English as a Global Language Over the past several years, I have
Over the past several years, I have periodically come across newspaper reports, magazine articles, and television & radio discussions about the emergence of English as a universal language. I must admit, the idea of a single, universally spoken language did intrigue me. I would sometimes wonder about how easy travel would be if the entire world spoke the same language. However, a few questions often arose in my mind. Why English' Why, with the enormous population of Southeast Asia and the widespread use of Spanish throughout Central and South America, would English be the language of choice for the world' Also, why does the world now need a global language' Fortunately for me, David Crystal has conducted extensive research into answering my questions.
In his book, English as a Global Language, Crystal states that the emergence of a global language has little to do with the number of people who speak it. Instead, the rise of a global language is due to 'the political, economic, or religious influence' (p.11) of a power. Crystal further states that 'By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain had become the world's leading industrial and trading country (p.10).' This position allowed the British to spread English around the globe. The power of English was further developed by the growth of the United States. 'During the twentieth century, this world presence was maintained and promoted almost single-handedly through the economic supremacy of the new American superpower (Crystal, p.10).' As English-speaking nations acquired power, so to did their language. Apparently, the idea of English as a global language is not just an idea held by egotistic English speakers. According to Crystal (p.5), English is now the most widely taught foreign language in the world. English currently holds some form of special status in over 70 countries (Crystal, p. 4) and is spoken fluently or competently by about one quarter of the world's population (Crystal, p.6). Add to this the fact that Spanish is growing more rapidly than English as a mother tongue (Crystal, p. 19) and that it is spoken in more countries (as a first language) than any other language on earth, and the status of English is all the more impressive. Crystal describes the idea of a global language as being relatively modern. In his book, he says that the idea of a single, common language emerged in the 20th century, particularly during the 1950s (p. 12). Around this time, many international agencies and organizations were being formed. With the numerous languages of the member countries, interpreters were a critical element in the progress of these organizations. Crystal states (p. 12) that half the budget of international organizations can easily be consumed on translation and interpretation expenses. He also argues that with several languages to translate, some information will be lost with each subsequent translation. He therefore states that a global language is a necessity in preserving and conveying critical information.
The need for a global language is due primarily to two factors: the growth of air transportation and the advancement of modern communication capabilities (Crystal, p.13). These technological progressions have spawned growth in international academics and the development of giant, multinational corporations (Crystal, p.13). Crystal further states (p.14) that no country on earth is currently without some form of accessibility through communication devices (although many countries lack equipment that is more advanced). As these technologies continue to develop, so to will the need to be able to clearly communicate with a number of foreign nations. Whether or not a global language is ever realized, English currently sits in a prime position to become that language. Due to the ever-advancing globalization of business and travel, communication with foreign nations is increasingly important. As long as English-speaking countries occupy significant power positions, English will continue to be in demand all over the world.
* Material for this article was taken from David Crystal's English as a Global Language (2nd ed.) 2003 Cambridge University Press. It can be referenced at: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam041/2003282119.pdf. The page numbers cited in this article are the page numbers from the web link, not the actual book.