The phenomenal rise in use of English has mainly taken place over the last two decades. English has reached high status world-wide because of several factors; as the mother tongue of millions of people all over the world, as the language that millions of children learn at school and the language that is used in international relations, for global communication and as the major media language. The importance of a global language has become major, in some contexts such as communication, e.g. international web-pages on the Internet, English is the only language used. In addition, English is used to establish and maintain connection and relationship between people with different backgrounds from different cultures. In this discursive essay, I will discuss the different aspects of a global language and how it will affect cultures, minority languages and communities all over the world. Disposition of body
• Definition of Lingua Franca
• Do we need a global language?
• Should English be a global language? Why/Why not?
• Which standard will be the Standard? / Strict or loose standards?
• Will native speakers take advantage?
• What will happen to minority languages and communities?
Before I started to write the essay, I read relevant literature. David Crystal’s “English as a Global language” contains a lot of useful information, and so does “Sociolinguistics” by Peter Trudgill. In order to retrieve I want different aspects on the subject, I also used the Internet for research. I was also interested in average people’s opinion, therefore I asked approximately 40 people of different backgrounds, age and gender what they think of English as a global language.
1. Definition of Lingua Franca
Many people do not know what a lingua franca is, therefore I will start by defining the term Lingua Franca and also tell a bit about its history. 1.1 Lingua franca is Latin and means “French language”. The first text written in a lingua franca is from 1353, but a simpler form of it appeared in the 11th century. The origin of this term is from the modern era when French became the language mostly used in commerce and diplomacy between the European countries. Not only French serves as a lingua franca, several European languages had the same status; e.g. English, Greek, Latin and German. The term lingua franca became so common that it continued to be used for any “universal” language. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_franca 2005)
1.2 A lingua franca can be any language which is used for communication among people who have no native language in common. In many of the former European colonies in Africa, French or English are used as the language of communication in trade and business. (Trudgill 2000:132) In some parts of Africa, other African lingua francas, such as Swahili and Hausa, are used. These languages are indigenous in some countries and have become used because of political reasons. When a language is used as a lingua franca, it undergoes a certain amount of reduction and simplification. The simplification often refers to getting rid of irregularities and grammatical gender in the lingua franca. This happens because adults are, unlike children, generally not good language learners, and therefore need a simplified version of the language. (Trudgill 2000:165) Should English be the Global Language?
People in general have different opinions on English as a “global” language. There are positive as well as negative aspects of this. Do we need a global language? Why do we need it? Why should English be the best option? 2.1 Translation has always played a central role in interaction between people with different languages and language skills. Thousands of years ago, monarchs, ambassadors and merchants had to rely on someone to translate. But the more linguistically mixed the community got, the less they could rely on individuals to ensure their communication. Most of these problems have been solved with a lingua franca or a “pidgin”. A pidgin is a language created, usually spontaneously, from a mixture of other languages as a means of communication between speakers of different languages Pidgins have simple grammar and few synonyms. The prospect that a lingua franca might be needed for the whole world is something that has arisen in the twentieth century. Since the 1950s, many international organisations have come into being e.g. the UN and the World Bank.
Also political groupings e.g. The European Union and The Commonwealth have come into being. The pressure to make an agreement concerning one language has become urgent, but it is a sensitive issue. (Crystal 2003: 12-13) The need for a global language is mainly appreciated by the international academic and business communities, but also by individuals as the world becomes more and more global. (Crystal 2003: 12-13) 2.2 Why English has grown as much as it has, and why it might be seen as the best option for a global language have more than one answer. One is the geographical-historical reasons, and another is the socio-cultural. The geographical-historical part explains how English has reached its position and the socio-cultural explains how and why it remains that way. (Crystal 2003: 29) 2.2.1 English came to England from northern Europe during the fifth century and started to spread around the British Isles. (Crystal 2003: 30)
The historical movement of English around the world began with the expeditions to Asia and America and continued with the colonial developments in Africa and the South Pacific. When many colonies became independent during the mid-twentieth century, they kept English as their official language or semi-official language. This led to a major step forward for the English language; it is represented on every continent and on islands in the three major oceans, making the label “global language” a reality. (Crystal 2003: 29)
2.2.1 The socio-cultural aspect looks at the way people in many ways have become dependent on English for their social life and for their economic well-being. English is the language of many business and political domains and also the language of entertainment such as television, the film industry, the music business, communication (internet, telecommunication and computers) and safety. (Crystal 2003: 29) 2.2.2 Today’s status of English has mainly two reasons; the expansion of the British colonial power and the emergence of the economical power of the United States. The latter is what scientist argue explain the status of English in the world today. (Crystal 2003: 59)
3. Positive and Negative Aspects on English as a Global Language 3.1 Positive aspects of English as a Global Language
According to Buck (2005), English has, without doubt, reached the top position in the language hierarchy. Almost 30 % of the population are already “reasonably competent” in English. As the language of commerce, economy and politics, knowledge of and fluency in that language is helpful when participating in these fields. The economic power houses, the political bodies and commercial organisations also use English as their language of communication. More than 85% of the scientific, technological and academic production in the world today is performed in English. By using English you are able to communicate with people in almost all countries all over the world. English is the most widely spoken language with regards to number of countries, even though Chinese, Hindi and Spanish have more native speakers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language 2005) The case might be that even in countries where one of the other languages is spoken you will be able to communicate with the inhabitants, using English as a lingua franca.
It is often taken for granted that one speaks English and when someone does not, one might be looked upon suspiciously. I asked approximately 40 people from different backgrounds, different age and with different nationalities which language they would prefer as a global language and the majority answered English. The following reasons were given: It is the language you hear and read every day; the younger generations have learned it in school and it would be the best global language because it is the most spread all over the world. The people, who disagreed, said that Spanish would be the best global language, because it has more native speakers than English.
3.2 Negative aspects of English as a Global Language Even though there are many positive aspects of having a global language, there are negative aspects as well. How would it be possible to carry through a global language? Are there any dangers with having a global language? A global language might cultivate an elite class with native speakers, who take advantage of the possibility to think and work quickly in their mother-tongue. If this was the case they might manipulate it to their advantage at the expense of those who has another language as their mother-tongue and in this way create a linguistic gap between people. (Crystal 2003: 14-15) English has a history, sometimes cruel and violent with colonialism and war, and introducing English as the global language might be seen as a threat of future dominance. Perhaps a global language will make people unwilling or unable to learn other languages and make other languages unnecessary. (Crystal 2003: 15)
One of the “risks” having only one language is that the chosen language may become very technical and “impoverished” for non-native speakers, e.g. the Eskimos, who have several words for snow, because they need it. They would probably not be able to express themselves properly if they only had one word for snow. And Swedish people would not be able to use the word “lagom”, a word which says a lot about the Swedish society and people. Many of the people who answered my question about “English as a Global Language”, expressed a worry that if we only had one language, they would feel “poor” when it comes to expressing feelings and emotions in a language that is not their mother-tongue, that they would not know enough words to be able to really express how and what they feel.
4. Standards – which standard should be used? Strict or loose standards? English is the mother-tongue of millions of people in different parts of the world. If English were to become a global language, which standard of the language would be the global standard? Perhaps the standards would become looser. 4.1. Standard English is the English that is usually used in print. It is also the English which is normally taught in school and to non-native speakers learning English. This is also the standard that is spoken among educated people and used for news broadcasts. (Trudgill 2000: 5-6) Historically, the British Standard developed from the south-east part of England (the area around London).
These dialects were spoken in court, used in law and by the government. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_English 2005) Standard English has a widely accepted grammar, and an accent that comes with this standard, the British English accent, also known as the “Oxford English”, is the accent that is taught is schools. (Trudgill 2000:6-7) Furthermore this English has a major cultural influence, especially on the languages in the former Commonwealth countries, e.g. South Africa, Australia, and India as well as the European Union. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_English 2005 ) 4.2 We often hear about “American-English”, “South African-English” or other “Englishes”, but no such terms really exist. The different types of English are based on the British English but have developed grammatical and vocabulary differences because of influence and “loanwords” from other languages.(Trudgill 2000:6-7)
5. Minor Languages and cultures
What will happen to minor cultures and languages if we introduce a global language? An introduction of a global language might lead to discrimination of other languages. Losing a language equals losing identity. The language is much more than just a tool for communication. According to Trudgill there is an intimate relation between language and culture and a large homogenisation of culture might lead to a shift in language where native people adopt another language and eventually the old language may die out. There is a difference between “language death” and “language murder”. Language death is when a language disappears naturally; its speakers are leaving it voluntarily, but “language murder” means that the killer language actively discourages use of other languages.
Minority languages may be removed from the media and educational systems. English is referred to as a “killer language”, which means that it is a dominant language learned subtractive, at the cost of the mother tongues, rather than additively. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_language 2005) In the United States there have been a few “English Only” movements, the first one in 1803, when they banned the speaking of French among the population in Louisiana. After that, several attempts to remove Spanish and French have taken place. English is declared as the official language in several states in the US. The English-Only movements have been rejected by linguistics; they mean that a language does not create political unity, it takes more than that. The use of one single language in a community is no guarantee for social harmony or mutual understanding. This has been proven several times during the history, e.g. American Civil War, Spanish Civil War and former Yugoslavia. (Crystal 2003:16)
This essay has shown that the creation of a global language has numerous advantages and disadvantages. Mutual intelligibility, great career opportunities and reduced administrative costs are some of the advantages a global language would give. The disadvantages are that English is closely linked to the British and the American cultures and history and is therefore not a “neutral” language. Perhaps a language with less historical and cultural connections would be a better option? We are in need of an international language for communication, politics, trade and security, but at the same time we are worried about language death, the advantages native speakers will have and all the disadvantages non-native speakers will face. English is growing, it is a strong language, and its future seems bright. My opinion is that if there will ever be an international language, English is the best option. It is a strong, well developed language with millions of speakers. Even if a global language might be important, different languages are of importance for their culture and for the development of their native speakers. Languages make the world more interesting and more alive.
Courtney from Study Moose
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