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Should English be a Global Language?

Today 400 million people speak English as their native language, and almost 1.5 billion people use it in business and everyday life (Bryson). English has become the most global language, the language of business, science, education, politics, pop music and film industry. Even in France, one of the most English non-speaking countries, the war against the expansion of the English language was unconditionally lost. In early 1989, the Pasteur Institute announced that henceforth they would publish their well-known international medical reviews in English only, because too few people read them in French (Burns and Coffin 34-35). English is one of the fastest growing industries. According to professor David Crystal, English is a business just as huge as exports of manufactured products. There are problems with what might be called delivery and after-sales service, but in any case, its production lines have no problems. Indeed, the demand for learning English in China is so large that the number of students studying English there exceeds the U.S. population (Bryson).

For citizens of various countries, the reflections about globalization of the English language and recognition of its international status are not empty talks at all, as many questions still remain open. Is modern English an optimal tool for communication between people of different nationalities? Or is it becoming a threat to diversity of national cultures and languages? Are there other ways (languages) of communication within the global community? Further, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages, as well as perspectives of adopting English as the language of international communication.

The need for common language comes from time immemorial. One may recall the Tower of Babel or the relatively recent attempts to create a common language Esperanto. As history has shown both were doomed to failure. It is interesting that the term “global” in relation to the English language is used only in English (Burns and Coffin 49). This fact points out the uniqueness of the English language. But it does not mean that it should become common for everyone. It is noticeable that the global or international English is very different from British English. It turns out that it is not an official language of any European country (Erard).

At the same time, ironically, the international English language segregated the British in Europe; they seem to have fallen out of the general European context. Most of the British, because they speak the most universal language, rarely feel the desire, and even less rare the need to learn any other European language. But it is multilingualism and cultural diversity is the essence of development. If English becomes the dominant language of communication, the consequences are obvious: the culture of English-speaking countries will be dominant throughout the world, and the diversity of other cultures will be eliminated under the pressure of globalization, including language globalization (Lauring 343-61).

Following the global markets and a global network of entertainment and travel the global communication in the international language comes. E-mail and the Internet are now used worldwide, and it is undoubtedly very convenient, fast and efficient means of communication. People in different countries have to adapt to the language and features of electronic communication that were created naturally for the English language. To communicate in another language, they have to use various technical tricks. Thus, accepted in different European languages accented characters cannot be used in most e-mail programs, the same applies to non-Latin alphabets (Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, etc.). All these communication innovations divide people leaving behind those who do not comprehend English (Lauring 343-61).

At the same time, according to Bill Gates, one of the developers of the Internet, the dependence of the global information system on the English language will weaken with the improvement of computer software required for reliable error-free machine translation from one language to another. However, the solution of this complex problem of linguistic diversity is not even close. Still, English has several advantages as an internationally accepted language.

In his book Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson writes that rich vocabulary clearly distinguishes the English language. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary contains 450,000 words, expanded edition of Oxford English Dictionary has 615,000, and this is only part of the total. Technical and scientific terms would add millions lexical items. About 200,000 English words are daily used, while in the German language 184,000 words are used and only 100,000 words in French. English also has a distinctive opportunity to get the most out of words, making them to carry a double meaning as a noun and a verb. The list of such multifunctional words is practically endless: drink, fight, fire, sleep, run, look, fund, act, comfort, view, and many others.

Of course, there is no reliable way to measure the effectiveness of a language. And yet there are a couple of small areas in which English shows a comfortable advantage over other languages. Its pronouns are fortunately non-declinable. If you want to say “you” in German, you have to choose from 7 words: “du”, “dich”, “dir”, “Sie”, “Ihnen”, “ihr” and “euch”. This can cause extreme social anxiety. The composer Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal worked together for 25 years and adored each other, but still did not have enough courage to address each other otherwise than using a rigid form “Sie”. In English, such problems never occur due to the only possible “you”. In other languages politeness is expressed more diversely. The Korean must choose between the six suffixes of verbs in order to correctly identify the status of the person being addressed (Bryson; Burns and Coffin 95-101).

Moreover, in English there is no necessity to memorize the genus of nouns, which not only eliminates the problems associated with the change of articles depending on the gender of a noun, but often the articles are not required at all; for example, the English phrase “It is time to go to work” in other European languages would sound like “It is the time to go to the work”. And there is a great number of such examples: Life is short, Between heaven and earth, Time is money, and many others (Bryson).

In comparison with other languages, English has a commendable tendency to clarity and brevity. The German language is full of unimaginable combinations, requiring difficult articulation exercises, for example: Wirtschaftstreuhandgesellschaft (a business trust company), and in the Netherlands typical names of companies consist of more than 40 letters, so that Dutch businessmen have to use the folding business cards. Fortunately, English is characteristic of clear acronyms like IBM, CIF, IRR (Bryson; Burns and Coffin 113-14).

And finally, a rather dubious advantage is the relative simplicity of spelling and pronunciation. Of course, a person who has just begun to learn English might express an objection to this statement. Indeed, it may take quite long to learn to produce properly some sounds like an interdentally vocalized and unvoiced diphthong “th”. However, it is believed that in comparison with other languages, English has much less combinations of consonants and vowels that are difficult to pronounce (Bryson).

Yet, neither wonderful structural properties of a language, nor the impressive size of the vocabulary, or literary status along with the religion and culture give a language the global status. Linguistic dominance is related to cultural power, but without political, military power and economic basis no language can become a means of international communication. According to a famous British linguist David Crystal, language becomes international for one main reason – the political power of people who speak that language, especially through military might. The history of the global language can be traced in successful expeditions of soldiers/sailors who speak that language. History supports this theory. The dominance of Greek, Latin, Arabic and French was caused by political and military power of these countries. In his article “Rethinking Social Identity Theory in International Encounters: Language Use as a Negotiated Object for Identity Making”, Jacob Lauring (343-61) adds that the review of critical works on English language around the world shows how tightly it is linked to social and economic power both at the national and international levels, to the global spreading of separate cultures and knowledge and to inequitable international relations.

Thus, as for the international English, one can only wonder why, in spite of the current historical, political and economic context in Europe, it has become a universal language, i.e. the lingua franca. Today, English has indeed made significant progress towards the acquisition of the status of a global language, and therefore to solving the urgent problem of overcoming language barriers in international communication, but on the other hand, it exacerbated the problem of linguistic diversity and brought to the fore the problem of possible elimination of entire cultures and their legacies.

Summing up the abovementioned arguments, we can come up to the following evident advantages of accepting English as a global language: 1) opportunity of free communication with the representatives of different cultures and the absence of language barrier; 2) access to the achievements of science and technology, including latest developments in telecommunication; 3) simplicity and availability of the English language. On the other hand, significant disadvantages of adopting English as the language of international communication include: 1) erasing of border between languages and “pollution” of other languages with commonly used English notions; 2) suppression of other cultures by the culture of English-speaking countries, its invasion and spreading among other nations; 3) further extinction of languages and cultures; 4) absence of the necessity to study other foreign languages and work at personal and spiritual development.

In general, it is necessary to find a balance between the adoption of the international language of communication and the persistence of national differences. Thus, the political factors that can slow the process of globalization of the English language include the possibility of the emergence of new political alliances or regional trading blocs, as well as the displacement of the vanguard of scientific achievements in non-English speaking countries.


Works Cited:

Bryson, Bill. “English as a world language.” Chapter 9. Changing Words in a Changing World: pp. 429-435. PDF.
Burns, Anne and Caroline Coffin. Analyzing English in a Global Context: A Reader. Routledge, 2001. Print.
Crystal, David. English as a Global Language. Cambridge University Press, 2003. PDF.
Erard, Michael. “How English is evolving into a language we may not even understand,” Wired magazine (2008). PDF.
Lauring, Jakob. “Rethinking Social Identity Theory in International Encounters: Language Use as a Negotiated Object for Identity Making,” International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 8.3 (2008): pp. 343-361. Print.