<email@example.com> wrote to me Thu, 08 Nov
2007 about the ratio of L1-L2 speakers in English, well worth quoting.
Needless to say, John is completely right !
. .However, I must take issue with your claim that the position of
English today is comparable uniquely with that of Latin. If there was
a period when Latin had more L2 than L1 speakers, it was surely during
Imperial times, when Latin was by no means dead but had not yet fully
differentiated into the Romance languages. There may well have been more
L2 speakers in Gaul, Britain, Africa, and the other western provinces
than native speakers throughout the empire.
But this was commonplace in pre-modern empires of every sort. It was
very likely true of Alexander's empire as well, and provably true of the
Persian Empire, which after abandoning dead Akkadian went on to adopt
Aramaic as the standard language of record-keeping and communication
throughout the empire, for if educated men were rare, actual Arameans
were even rarer.
In modern times, there are quite a few languages with more L2 than
L1 speakers: a googling of Ethnologue comes up with Afrikaans, Bulu
(Cameroon), Indonesian, Sango (Central African Republic), Sranan
(Surinam), Swahili, and Thai; there are undoubtedly more. Swahili is
particularly notable, with an L2/L1 ratio of almost forty to one.
Creoles that have become national languages also have this property:
almost everyone in Vanuatu speaks Bislama, but less than one in twenty
are native speakers. Admittedly none of these has the worldwide reach
of English, being confined to particular nations, as indeed were the
imperial languages, including Latin, listed above.
So I don't think any claim for Latin and English "cross[ing] anextraordinary threshold" can be sustained.
Thanks, John for this note - I stand corrected!
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