Faster than global Starbucks addiction, English is sweeping the Planet. With over one quarter of the people on Earth speaking English 4, the language is fast replacing French as the new lingua franca 2.
There is a reason that English is considered by some, to be on the fast track to becoming the World?s first Universal language 2. It is simply necessary to be able to communicate with people from around the globe these days. Powered by telecommunications and the internet along with distance breaking inventions such as airplanes 2, the world has become a much smaller place. We can now chat via the Internet with someone in another hemisphere and then go out to lunch with an exchange student who has flown in from another continent at a restaurant where the server is a native of yet another country. All of this intermingling creates huge potential for the exchange of ideas and cultural awareness, provided that everyone can communicate with each other. Which is where having a Universal language becomes necessary. Particularly one which can express a comprehensive variety of ideas (math has long been called the world?s sole Universal language5, however, it lacks the ability to illustrate an extensive variety of ideas and emotions, thus making it an ineffective conduit in the vast majority of social interactions). Why was English, with all of its dialects and grammatical exceptions picked up as the thread of International communication? Essentially because at the time that globalization was picking up speed the people with money were English speakers (Americans, The English and Australians)2. Therefore, International business was conducted in English because many major projects were funded in large part by English speakers. Moreover, science was conducted in English because not only did English speaking countries fund scientific projects but also because during world War II America became a safe haven for a multitude of prominent scientists seeking refuge from war ravaged Europe2b. These two factors in tandem with the fact that a significant portion of the globe had been introduced to the language during English colonialism set English up as the logical choice for a Universal tongue.
English has also become the dominant language in politics. Which makes sense, as the ability to communicate clearly with people from around the world takes on extreme importance in that particular field. English holds the title as the official language of the European Union3 , the United Nations, and the Commonwealth of Nations2, as well as being the official language of not only primarily English speaking countries such as Canada and Australia but also of multilingual countries such as India2.
So is this a good thing? A common language eases communication. This in turn makes things such as science and business more efficient, and other areas such as aviation and sailing safer. However, there is an argument that a global language will rob the world of a certain amount of local culture. CEPR researcher Jacques M?litz (Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique, Paris and CEPR) argues that a universal language will reduce the wealth of literature produced, simply because everything will be written in English. His analogy is that a world where everything is written in English would be like a world where all music is composed for a cello1. However, a counter argument exists, promoted by David Crystal, an author of more than 40 books on linguistics and the English language in particular, which states that though English is global, each culture leaves its own thumbprint on the language4. The customization of the language to suite the cultures of South Africa, New Zealand, The United States, Australia and Canada suggest that to a degree English still reflects the culture in which it is spoken.
Regardless of whether one feels positively or negatively about the global sweep of English, it is just that, a global sweep. Currently, most countries teach English in school, whether as a native or secondary language. As time marches on and the world becomes even more interconnected more and more professions will require that their employees speak English2.
1) Centre for Economic policy research. http://www.cepr.org/press/DP2055PR
2) Wikipedia, English language. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language
2b) Wikipedia, The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasak i 3) J?rg Witt (Erlangen). English as a Global language: the Case of the European Union. http://www.uni- erfurt.de/eestudies/eese/artic20/witte/6_2000l 4) Wordsmith.org A Chat with David Crystal (author of 40 books on languages including English), Feb 26 2001. http://wordsmith.org/chat/dcl
5) Math in Everyday life. http://www.learner.org/exhibits/dailymath/languagel
All entries were accessed Feb 26, 2007.
Author: Rebecca Rourk
Date of post: 2007-04-02