English is a West Germanic language that developed in England during the Anglo-Saxon era. As a result of the military, economic, scientific, political, and cultural influence of the British Empire during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries and of the United States since the mid 20th century, it has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world.
(sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language)
It is used extensively as a second language and as an official language in Commonwealth countries and many international organizations.
Historically, English originated from several dialects, now collectively termed Old English, which were brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers beginning in the 5th century. The language was influenced by the Old Norse language of Viking invaders. After the Norman conquest, Old English developed into Middle English, borrowing heavily from the Norman (Anglo-French) vocabulary and spelling conventions. The etymology of the word "English" is a derivation from 12th century Old English: englisc or Engle, and plural form Angles; definition of, relating to, or characteristic of England. Modern English developed from there notably with the Great Vowel Shift that began in 15th-century England, and continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of languages, as well as coining new words. A significant number of English words, especially technical words, have been constructed based on roots from Latin and ancient Greek.
Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language. English today is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. However, when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (depending on whether or not distinctions in the latter are classified as "languages" or "dialects"). Estimates that include second language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured.
Linguistics professor David Crystal calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.
The countries with the highest populations of native English speakers are, in descending order:
- United States (215 million)
- United Kingdom (61 million)
- Canada (18.2 million)
- Australia (15.5 million)
- Ireland (3.8 million)
- South Africa (3.7 million)
No figure is given for the number of native speakers, but it would be somewhere between the number of people who spoke English only (3,008,058) and the total number of English speakers (3,673,623), if one ignores the 197,187 people who did not provide a usable answer.
Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers ('Indian English').
Crystal claims that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world. Following India is the People's Republic of China.
Since it so widespread we do not have a separate category for it.
See the tables in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language for more detail of where and by how much it is spoken.