World Status of the English Language

Linguistic Affiliation

English belongs to the Indo-European family like most languages spoken in Europe and northern India, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Within the Indo-European family, English belongs to the GERMANIC LANGUAGE GROUP together with German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic, etc. More particularly, English belongs to the Western Germanic language subgroup and bears particular affinity to Frisian, spoken in the Netherlands. It differs from the Germano-Dutch subgroup including German and its dialects, as well as Dutch. The northern Germanic language group includes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian (including Bokmål and Nynorsk), Faroese, and Icelandic.



Eastern Germanic Gothic (dead language since 14th century A.D.)
Western Germanic (1) Anglo-frisian: English and Frisian

(2) Germano-Dutch:

2.1 Low German: Northern German, Dutch and Flemish, Low Saxon, Afrikaans, etc.

2.2 High German

1) Middle German: Rhine Franconian (Lorraine, Palatine), Hessian, Moselle Franconian, Luxembourgish, Ripuarian, Thuringian, and Upper Saxon

2) Upper German: Standard German, South Bavarian, Swabian, Low Alemannic (Alsatian), High Alemannic, Upper Alemannic, East Franconian, Yiddish, and Pensilfaanisch

Northern Germanic Danish, Swedish, Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk), Faroese, Icelandic

Germanic languages share a common ancestor spoken by the Germanic peoples when they were concentrated in Northern Europe. This original language, called Common Germanic ( Urgermanisch in German), was used around 1000 A.D. We have no written texts in this language, which is to the Germanic languages what Latin is to the Romance languages. We know little about this donor language, but comparison of documented languages points to three linguistic subsets that arose through later fragmentation: Eastern Germanic (ostic languages), Western Germanic (westic languages), and Northern Germanic (nordic languages).

The table below briefly illustrates the similarities between certain Germanic languages:









(cheveux) hair Haar haar hår hår hår hár
(nez) nose Nase neus näsa nese næse nef
(pain) bread Brot brood bröd brød bröd brauð
(chapeau) hat Hut hoed hatt hatt hatt hattur
(table) table Tisch tafel bord bord bord borð
(venir) come kommen komen komma komme kom koma

While not all words in Germanic languages resemble each other, similarities are relatively normal. Still, many words differ from one Germanic language to the next, especially English due to its Latin and French influence.

English speakers

English is the mother language of an estimated 341 million people and the second language of 508 million people in over sixty countries and states where it enjoys the status of official or co-official language, including American Samoa, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, the British Virgin Islands, Cameroon, Canada, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guam, Guyana, Independent State of Samoa, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Niue, Norfolk Island, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tokelau, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The following table lists the states and countries where English is the official or co-official language, along with their total population, which does not reflect the actual number of English speakers:

States: 70
Countries: 56
Bilingual: (*)


Population (in millions)

Official Language(s)

Anguilla (U.K.) Americas 8,000 English
Antigua and Barbuda Africa 67,000 English
Australia Pacific 18,5 M English
Bahamas Americas 296,000 English
Barbados Americas 272,000 English
Belize Americas 230,700 English
Bermuda (U.K.) Americas 64,000 English
Botswana Africa 15,0 M English 
British Virgin Islands Americas 20,000 English
Cameroon* Africa 15,3 M French, English
Canada* Americas 29,6 M French, English
Cayman Islands (U.K.) Americas 39,000 English
Cook Islands (New Zealand) Pacific 19,000 English
Dominica Americas 87,000 English
Falklands (U.K.) Americas 2,000 English
Fiji * Pacific 796,000 English, Fijian
Gambia Africa 1,2 M English
Ghana Africa 19,1 M English
Gibraltar (U.K.) Europe 31,000 English
Hong-Kong* (China) Asia 6,1 M English, Cantonese
India* Asia 1,000 M Hindi, English
Ireland* Europe 3,9 M English, Irish
Jamaica Americas 2,7 M English
Kenya* Africa 29,0 M English, Swahili
Kiribati* Pacific 81,000 English, Kiribati
Lesotho* Africa 2,0 M English, Sesotho
Liberia Africa 3,0 M English
Malawi Africa 10,3 M English
Malta* Europe 360,000 English, Maltese
Marshall Islands (U.S.A.) Pacific 60,000 English
Mauritius Africa 1,1 M English
Micronesia (U.S.A.) Pacific 118,000 English
Montserrat (U.K.) Americas 11,000 English
Namibia* Africa 2,1 M English, Afrikaans
Nauru Pacific 10,000 English
New Zealand * Pacific 3,5 M English, Maori
Nigeria Africa 106,4 M English
Niue Island (New Zealand) Pacific 2,082 English
Norfolk Island (Australia) Pacific 1,700 English
Northern Marianas (U.S.A.) Pacific 84,000 English
Pakistan* Asia 141,5 M English, Urdu
Palau* (U.S.A.) Pacific 19,000 English, Palauan
Papua New Guinea Pacific 4,5 M English
Philippines* Asia 69,9 M English, Tagalog
Pitcairn (U.K.) Pacific 46 English
Puerto Rico* (U.S.A.) Americas 3,9 M Spanish, English
Rwanda* Africa 1,3 M Kinyarwanda, French, English
St. Kitts/Nevis Americas 55,000 English
St. Lucia Americas 164,000 English

St. Vincent

Americas 120,000 English
Samoa (independent) Pacific 214,000 English
Samoa (U.S.A.) Pacific 63,000 English
Seychelles* Africa 79,000 English, French, Creole
Sierra Leone Africa 4,7 M English
Singapore* Asia 3,4 M English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil
Solomon Islands Pacific 417,000 English
South Africa * Africa 39,3 M Afrikaans, English
Swaziland* Africa 952,000 English, Swati
Tanzania* Africa 34,8 English, Swahili
Tokelau (New Zealand) Pacific 1,000 English
Tonga* Pacific 98,000 English, Tongan
Trinidad/Tobago Americas 1,4 M English
Tuvalu* Pacific 110,000 English, Tuvaluan
Uganda Africa 22,2 M English
United Kingdom Europe 58,2 M English
United States Americas 274,0 M English
U.S. Virgin Islands Americas 94,000 English
Vanuatu* Pacific 191,000 English, French, Beach-la-Mar
Zambia Africa 10,1 M English
Zimbabwe Africa 11,3 M English

Countries where English is the majority mother tongue include the United States (76%), the United Kingdom (94.8%), Canada (59.3%), the Republic of Ireland (92.3%), Australia (95%), and New Zealand (91.4%). Together, these five countries form the foundation of English as a mother tongue in the world. They include approximately 306 million actual speakers and a potential of 374 million.

English is the mother tongue of a fairly insignificant portion of the population in all other countries except South Africa (5.7% or two million people). However, if we add the number of native English speakers in the countries listed above to those in India, Africa, and Oceania, the total increases from 306 million to 374 million. This is the number of English speakers (or anglophones) in the world, strictly speaking.

Below is a map of English-speaking countries in the world:

Source: Map reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. Mikael Parkvall
of Institutionen för lingvistik, University of Stockholm

English in Canada

English is the official language of Canadian federal bodies, together with French. According to the 2001 census, it is also the mother tongue of 59.3% of the population. Out of 29.6 million Canadians, 17.5 million are native English speakers, while 6.7 million are native French speakers (22.7%) and 5.2 million speak another mother tongue (17.6%). Representing nearly 60% of the population, anglophones are the linguistic majority in Canada.

Source: For more information, please see the Atlas of Canada at