwealth countries such as India, Pakistan, and South Africa, and in many international organisations.

Modern English is sometimes described as the global lingua franca.[1][2] English is the dominant international language in communications, science, business, aviation, entertainment, and diplomacy.[3] The influence of the British Empire is the primary reason for the initial spread of the language far beyond the British Isles.[4] Following World War II, the growing economic and cultural influence of the United States has significantly accelerated the spread of the language.

Because a working knowledge of English is required in certain fields, professions, and occupations, English is studied and spoken by up to a billion people around the world, to at least a basic level. English is one of six official languages of the United Nations.


Geographical distribution

See also: List of countries by English-speaking population

Over 380 million people speak English as their first language. English today is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.[5][6] However, when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese Languages, depending on whether or not distinctions in the latter are classified as "languages" or "dialects."[7][8] Estimates that include second language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined.[9][10] There are some who claim that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.[11]

The countries with the highest populations of native English speakers are, in descending order: United States (215 million),[12] United Kingdom (58 million),[13] Canada (17.7 million),[14] Australia (15 million),[15] Ireland (3.8 million),[13] South Africa (3.7 million),[16] and New Zealand (3.0-3.7 million).[17] Countries such as Jamaica, Nigeria and Singapore also have millions of native speakers of dialect continuums ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers ('Indian English') and linguistics professor David Crystal claims that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.[18] Following India is the People's Republic of China.[19]

English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (Canadian English), the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey (Guernsey English), Guyana, Ireland (Hiberno-English), Isle of Man (Manx English), Jamaica (Jamaican English), Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand (New Zealand English), Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom (various forms of British English), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the United States (various forms of American English).

In many other countries, where English is not the most spoken language, it is an official language; these countries include Botswana, Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, Hong Kong, India, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is also one of the 11 official languages that are given equal status in South Africa ("South African English"). English is also an important language in several former colonies or current dependent territories of the United Kingdom and the United States, such as in Hong Kong and Mauritius.

English is not an official language in either the United States or the United Kingdom.[20][21] Although the United States federal government has no official languages, English has been given official status by 30 of the 50 state governments.[22]

English as a global language

See also: Wikipedia:English on the Internet and Wikipedia:global language

Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "global language", the lingua franca of the modern era.[2] While English is not an official language in many countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world. Some linguists believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural sign of "native English speakers", but is rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow. It is, by international treaty, the official language for aerial and maritime communications, as well as one of the official languages of the European Union, the United Nations, and most international athletic organisations, including the International Olympic Committee.

English is the language most often studied as a foreign language in the European Union (by 89% of schoolchildren), followed by French (32%), German (18%), and Spanish (8%).[23]

Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world. English is also the most commonly used language in the sciences.[2] In 1997, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.

Dialects and regional varieties

The expansion of the British Empire and—since WWII—the primacy of the United States have spread English throughout the globe.[2] Because of that global spread, English has developed a host of English dialects and English-based creole languages and pidgins.




The English vocabulary has changed considerably over the centuries.[24]

Germanic words (generally words of German or to a lesser extent Scandinavian origin) which include all the basics such as pronouns (I, my, you, it) and conjunctions (and, or, but) tend to be shorter than the Latinate words of English, and more common in ordinary speech. The longer Latinate words are often regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive or superfluous use of Latinate words is, at times, considered by some to be either pretentious (as in the stereotypical policeman's talk of "apprehending the suspect") or an attempt to obfuscate an issue. George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" criticises this style of writing, among other perceived misuse of the language.

Number of words in English

Word origins

Writing system

Formal written English


  1. Terri Kelly (29 July 2004). From Lingua Franca to Global English. Global Envision. Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 David Graddol (1997). The Future of English?. The British Council. Retrieved on April 15, 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Graddol" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Graddol" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Graddol" defined multiple times with different content
  3. The triumph of English. The Economist (20 December 2001). Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
  4. Lecture 7: World-Wide English. EHistLing. Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
  5. Ethnologue, 1999
  6. CIA World Factbook, Field Listing - Languages (World).
  7. Languages of the World (Charts), Comrie (1998), Weber (1997), and the Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) 1999 Ethnologue Survey. Available at The World's Most Widely Spoken Languages
  8. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Mair
  9. English language. Columbia University Press (2005). Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
  10. http://www.oxfordseminars.com/Tesol/Pages/Teach/teach_20000jobs.php
  11. Not the Queen's English, Newsweek International, March 7 edition, 2007.
  12. U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, Section 1 Population (English) (pdf) 59 pages. U.S. Census Bureau. Table 14 gives the figure of 214,809 for those over four years of age who speak exclusively English at home. Based on the American Community Survey, these results exclude those living communally (such as college dormitories, institutions, and group homes), and by definition exclude native English speakers who speak more than one language at home.
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Second Edition, Crystal, David; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, [1995] (2003-08-03).
  14. Mother Tongue, 2001 Counts for Both Sexes, for Canada, Provinces and Territories - 20% Sample Data, Census 2001, Statistics Canada.
  15. 2001 Census QuickStats: Australia Main Language Spoken at Home. The figure is the number of people who spoke English only at home.
  16. Census in Brief, page 15 (Table 2.5), 2001 Census, Statistics South Africa.
  17. Languages spoken, 2006 Census, Statistics New Zealand. No figure is given for the number of native speakers, but it would be somewhere between the number of people who spoke English only (3,008,058) and the total number of English speakers (3,673,623), if one ignores the 197,187 people who did not provide a usable answer.
  18. Subcontinent Raises Its Voice, Crystal, David; Guardian Weekly: Friday November 19, 2004.
  19. Yong Zhao; Keith P. Campbell (1995). "English in China". World Englishes 14 (3): 377–390. Hong Kong contributes an additional 2.5 million speakers (1996 by-census]).
  20. Languages Spoken in the U.S., National Virtual Translation Center, 2006.
  21. U.S. English Foundation, Official Language Research -- United Kingdom.
  22. U.S. ENGLISH,Inc
  23. http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/policies/lang/languages/index_en.html
  24. For the processes and triggers of English vocabulary changes cf. English and General Historical Lexicology (by Joachim Grzega and Marion Schöner)


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}}. ISBN 0-415-28099-0. 

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}}. ISBN 1-55970-710-0. 

}}. ISBN 0-9787282-0-3. 

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}}. ISBN 0-521-53032-6. 

}}. ISBN 0-7139-9752-4. 

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}}. ISBN 0-521-53033-4. 

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}}. ISBN 0-340-55782-6. 

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}}.  [1]

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}}. ISBN 0-19-214183-X. 

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}}. ISBN 0-8047-2221-8. 

See also

External links

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