English as a Global Language Since the late 19th century, English
Since the late 19th century, English has been identified as the most far reaching language in the world. In his book, English as a Global Language, linguist David Crystal defines what constitutes a global language and provides a useful categorization of English speakers around the world today. Crystal also describes the forces driving global English to grow in its current direction and argues that the role of English in the current world is unlike any other example of an international language in history. In his final assessment concerning the effects of English on communities and countries as well as in his projections about the fate of global English, Crystal presents some challenges to making this phenomenon become a force for betterment in the world but also shows how such a better world could be a real possibility. Through his discussion of the past, present and future of the English language on the global stage, the importance of the development of teaching English as a foreign language can be seen and appreciated for its significance. English is used by many people around the world in different ways and for different historical reasons. Crystal describes how another linguist, Braj Kachru, categorizes the global landscape of English by use and path of acquisition. Of three concentric circles, the inner most represents places where English is the native language and from where global English has sprung (most significantly, the USA and the UK) (Crystal, 53). The second largest circle represents places where English has become an established language in the country's government and administration as well as a staple of its business and cultural spheres (e.g., Singapore and India) (Crystal, 53). Finally the largest and outermost circle includes places where the importance of English can be seen in the priority given to it in a country's educational system; in these countries, English does not hold official status and came to draw its current respect from the people after the fall of the British Empire (Crystal, 54). At this point, there are still more people whose mother tongue is English (people living in the inner most circle), than second language speakers of English (people living in the outer and expanding circles) but Crystal believes that because the rate of growth in number of second language speaker far exceeds the growth in the number of first language speakers (as of the late 1990s when this book was published), this global balance will soon change (Crystal, p. 130). Common to all these areas is, at the very least, a recognition of English as the leading international language today which, as Crystal states, is one of the definitive characteristics of a global language (Crystal, 2-3).
Crystal describes how the spread of English around the world has often lead to a deeper articulation of a tension between the need for language as identity and language as communication. Both conflicting parts of this tension are powerful forces inciting political movements and strong passions among different peoples around the world (Crystal, 18); they will thus also be critical in directing the course English takes as a global language in the future. Overall, Crystal sees that this tension can lead to a future in which a local language of identity can peacefully exist in a community along side a global language, a reality that can already be seen in many countries in the world (Crystal, 14-15). Barring some cataclysmic event, Crystal believes that English has come to stay as the global language (Crystal, 22).
With so many unknowns, it is of course impossible to predict definitively the fate of English as a global language. However, its influence having been established over several centuries, English has become acknowledged by optimists and pessimists alike as the most important and far-reaching language in the world today. However, the road to harmony is not easy. From Crystal's discussion of the world's need for a global language to facilitate the ever- growing need for cross-cultural communication as well as growing need of individuals in the world for identity in the face of standardization and globalization, the world's need for good English teachers seems to be more clear than ever.
Bibliography Crystal, David, English as a global language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.