By John Chandler
Last column, I wrote about global trends in spoken languages. I’d like to follow up with observations from writer David Pegg about which of these languages are waxing and waning in global influence. Ranking by impact rather than simple numbers, here’s Pegg’s top 10:
#10: Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu). Different scripts, but 200 million native speakers, and often paired with English.
#9: Japanese. 120 million speakers, mostly confined to Japan because of how hard the language is to learn. But globally influential because of Japan’s economic clout worldwide.
#8: German. Typically the academic language of science and industry with technically oriented students around the globe having to learn it in order to pursue their careers. Lost influence after the World Wars, but as one of the world’s strongest economies still wields clout.
#7: Portuguese. 200 million people worldwide and the most popular language in the Southern Hemisphere (alongside English and Spanish). Ascending as Brazil emerges as a world power.
#6: Russian. 200 million native speakers and understood throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. A bit of a wildcard due to unpredictable global influence.
#5: Mandarin. Why #5 instead of #1, especially with a billion native speakers (three times as much as any other language)? Because it isn’t spoken widely beyond Southeast Asia other than in Taiwan or Chinese communities in other parts of the world. But Mandarin very well may begin to flex its muscles in the near future, depending on its rise and fall in world economics.
#4: Arabic. Along with English and French, the most international language largely due to its position as the language of Islam. Spoken as a second language by hundreds of million people around the globe.
#3. Spanish. Rapidly gaining on French. 400 million native speakers, lingua franca of nearly 20 countries, and spoken all over the world as a second language.
#2. French. Although it has lost considerable ground to English over the last century, and is losing ground daily to Spanish, French still has official language status in 25 countries and is the lingua franca after English used by many international organizations.
#1. English. Although only 500 million native speakers, almost 2 billion people in the world communicate in English on a regular basis. Guess where most of those English speakers live? Hint — the same country whose primary language is #5.
So if you are an English speaker, the next time you are in what seems like a big argument, remember this and relax: at least three quarters of the world will have no idea of what you are talking about.