Instituto Cervantes: Spanish now second-most spoken language by number of native speakers

Monday, October 24, 2011

From an article here in Spanish, one that mentions something I wrote about a short while ago: that the future of Spanish is very closely tied up with its progress in the US and Brazil, but also very much to do with Mexico and whether it can ever straighten itself out.

Spanish is the official language of 21 countries. In others, such as the United States, it is showing an unstoppable rise, while often being maligned and undervalued. Spanish is now the world's second-most spoken language by native speakers, only behind Chinese and ahead of English. More than 450 million speak Spanish, a number that will increase: in 2030, 7.5% of the world will speak Spanish (note: 450 million now represents 6.4%), and in 2050 the United States will have become the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. All these figures come from the report "El español, un lengua viva" developed last year by the Instituto Cervantes. The report is optimistic about the strength of the language and argues that now "in the moment where global society requires one to be in contact with the most diverse parts of the planet, all data confirm that it is one of the three or four large languages that channel international relations." Its prestige, says the report, will only grow.

Then a paragraph or two about how Spanish was always looked down on as the "Latin of the poor" and had little prestige compared to other Romance languages for a number of centuries...

In addition to the 21 countries where it is the official language, there are two others, the United States and Brazil, where this language has a growing importance.

Remaining issues for Spanish: Europe, where its importance in universities and the business world is still well behind English, French and German, and the internet, where its use is only 7% compared to English at 70%.

What? Spanish at 7% and English at 70%? Impossible - there are about 2 billion internet users in the world and a quarter of them are Chinese. Let's take a closer look at the report itself:

Hm...weird. The report itself doesn't mention any 70% number for English on the internet. The closest thing to it is a chart at the end showing the number of indexed pages per language from 1998 to 2007 where English was once at 75%, but quickly fell to 60% the next year (1999) and to 45% in 2007. Interestingly, the chart shows this during the same time period:

Spanish went from 2.53% to 3.8%
French went from 2.81% to 4.41%
The "rest" went from 13.44% to 36.54%. For some reason this "rest" is never broken down into its constituent parts even though Romanian receives its own section, going from 0.15% to 0.28%.

Some parts of the report are quite good though; I may summarize it in more detail in the near future.


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