Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 375

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 375

more than tripled its users, and French barely doubled them. Perhaps all of the figures in the table are excessive; that is almost certainly true of German, and probably also true of English and French. The same authority, in 1921, modified them as follows:
Portuguese30,000,000 7
  I am inclined to think that the German estimate is still far too high; probably even Hickmann’s 90,000,000 is too liberal. The number of Germans in Germany is about 60,000,000, and in German Austria not more than 6,000,000 or 7,000,000. Add the German-speaking inhabitants of Holstein, Alsace-Lorraine, the lost portions of Silesia and the Dantzig territory: perhaps 3,000,000 more. Then the German-speaking peoples of the Baltic region, of Transylvania and of Russia: at most, 2,000,000. Then the German-speaking colonists in North and South America: 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 more. Altogether, I put the number of living users of German at less than 75,000,000, which is probably no more than half of the number of living users of English. Japanese, I daresay, should follow French: it is spoken by at least 60,000,000 persons. But it seems to be making very little progress, and its difficulties put it out of consideration as a world language. Chinese, too, may be disregarded, for though it is spoken by more than 300,000,000 persons, it is split into half a dozen mutually unintelligible dialects, and shows no sign of spreading beyond the limits of China; in fact, it is yielding to other languages along the borders, especially to English in the seaports. The same may be said of Hindustani, which is the language of 100,000,000 inhabitants of British India; it shows wide dialectical variations and the people who speak it are not likely to spread. But English is the possession of a race that is still pushing in all directions, and wherever that race settles the existing languages tend to succumb. Thus French, despite the passionate resistance