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What nations have English as a native language?
English is the world’s third most widely spoken native language, behind Mandarin (Chinese) and Spanish, and spoken by more people than any other language.
During the 17th century, English gained hold across the globe, owing primarily to the influence of the British Empire and the United States, and has since become the dominant language of international discourse and commerce.
English language’s history
English is a West Germanic language that evolved in the North Sea region of Europe, which encompasses modern-day nations such as Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the United Kingdom (among others).
English, Dutch/Flemish, German, Afrikaans, Yiddish, and the lesser-known Frisian are the six West Germanic languages.
The origins of English as we know it may be traced back to Germanic tribes that moved to the United Kingdom approximately 400-500 CE.
The language they created is known as Old English, and it differs significantly from modern English in terms of word order, spelling, and the usage of letters like ash (ae) and eth (), all of which have since been obsolete.
During the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, this language developed into Middle English, influenced by Latin, Old Norse, and French.
The spelling of Middle English is far more accessible to contemporary eyes. However, the the-sounding letter thorn, now spelled as (not to be confused with p), had not yet been replaced by Y.
Around the 1500s, Middle English began to give way to Modern English, which is still changing and evolving. Today’s writing, for example, is littered with acronyms, abbreviations, inventive punctuation & capitalization, and emojis that did not exist a century ago.
The Top 10 Countries with English as a First Language (by total population 2021)
- United States — 332,915,073
- United Kingdom — 68,207,116
- Canada (except for Quebec) — 38,067,903
- Australia — 25,788,215
- Liberia — 5,180,203
- Ireland — 4,982,907
- New Zealand — 4,860,643
- Jamaica — 2,973,463
- Trinidad and Tobago — 1,403,375
- Guyana — 790,326
It’s vital to remember that only nations where English is the predominant language are included in this list. This has a big influence on which nations make a list.
The list would vary dramatically if it were extended to include nations where English is not the native language but is commonly spoken as a “lingua franca,” or common language.
The World’s Top 10 English-Speaking Countries (as primary or lingua franca 2021)
- India — 1,393,409,038
- United States — 332,915,073
- Pakistan — 225,199,937
- Nigeria — 211,400,708
- Philippines — 111,046,913
- United Kingdom — 68,207,116
- Tanzania — 61,498,437
- South Africa — 60,041,994
- Kenya — 54,985,698
- Canada — 38,067,903
The importance of English in today’s world
English is the world’s most widely used language for commerce, diplomacy, and international communication. It is one of the United Nation’s six official languages, and it is also spoken by the International Olympic Committee, the European Free Trade Association, as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
It is the most extensively taught foreign language in the world and the most often used language in scientific investigations, with nearly half of all English-language science literature produced by researchers who do not speak English as their first language.
As a result of this widespread acceptance, English has been declared the de jure official language in several nations.
This means that it is legally acknowledged as the official language. English is commonly the official language but not the predominant language in several nations, notably in Africa, where governments may contain dozens of regional languages.
This implies that although English is acceptable for usage in business, education, and government documents, it is not the most generally spoken language in the country. This is the situation in countries like India and Pakistan.
There are other countries where English is a de facto national language, meaning that it is spoken and used although it is not recognized by legislation.
This is particularly true in nations where English is not the official language. For example, in the United States, although English is the most widely used language, the nation has no officially proclaimed official language at the federal level.
As a result, English has taken on the de facto national language role. With an estimated population of 332 million people, the United States is the most populous country where English is a de facto national language.
The “Three Circles” of English
Linguist Braj Kachru created the three rings model in the mid-1980s to depict the spread of English and the varying degrees toward which English is prominent in each nation.
The model depicts English as a bulls-eye of three different-sized circles placed concentrically. While even Kachru agrees that certain edge situations don’t fit neatly into any of the three rings, his model nevertheless fits the vast majority of the world’s nations with only three categories:
The Inner Circle – The smallest circle, this area contains nations where English is the prevalent language: primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and most of Canada.
The Inner Circle is the “norm-setting” circle in which native speakers continue to improve the norms and use of the language.
The Outer Circle – This perplexingly titled circle is the second of three, nestled among smaller and bigger siblings. The Outer Circle comprises nations with limited native English-speaking populations and substantial usage of English as a second language.
Although English is not the main or mother tongue, it is extensively utilized as a lingua franca for commerce and business and a bridge language for individuals who speak various original languages.
India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Kenya, Jamaica, and Papua New Guinea are among the countries in the Outer Circle, Singapore, where English is so widely spoken that it may soon become the main language.
The Outer Circle is also known as the “norm-developing” circle since it embraces but also questions the Inner Circle’s norms.
The Circular Expansion — The Expanding Circle is the biggest of them all, including nations where English has little historical or cultural significance and is neither a primary nor a bridge language—yet is widely used as a foreign language, generally for commerce.
Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and most of the globe are all part of the Expanding Circle. Because it depends on the other circles to identify correct language use, the Expanding Circle is commonly referred to as the “norm-dependent” circle.
|Country||Is Primary?||De facto?||De jure?||Notes|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bahamas||Yes||Yes||Yes||English-based creole dialect is widely spoken.|
|Barbados||Yes||Yes||Yes||Spoken dialect, Bajan, is heavily evolved.|
|Botswana||No (Setswana)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: English and Tswana. English is official written language.|
|Burundi||No (Kirundi)||No||Yes (see note)||Three official: Kirundi, French, and English.|
|Cameroon||No||No||Yes||Two official: English and French, with dozens of languages spoken.|
|Canada||Yes (see note)||Yes||Yes||Primary except in Quebec.|
|Eritrea||No||No||Yes (see note)||Three official: Tigrinya, Arabic, English.|
|Eswatini||No (Swazi)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: English, Swazi|
|Fiji||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Fijian and Hindi. Widespread lingua franca, business, and educational usage.|
|Gambia||No (Mandinka)||No||Yes||English is main official language for government and education.|
|Ghana||Many (see note)||Yes||Yes||Country has 80+ native languages, English is primary by default.|
|Grenada||Yes (see note)||Yes||Yes||Primary except in small French Creole population.|
|Guyana||Yes||Yes||Yes||Guyana is the only South American country to choose English as its official language.|
|India||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Hindi, English. Neither is legally declared the national language.|
|Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes (see note)||Two official: Irish, English.|
|Kenya||No (Kiswahili)||Yes||Yes (see note)||68 languages. English and Kiswahili are official, Kiswahili is national. English is primary in business and education.|
|Lesotho||No (Sesotho)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Sesotho, English.|
|Liberia||Many (see note)||Yes||Yes||20+ languages. English is primary by default.|
|Malawi||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Chichewa, English.|
|Malta||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Maltese, English.|
|Mauritius||No (Mauritian Creole)||No||Yes (see note)||English and French both named in Constitution.|
|Micronesia||No (Chuukese)||Yes||Yes||18+ languages. English is official language and lingua franca.|
|Namibia||No (Oshiwambo dialects)||No||Yes (see note)||13 national languages, including English.|
|Nigeria||Many (see note)||Yes||Yes||Country has 500+ native languages, English is primary by default.|
|Pakistan||No (Punjabi)||No||Yes (see note)||English is official and lingua franca.|
|Papua New Guinea||No (Tok Pisin)||No||Yes (see note)||Three official: Tok Pisin, English, Hiri Motu.|
|Philippines||No (Filipino)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Filipino, English.|
|Rwanda||No (Kinyarwanda)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Kinyarwanda, English.|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Yes||Yes||Yes||Main spoken dialect is English-based creole.|
|Saint Lucia||No (Creole French)||No||Yes|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Yes||Yes||Yes||English-based creole dialect is widely spoken.|
|Samoa||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Samoan, English.|
|Seychelles||No (Seychellois Creole)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Seychellois Creole, English.|
|Sierra Leone||No (Krio)||Yes||Yes||Official and one of several lingua francas.|
|Singapore||Yes||Yes||No (Malay)||Two official: English, Mandarin. Widespread lingua franca, business, and educational usage.|
|Solomon Islands||No||Yes||Yes||120 native languages. English is official, but spoken by 1-2%|
|South Africa||No (Zulu)||No||Yes (see note)||One of 11 official languages. Also lingua franca in formal economy.|
|South Sudan||No (Nuer/Dinka)||No||Yes||More than 60 languages. English is lingua franca and official language.|
|Sudan||No (Arabic)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Arabic, English.|
|Tanzania||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Kiswahili/Swahili, English.|
|Tonga||No (Tongan)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Tongan, English. nearly 90% of population speaks both.|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Yes||Yes||Yes||Multilple dialects, including two main creole variants.|
|Tuvalu||No (Tuvaluan)||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: Tuvaluan, English.|
|Uganda||No||No||Yes (see note)||Two official: English, Swahili. Many languages spoken.|
|Vanuatu||No||No||Yes (see note)||Three official: Bislama, English, French. 100+ local languages.|
|Zambia||No (Bemba)||No||Yes||70+ languages and dialects.|
|Zimbabwe||No (Shona)||No||Yes (see note)||16 official: Shona, Ndebele, English, + 13 minority languages.|
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