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Two thousand million?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2008

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Updates on the statistics of English. Starting with excerpt from David Crystal, How many millions use English? (ET1, 1985). The author says: Reading this article again, that almost a quarter of a century on, the most noticeable change, it seems to me, has been in the amount and colour of the author's hair! That aside, I am struck by my final comment: ‘I shall stay with this figure for a while’ – a billion. It appears I stayed with it for a decade. In the first edition of my English as a Global Language (1997: 61) I raised my estimate, suggesting a middle-of-the-road figure of 1,350 million. In the second edition (2003: 69), a ‘cautious temperament’, I said, would suggest 1,500 million. And these days, having read the more sophisticated assessments by David Graddol and others, I am prepared to revise upwards again in the direction of 2 billion. In short, we have moved in 25 years from a fifth to a quarter to a third of the world's population being speakers of English.

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