The spread of English in a Global World
The spread of English in a Global World
English, as a means of communication has become the world’s “global” language. English is all over the world. Everywhere you go nowadays people seem to be speaking certain level of English. It can be seen wherever you travel – on the airports and train stations, on the road signs and advertisement, in hotels and restaurant menus, and even in the small shops. It comes with the British or American music and films, it comes with the news, which in many countries are produced in English.
Undoubtedly in the modern life the Internet and the media are the driving forces of this process. However the globalization of English language initially started at the end of the 19th Century with the invention of the telegraph, the device which first connected the world. Another very important factor is that ‘language goes where power goes. There has been some suspicion around the world of the English speaking powers and their motives for the globalization of English’ (Bragg, n.d.). The reason why English has been associated with world powers is that for the past two centuries the British Empire followed by the American Empire had been colonising the world, imposing their language on to the collonised population. Also, the industrial revolution and the advancement of the economics at that time are of great significance for the spread of the language.
In this essay I will focus on one of the burning questions on ‘ Whose English is it, anyway?’ and will also review the role of the English language as a Lingua Franca.
(Rossi, 2007). Since English has become a global language, one of the main disputes is on whether it belongs to the native speakers of English any more. Naturally, such statements are very likely to provoke mixed feelings and concerns in many of the native English speakers.
Experts argue that now that English is widely used among speakers of other countries, it has become an International language and no body owns it anymore. ‘Or rather, everyone who has learned it now owns it – has a share in it might be more accurate – and has the right to use it in the way they want’ (Crystal, p.2).
A letter to the Editor of New York Times states ‘English, of all languages, does not belong to any specific group or nationality. Surely in a city as multilingual as New York, he cannot be harboring the fantasy that English is the exclusive possession of it native speakers.'(Boletta, 1999)
At the present time there are far more non-native speakers of English in the world then native ones as around 350 million people speak English as their mother tongue, whereas it is thought that around 1.5 billion (Hurst, n.d) use it as a second or foreign language.
An important issue in this process is that many people use English over the Internet, where it is believed that around 80% of the data on the world’s computers are stored in English.(Hurst, n.d) Although it is impossible to know exactly how many people use the Internet, according to Global Reach research agency there were more then 840 million Internet users in 2004-2005 and only 34 million of them were from Britain. As we can imagine this figures should be much higher by now. The statistics above clearly illustrate the vast amount of foreigners forced to learn and use English because of the Internet.
The outcome of the globalization of the language is that the majority of people who speak English around the world are non-native speakers. They have learned it as a second or subsequent language and use it to speak to each other. Therefore they are not really learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English to speak to native speakers, they are learning it more for international communication.
Consequently, ‘a new pattern of usage is developing that doesn’t look to native English speakers’ (Bragg, n.d.). Linguists from around the world believe that this is leading to evolution of spoken English, whose structure, grammar and pronunciation will be no longer determined in the traditional English speaking countries.
Professor Jennifer Jenkins (BBC, n.d.), a senior lecturer in applied linguistics, suggests that English as an International language and is not simply a less accurate form of ‘sub-standard’ ‘sub-variety’ of proper English. In an interview for BBC Radio 4 (BBC, n.d.) she says
‘ British and American English are like foundation, where the basic structure is in place, but over time the structure above the foundation is constantly being added to and being changed by other varieties, non-native varieties, and in the end you are going to have something completely different.’
In her book The Phonology Of English As An International Language (2001) she advice that English as a Lingua Franca creates all sorts of linguistic implications. There would be various differences between the standard and International English, depending on what people need to be able to do when they are pronouncing English for example. There would be some differences in grammar, as well as in the use or not of idioms. Furthermore, Jennifer Jenkins thinks that there does not seem to be much point in teaching learners to say ‘th’ – the ‘Ð’ and the ‘Θ ‘ sounds, because most of the learners who are non-native speakers can not pronounce it anyway.
She adds that there are two main objectives behind the idea of International English. First, the more different groups of people around the world speak English the more important it becomes to make sure that they have enough in common so that they can understand each other, that they are ‘intelligible’ to each other. Here the pronunciation is very important, as this is the thing that vary most among different speakers of English. Second, now that English is spoken as an international language, no body owns it any more and also that non-native speakers of English have the right to develop their own ways of speaking, this includes grammar, structure and pronunciation.
Professor David Crystal (2003) agrees with this position. He says that the native speakers of English do not have the right to expect everybody else around the world when they speak English to conform to native speaker ways of speaking. He points that at root level are forming varieties of English that are quite unlike anything that is heard of previously. Those varieties are so different from standard English that it is sometimes impossible to understand what people are talking about. In Singapore for instance people speak ‘Singlish’ which is a mixture of English and Chinese, it is a local dialect of identity and only if you know both you are likely to understand it.
Nevertheless, to foreigners they would speak standard English and Crystal argues that this is the whole point. That as English develops in the 21st Century we are going to see an increasing ‘multidialectalism’. ‘Most people are already ‘multidialectal’ to a greater or lesser extent. They use one spoken dialect at home, when they are with their family or talking to other members of their community’ and ‘another spoken dialect’ (Crystal, p.185) when they are in more formal situation, but within their country. The third variety is the one of the standard English.
In support of Crystal’s position I want to add that mixed marriages are a modern phenomenon and more and more families nowadays are bi or trilingual. My family is a good example of that phenomenon; I am from Bulgaria, my husband is from Iran and our son is born in England. English is the language we have got in common, but at home we speak a mixture of the three languages.
Here I would like just to mention another type of English, a special basic form of English, which is used to help various professions to communicate internationally. For example ‘air-speak’ for air-traffic controllers or ‘police-speak’ to help deal with international crime. For instance, for international radio communication pilots pronounce the word “three” as “tree”. This simplified mode of communication is constructed of around 400 English words and aid to avoid confusion, mistakes and delays.
For certain, the spread of the English language and the way it is accustomed and modified makes many of the native speakers feel kind of resentful to the way their language is being used. They are aware that their language is evolving and would like to save and preserve it. Those are not only individuals, but organisations too, like The Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL) which ‘is an organization of people who love our language and are determined to resist its abuse and misuse in the news media and elsewhere'(SPELL, n.d.). It is often found in the media comments like ‘There have been a number of developments that I have recently witnessed that lead me to think that the English language is in trouble’ (AltText, 2000) or ‘Protect English language from abuse’ (43 Things, n.d.).
In oppose to those views Neille Hobson affirms:
‘[T]here’s a growing sense that students should stop trying to emulate Brighton or Boston English, and embrace their own local versions. Researchers are starting to study non-native speakers’ “mistakes” – “She look very sad,” for example – as structured grammars. In a generation’s time, teachers might no longer be correcting students for saying “a book who” or “a person which.”(Hobson, 2005)
From my personal experience and observation as a foreign student I can say that many of the British teachers imply that it is important for learners of English to have a good command of British and American idioms and that they should try to pronounce the language as closely as possible to the way native speakers do.
Jennifer Jenkins (2003 p.11) disagrees with such requirements and argues that this is incredibly complicated and most learners never do achieve it in any case. She insists that speakers of other languages should be allowed to keep something of themselves, of their background in their English, which is their identity.
In some standpoints linguicism is easily identified with nationalism. For example, In Language Sung Best By Its Own (New York Times, 1999) the columnist Bernard Holland disapproves of the Italian Opera singers and states ‘It’s not their language. It’s ours. ‘(Holland, 1999) In the article he advises that those who sing best an English are the ones ‘to whom the language is their native tongue.’ (Boletta, 1999)
However, this tension exists even between different forms of the native language, for example between British and Scottish or British and American English. I have often heard and read comments like ‘Look what Americans have done to Our language’ or ‘why did you steal our American language’ (MasterS, 2007). The truth is that the grammar and vocabulary used by native speakers varies a lot, even in UK.
It is understandable that many feel quite sensitive when people from other countries adopt and manipulate their mother tongue to suit themselves. This reaction is like a self preservation instinct, because it is their language by birth; it is their national and personal identity. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong or who is correct but it is a matter of acceptance that there is an abundant of varieties.
We do not have to forget that language evolves one way or another and it always has. All languages are in operational development. Modern British people probably would not be able to understand the English spoken in Shakespeare’s time, as majority of the words then had very different meanings. The same thing that has always happened on national scale is now happening on the world scale. Standard languages guarantee intelligibility, local accents and dialects give identity and on a world level this is exactly what is happening.
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