Monday, March 31, 2008

Speaking English

Steven Levitt, Freako-economist, posted this tempting morsel recently:

I got an email the other day from a blog reader who tells me that there are now more non-native English speakers than native English speakers.

Having silly expectations of writers, I foolishly assumed Levitt would tell us all WHERE this fact held true. If he is referring to The U.S., then it's quite a remarkable claim. China, not so much. He seems to be claiming that some change has occurred where a once predominately English speaking country is no longer so. Unfortunately, his post never answers this, rather he is just looking for a cute way to transition from a story about Malaysian baby names to a modestly humorous email about Jello. It's a blogger's prerogative to tease readers into reading on, so no harm done.

But, I can't help wondering just what was he referring to in his introductory sentence? Has Malaysia ever been predominantly English speaking? As far as I know, no. The current Ethnologue report says this: "National or official language: Malay. Also includes Burmese, Chinese Sign Language, Eastern Panjabi (43,000), Malayalam (37,000), Sylheti, Telugu (30,000)."

No English.

So, can any of you, dear readers, come up with a once predominately English speaking country that is no longer so? A nice little challenge.


Moses said...

I suspect that the figures are for world-wide English speakers, since the spread of English as a business language has dictated that it is the primary second language nearly everywhere.

The obvious single country is India, where the hundred of indigenous languages mean that the old colonial language is used as the best and most neutral means of communication, since to use Hindi is to accede to the idea that India is run from Delhi; whereas the most technically advanced regions are Gujurati-speaking.

Chris said...

Yeah, India was on my mind too, but then we're not quite talking about native-speakers (though the term "native-speaker" is filled with cans-of-worms).

True_Friend said...

There are more than 70% interactions/communications which take place between non-native speakers of English.
It's really a world language now.

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