English: becoming a Global Language In January of 2005 I was returning home


In January of 2005 I was returning home to the U.S from Rome. Seated next to me was an older Italian businessman, who spent the first part of the flight napping; therefore no conversation took place between us for the first couple of hours. I began my trip listening to my Italian music, then continued on to one of my language lesson CDs, and eventually began to read in the Italian language book I was carrying. I had now been studying the language on my own for about 2 years, out of a sincere love for Italy and hopes of future times in the country that would include conversing in the native tongue. 'You are learning Italian'' he asked. I was a little surprised to hear him speak to me. 'Yes, I'm trying.' I replied. 'Why'' he again asked. 'If you speak English, you can go anywhere.' His words I must admit bothered me, maybe because he seemed so unappreciative of the fact that I wanted to learn the language of his country, but also because they made my hard efforts seem futile. His words rang loud in my mind and caused me to wonder why, of all of the languages in the world, English was becoming the common international language. And so in choosing my topic for this course I seize the opportunity to answer that question for myself.

Around the globe it is easy to assess that Spanish is spoken as the native tongue in more countries that any other language. In the case of the European Union, the 15 member states as of July 1998 had as many as 13 official languages on a national level. *1 The following definition for 'global language' is given by author David Crystal in his book 'English as a Global Language'. 'A language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country.' *2

What then has caused English to establish that special role' To begin with, some of the more obvious fields of dominance are the media, including press, broadcasting and advertising,

In 1977 the top five newspapers on a world scale, according to the Book of Lists, were all written in English. They were the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and The Sunday Times; the first three being American and the last two British. Particularly influential have been the newspapers intended for a global audience such as the International Herald-Tribune, US Weekly and International Guardian.

In the twentieth century, advertising branded many products as household names such as Kodak, Coca-Cola, and Ford. The English of American products began to travel the world as the international markets grew.

Public television came into being with the world's first high definition service provided by BBC in London and the NBC Company in the US during the 1930s. By 1940 there were over twenty television stations in the US and by 1995 the number had grown to over 1500. London Radio Services offers a daily international news service to over 10,000 radio stations worldwide, primarily in English. In the motion picture industry, English language films have dominated through the Hollywood film industry in the latter twentieth century. By the mid 1990s, according to a 1995 Encyclopedia Britannica review by film critic David Robinson, The USA controlled 85% of the world film market with Hollywood films dominating the box offices in most countries.

International travel and tourism is another major factor in the spreading of English across the globe. During the 1990s, the leading tourism earner and spender was the USA. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 1992 the US earned twice as much as its nearest rival France, and spent nearly $40,000,000 on tourism, ahead of Germany and Japan. This spawned menus and window signs in English versions, as well as credit card facilities for American Express, MasterCard and others.

The role of the military is of course another consideration in the spread of English abroad. After World War II, the presence of British and US forces in large numbers would have exposed many cultures to the language as also in the 1990s, with the presence of peace-keeping troops in places such as Bosnia and the Middle East. In international safety, the English language has long been recognized as the language of the sea. The official use of English as the language of international aircraft control emerged after the Second World War through the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization founded in Chicago in 1944. Over 180 nations have adopted the recommendations to the ICAO in regards to English terminology.

Education and communications are two more very large contributing factors. The widespread English language teaching business has become one of the major growth industries worldwide in recent decades. In 1992 it was estimated that 60 percent of the world's mail was being handled by English-status countries. The amount of mail sent through the US postal system that year was larger than the total for all non-English-speaking countries combined. And then we have the internet, which would be the beginning of whole new paper, on how it has impacted the international community and the use of English globally.

In conclusion, according to author David Crystal, English was the language of the leading colonial nation Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Also in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain was the industrial revolution leader. In the twentieth century, it was the language of the leading economic power ' the USA. As a result, it emerged first in industries of the press, advertising, transport, communications, motion pictures and music, and became a leading language in international politics and academics.

In America we sometimes hear of the British complaint 'Look what the Americans have done to English!' And although I understand to some degree their frustration, I would also respectively wish to answer, 'Yes, but look what the Americans have done for English!'

Notes:

English as a Global Language: the Case of the European Union Author: Jorg Witt (Erlangen) EESE 11/2000

English as a Global Language Author: David Crystal Cambridge University Press 1997