No language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. Is there any point in resisting? By Jacob Mikanowski. Fri 27 Jul O n 16 May, a lawyer named Aaron Schlossberg was in a New York cafe when he heard several members of staff speaking Spanish. As the Trump administration intensifies its crackdown on migrants, speaking any language besides English has taken on a certain charge. In some cases, it can even be dangerous. But if something has changed around the politics of English since Donald Trump took office, the anger Schlossberg voiced taps into deeper nativist roots.
Elevating English while denigrating all other languages has been a pillar of English and American nationalism for well over a hundred years. As it turned out, Roosevelt had things almost perfectly backwards. A century of immigration has done little to dislodge the status of English in North America.
If anything, its position is stronger than it was a hundred years ago. Yet from a global perspective, it is not America that is threatened by foreign languages. It is the world that is threatened by English. Behemoth, bully, loudmouth, thief: English is everywhere, and everywhere, English dominates.
From inauspicious beginnings on the edge of a minor European archipelago, it has grown to vast size and astonishing influence. Almost m people speak it as their first language; a billion more know it as a secondary tongue. It is an official language in at least 59 countries, the unofficial lingua franca of dozens more. No language in history has been used by so many people or spanned a greater portion of the globe.
It is inescapable: the language of global business, the internet, science, diplomacy, stellar navigation, avian pathology. And everywhere it goes, it leaves behind a trail of dead: dialects crushed, languages forgotten, literatures mangled. One straightforward way to trace the growing influence of English is in the way its vocabulary has infiltrated so many other languages.
For a millennium or more, English was a great importer of words, absorbing vocabulary from Latin, Greek, French, Hindi, Nahuatl and many others. During the 20th century, though, as the US became the dominant superpower and the world grew more connected, English became a net exporter of words. In some countries, such as France and Israel, special linguistic commissions have been working for decades to stem the English tide by creating new coinages of their own — to little avail, for the most part.
The gravitational pull that English now exerts on other languages can also be seen in the world of fiction. The writer and translator Tim Parks has argued that European novels are increasingly being written in a kind of denatured, international vernacular, shorn of country-specific references and difficult-to-translate wordplay or grammar. Novels in this mode — whether written in Dutch, Italian or Swiss German — have not only assimilated the style of English, but perhaps more insidiously limit themselves to describing subjects in a way that would be easily digestible in an anglophone context.
Yet the influence of English now goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the IULM University in Milan have noticed that, in the past 50 years, Italian syntax has shifted towards patterns that mimic English models, for instance in the use of possessives instead of reflexives to indicate body parts and the frequency with which adjectives are placed before nouns. German is also increasingly adopting English grammatical forms, while in Swedish its influence has been changing the rules governing word formation and phonology.
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The hegemony of English is so natural as to be invisible. Protesting it feels like yelling at the moon. Outside the anglophone world, living with English is like drifting into the proximity of a supermassive black hole, whose gravity warps everything in its reach. Every day English spreads, the world becomes a little more homogenous and a little more bland.
U ntil recently, the story of English was broadly similar to that of other global languages: it spread through a combination of conquest, trade and colonisation. Some languages, such as Arabic and Sanskrit, also caught on through their status as sacred tongues. De Swaan divides languages into four categories. These are largely oral, and rarely have any kind of official status.
Argumentative Essay English As A Global Language - Should English be a Global Language?
These are written, are taught in schools, and each has a territory to call its own: Lithuania for Lithuanian, North and South Korea for Korean, Paraguay for Guarani, and so on. These are languages you can travel with. They connect people across nations. Then, finally, we come to the top of the pyramid, to the languages that connect the supercentral ones. She compares it to a currency used by more and more people until its utility hits a critical mass and it becomes a world currency. In , Rwanda switched its education system from French to English, having already made English an official language in 14 years earlier.
When South Sudan became independent in , it made English its official language despite having very few resources or qualified personnel with which to teach it in schools.
Extract of sample "The future status of English as the global language is assured"
The situation in east Asia is no less dramatic. China currently has more speakers of English as a second language than any other country. Some prominent English teachers have become celebrities, conducting mass lessons in stadiums seating thousands. Korean employers expect proficiency in English, even in positions where it offers no obvious advantage.
There is no evidence to suggest that this surgery in any way improves English pronunciation. It is no longer simply a tool suited to a particular task or set of tasks, as it was in the days of the Royal Navy or the International Commission for Air Navigation. It is now seen as the access code to the global elite. If you want your children to get ahead, then they better have English in their toolkit.
I s the conquest of English really so bad? In the not-too-distant future, thanks to English, the curse of Babel will be undone and the children of men may come together once again, united with the aid of a common tongue. After all, what a work is English, how copious in its vocabulary, how noble in expression, how sinuous in its constructions, and yet how plain in its basic principles.
A language, in short, with a word for almost everything, capable of an infinite gradation of meanings, equally suited to describing the essential rights of mankind as to ornamenting a packet of crisps, whose only defect, as far as I know, is that it makes everyone who speaks it sound like a duck. Well, not really. My first language was Polish. I learned it from my parents at home. English followed shortly, at school in Pennsylvania.
English as a Global Language
I learned to speak it fluently, but with an accent, which took years of teasing — and some speech therapy, kindly provided by the state — to wear away. That, combined with the experience of watching the widespread condescension towards those who take their time learning English, left me a lifelong English-sceptic. But for Englishmen my capacities are just sufficient. A perfectly nice language, capable of expressing a great many things — and with scores of fascinating regional variants, from Scots to Singapore English. But it is so prevalent. And so hard to escape. There is no reason for any particular language to be worshipped around the world like a golden idol.
Is English oppressive? When its pervasive influence silences other languages, or discourages parents from passing on their native languages to their children, I think it can be.
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To me, family intimacies long to be expressed in Polish. So does anything concerning the seasons, forest products and catastrophic sorrows. Poetry naturally sounds better in Polish. Languages, according to her respondents, come in a kaleidoscopic range of emotional tones. Therefore it is easier to tell my children that I love them in English. Intuitive though it might be to some, the idea that different languages capture and construct different realities has been a subject of academic controversy for at least years.
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The German explorer Alexander von Humboldt was among the first to articulate it in a complex form. Finally, people should learn additional languages because it helps with their mastery of their own language and it is proven to be good for the brain. Some people believe that learning more languages leads to confusion, but besides the odd word being misused, this is simply not the case.
If you learn a new language, you have to study the grammar from scratch, and therefore end up with a much more in-depth knowledge of grammar as a whole than people who only speak one language.