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English is widespread around the world and its dominance is colossal. Indeed, it is spoken as a second or foreign language by an estimated 1.75 billion people worldwide. It is the language of trade, diplomacy, the media and the internet. It has developed as a lingua franca as a result of the economic globalization and the dominant cultural status of the UK and the USA. However, the spread of EIL has raised academic debate in the sense that there are concerns of “killing” indigenous languages.
Some commentators suggest that these languages are endangered and may gradually disappear. In this essay, I am going to discuss the role of global English and explore whether it is detrimental to native languages by weighing up both sides of the debate. Then I will argue that there are more positive aspects than negative ones. A language is global when it is spoken and taught internationally by a large number of people as a second or foreign language.
It acts as a “lingua franca”, or a shared language between people from different origins and backgrounds. Indeed, it is the official language of several countries all over the world including Australia, Cameroon, Canada, England etc. It is also the language of international trade relations, advertising, science as well as international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations.
But why has English, in particular, reached such a position? Evidently, English has unique properties including its deep vocabulary, its simple grammar and its salient body of literature since Shakespearian time.
In addition, the influence of the British Empire and of the US played a major role. Similarly, Latin and Arabic were widely spoken due to armies and military interventions. David Crystal, who is one of the world’s authorities on language, claims that the first significant step in the spread of English was in the 17th C, in America, and as a result of the massive immigration, most of the families assimilated English within one or two generations. The Industrial revolution and technological advance in Britain had their impact on language, namely the export of new manufacturing industries in mining and textile etc, and steam technology that revolutionized transportation. Consequently, Britain attracted inventors and foreign workers. In the next century, America and became the world’s 1st economic power expanding capitalism and an international banking system.
Language also spread thanks to new means of communication, the press, cinema, popular music and The Internet. Yet, it is worth noting that language and cultural identity are intricately related. Cultural identity is a shared sense of belonging and identification with one’s culture and heritage. It consists of race, clothing, nationality, age, language, location, history and religious beliefs. It is transmitted from generation to generation. It gives people a sense of security and trust. Subsequently, when the language is threatened, identity is accordingly so too. The risk of homogenization may generate fears concerning the integrity of one’s identity, which may lead to conflict. So, Global language may bring about “language murder”. This notion means to assimilate indigenous people into mainstream society and to push them to abandon their traditions and beliefs. An international language might generate a linguistic gap between people, i.e., it creates an elite class of native speakers who would manipulate language to their own profit and be in a position of power. (Crystal, 2003). e.g., scholars writing their research in languages other than English will have their work overlooked. Besides, a global language will reduce people’s willingness to learn other languages. English tourists traveling the world and assuming that the local people speak English is an example.
Equally important, a global language does not necessarily ensure social harmony. E.g., the American Civil War and the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, globalization harms diversity as seen recently in the dominance of the American lifestyle at the expense of “minor” cultures. Everybody wears jeans, eats burgers and listen to pop music. Likewise, in 1803, there were attempts to ban the speaking of French among the population in Louisiana. Also, European colonists founded Boarding schools to acculturate Indian children. In Australia, the same method was followed.
Global English has its risks on local cultural identities. However, there is a prevalent view that its advantages outweigh its disadvantages, most noticeably in the fields of commerce, politics and education. Global English as an asset may be defined as a valuable and useful bridge assuring effective communication and breaking cultural barriers between nations in a globalized age during which Countries are more interdependent. In his book English as a Global Language, David Crystal mentions that English might be the principal cause for the disappearance of other languages. Conversely, other commentators have argued that the English language was a major factor in maintaining American unity, for example, throughout this period of remarkable cultural diversification. Indeed, English has a plethora of positive impacts on local identities. English plays a vital role and is the main language in international relations and political gatherings in all parts of the world. Examples include the European Union, the Commonwealth, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as many scientific organizations and Athletic Associations.
In the field of trade, English is a medium of communication among businessmen throughout the world. In academic contexts, English language fosters knowledge transmission and stimulates talented students to enter prestigious English universities as it is the language of scholarships. The fact that people are growing up bi-lingual is a phenomenal achievement. This offers them great career opportunities abroad. Personally, I believe that this debate is not easy to solve. I don’t agree with using General terms such as “microbe” or “killer” language to describe English. After all, some minority languages disappeared without being exposed to English like in some states of Latin America. Personal attitudes and values in language maintenance are major factors in languages extinction. To put it differently, native people may consciously abandon their mother tongue and this is known as language shift or ‘language suicide’.
I believe that global English in this globalized world is now a necessity. In fact, the world faces common issues such as global diseases, financial crisis and it is not possible to confine oneself within the limits of one culture. Thus, EIL is needed to face common challenges and improve the world. Today, there is an unprecedented need by the nations to interact. People travel so much. Translating and interpreting are more and more common. Thus, bilingualism facilitates achieving intelligibility and peaceful co-existence and becomes the norm in such an interconnected world. Yet, complete assimilation into a non-native culture is harmful. There are several ways to maintain cultural integrity. First, language policies should be revolutionized to meet, from one hand the requirements of globalization and, on the other hand, to preserve their cultures. In other words, governments should legally protect and revive languages of aboriginal people by opposing ‘English-only’ measures and by protecting their fundamental rights and cultural heritage.
For instance, a national day for the celebration of traditional folklore would be an effective solution. E.g., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is revolutionizing Canada’s relationship with indigenous people. He insists on the reconciliation as he believes that this is the path to prosperity and economic growth. Second, education is equally important and governments should include traditional cultures and heritages in the curriculum. Also, teachers and managers should participate in workshops, seminars and training in the field of traditional cultures. Globalized media can support local languages. World Wide Web, as an example, presents local languages interactively by keeping recorded videos, pictures or any other documents that can be transmitted to next generations and to the whole world. Furthermore, native people themselves should contribute to the process of preserving their languages by speaking their native tongue. Indeed, it is not enough to value a language; it is essential to use it. This develops a sense of pride in the child and gives them the advantage of being bi-lingual.
So, these factors demonstrate that an international language is a tool to protect local languages and, at the same time, to be an active participant in global challenges. I admit that English may represent a threat in some situations when the language policy deliberately dominates local languages but I think that the pros outweigh the cons. In brief, English has spread across the globe to the extent of being an omnipresent language. It proves to be the language of commerce, education, mass media, pop music, technology, diplomacy etc. Even though there are many negative aspects of having a global language, there are positive aspects as well. Some would consider it an imperialistic power; others claim that it is an asset allowing cross-border communication. Most importantly, maintenance of minor languages is significant because they are a part of a beautiful global linguistic mosaic in which no language is better than the other. The safest solution is to preserve our cultures and learn The English language as a second language as well. People should simply have positive awareness and a clear sense of their cultural identity.
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