Language and culture are inextricable extensions of each other. As globalization increasingly homogenizes mainstream culture worldwide, it follows, too, that a single language would complementarily spread across the globe. That language is English, which, although it does not have the largest number of speakers (that would be Mandarin Chinese), it is the most widely spoken language throughout the world (Wallraff, 2000).
While many are familiar with the fact that English is spoken around the world, not as many are aware of the intense debate revolving around what the language?s future direction should be. Some wish to spread English to every corner of the globe, believing that if everyone could communicate in the same language, then we could essentially achieve world peace and equality (Wikipedia.org, 2006). The opposition is well expressed in the words of Jacques Chirac, whose country has notably struggled against the effects of globalization, when he says, ?Nothing would be worse for humanity than to move toward a situation where we speak only one language? (quoted in Johnson, 2004).
The former camp has historically been the dominant of the two, however, it selectively ignores the dark facets of globalization in its rhetoric. Imagining that life would be lovely for everyone if they all spoke the same language is wishful thinking. In the past, language has been used as a powerful tool for weakening one?s enemies and spreading one?s own culture; essentially, for gaining power. Forcing one?s language upon a group of people is one of the best ways to marginalize their culture and all that comes with it. This is as true today as it ever was in the past.
English achieved its current status only after two of its native- speaking countries had become major world powers, dominating in the fields of business, art, and sheer political power. Each of these fields is now best maneuvered in English. Therefore, those who speak English have an economic and political advantage over anyone who does not. Those who speak English natively have a strong advantage over anyone who must struggle to express themselves in the language, people who are also likely to face discrimination based on their imperfect use of English. For this reason, Robert Phillipson writes that ?the use of English serves the interests of some much better than others? (2001).
After reading about how fantastically widespread English is, it might be easy for one to forget that most of the world?s citizens speak absolutely no English at all. English is widely taught in school systems around the world, but in some places, having the free time to be able to attend school (or to be able to send one?s children off to school) reflects a comfortable position which may or may not be reality for some people. Ignoring these people?s languages is tantamount to ignoring them (Phillipson, 2001).
While English grows in popularity, indigenous languages are dying out. In North America, it is estimated that there are currently about 175 of these languages, and that by 2050, 155 will have no native speakers left at all (Kubota, 2001). As languages are erased, so are these cultures and a sense of identity for their people.
The evidence suggests that learning and speaking English is not a panacea. Saying that ?the global village? speaks English erases the realities of many people around the world; an act of wishful thinking at best, an act of linguistic neo-colonialism at worst. As an alternative, it would be better to recognize that ?appropriating English while maintaining one?s vernacular? is ideal for most learners of English as a second language (Phillipson, 2006). Whilst spreading English throughout the globe is not an inherently harmful practice, it must be done in a way that shows respect, even deference, to the local cultures and persons who will be using it.
Johnson, Paul. ?Must the Whole World Speak English?? Forbes v174 i11. 29 Nov 2004. Accessed 25 August 2006. Available online from Academic Search Elite.
Kubota, Ryuko. ?Learning Diversity from World Englishes.? Social Studies v92 i2. Mar/Apr 2001. Accessed 25 August 2006. Available online from Academic Search Elite.
Phillipson, Robert. ?English for Globalisation or for the World?s People?? International Review of Education v47 i3-4: pp185-200. 2001. Accessed 25 August 2006. Available online at: <http://www.springerlink.com/content/q8p2623610v35047/>.
Wallraff, Barbara. ?What Global Language?? Atlantic Monthly v286 i5. Nov 2000. Accessed 25 August 2006. Available online from Academic Search Elite.
Wikipedia.org. ?Global English.? 2006. Accessed 25 August 2006. Available online at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_languag
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Date of post: 2006-09-26