English as a Global Language - Killer or Promoter?

Bachelor Thesis 2015 29 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Need for a Global Language

3. Linguistic Imperialism of English

4. The Global Spread of the English Language

5. English as a Lingua Franca

6. Impact of English as a Global Language Promoter

7. Dangers of English as a Global Language

8. English as a Killer Language

9. Misinterpretation of English as a Global Language

10. Research Implications

11. Conclusion



Communication is one of the fundamental necessities of every individual and language plays a crucial role in terms of communication. Therefore, the paper gives an account of the necessity of a global language and the role of English as a global language. Furthermore, the paper includes a brief discussion of the linguistic imperialism of English and the global spread of the language. In this section, the paper addresses how the British colonization led to the spread of the English language from one region to another region, and ultimately to virtually every country of the world. It also reports about the concepts of English Circles and World Englishes. In the next section, the paper provides an insight of English as a lingua franca and its impact as a global language promoter. In this discussion, social, economic and cultural perspectives of the language would be discussed in detail. In order to contrast the argument, the paper evaluates the role of English as a killer language by explaining its dangers. Throughout the paper, significant examples have been provided for a better understanding. The paper describes the misinterpretation of the English language as a killer of other languages. Finally, it provides a brief account of research implications followed by a short conclusion.

1. Introduction

Communication expands all over the world and so does language. Although there is no functional definition of a global language, it basically refers to the language learned and spoken throughout the world. A global language is signified by the number of native speakers, second language speakers and geographical distribution, including its role in diplomatic relations and international organizations (Crystal 2012, p. 4). It is a common language which enables individuals from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds in communicating on an equitable basis. English is one of the dominant languages spoken by over 1.8 billion people worldwide (Crystal 2012, p. 64). It is not only a language of communication, but has emerged as a means of global conversation.

The influence of the English language across the world is a combination of three major aspects. These include the number of nations using English as mother tongue or first language, number of nations embracing English as an official language and number of nations teaching English as a foreign language in schools. One of the major reasons as to why English has emerged as a global language is its intrinsic morphological quality, size of vocabulary, quality of literature all through history and relationship with great religions and cultures (Verghese 1989, p. 39). Therefore, the paper discusses how English has emerged as a global language and whether the emergence of English as a global language is a language promoter or killer.

2. The Need for a Global Language

For thousands of years, translation has played a prominent role in terms of human interaction. Although in the past, monarchs and ambassadors communicated in the presence of interpreters, there were certain limits to such communication. While bilingualism was the possible solution where communities has two languages, various countries in Africa and South-east Asia could not communicate with the Western countries comfortably (Bolton 2008, p. 4). Therefore, it was necessary to solve the problem by finding a language that acts as a lingua franca or common language, thereby enabling interaction across the world. In some regions, indigenous languages, such as Mandarin Chinese emerged as lingua franca; however, English or French became essential languages due to the economic, political and religious influence of power. Majorly, political factors governed the geographical extent of lingua franca.

The need for a global language emerged due to international business and academic communities as these are the fields that appreciate adopting a common language as a constituent part of board rooms, lectures and many others (Crystal 2012, p. 13).

Statements from influential administrators and politicians from the past suggested fostering an innovative climate about the significance of a global language. While in the ancient times, Greek was the lingua franca, Latin became a dominant language until the 17th century in the Christian era. Furthermore, French was also prominent and widely spoken among several individuals. However, the three languages were elite languages, while the English language was geographically widespread and not merely the language of the elite class. Therefore, the English language had a profound effect to become a global language when compared to Greek, Latin and French. Most importantly, since the 1950s, there has been a heightened acceptance for the necessity of a global language, which attends the entire globe with the birth of international organizations.

The organizations and institutions, such as UNICEF, NATO, UN, UNESCO, the World Bank, the European Union and many others have accomplished a steady flow of communication internationally and formulated the need for multilingual translation (Crystal 2012, p. 12). The pressure for adopting a single language has become significant as it not only facilitates communication, but also saves considerable amounts of money on translational facilities, translators, clerks and interpreters. With the advent of the Internet, in order to enjoy the benefits of mobility, accessibility and reachability, one could think of the world as an international village (Crystal 2001, p. 6). According to Crystal (2001, p. 8), the world has changed more than ever, which encourages nations to communicate and interact successfully and carry through various political and economic affairs, thereby managing international communities and bodies through a single global language.

3. Linguistic Imperialism of English

In a sense, the English language has always been in transition. The Circles of English concept proposed by Kachru (2009, p. 161), which would be discussed in detail in the later sections, plays a crucial role in conceptualizing the diasporic origins of World Englishes. While the first diaspora occurred when the British established settler colonies in the Australian and North American colonies, the second diaspora occurred with the setup of administrative colonies across Asia and Africa. As soon as the language spread to England from northern Europe during the fifth century, English began to rule the British Isles, including the regions of Cumbria, Wales, Cornwall and southern Scotland, which were traditionally dominant by Celtic languages. From the twelfth century until the sixteenth century, the English language became dominant in Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles (Fernandez 2005, p. 89). However, the most significant step in the spread of English as a global language took place towards the end of the sixteenth century when the number of native English speakers grew from 5 million to 7 million, especially in the British Isles. The number exponentially grew by 50 fold during the reign of Elizabeth I and II. A fresh dimension had been added to the English language during the sixteenth century when the British colonized the Americas (Fernandez 2005, p. 86). Permanent settlements in the Americas by the British during the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century led to the emergence of English as a dominant language (Plumlee 2000, p. 161). Population movements across America and Europe resulted in a continuous flow of immigrants, which led to an increasing variety and dialects of the English language.

Furthermore, the vast wave of immigrants from Northern Ireland to America increased the number of individuals speaking the English language. In spite of the presence of huge numbers of the French, the Spanish and the Germans, English flourished to become a dominant language in the Americas. Within one to two generations of arrival, immigrant families arriving from different European nations adopted the English language as a natural phenomenon of assimilation (Fernandez 2005, p. 88).

This in turn led to the massive growth of English as a mother tongue.

Political, religious, military and merchant classes exported English as a worldwide language through colonization and ship-borne trade. As English became dominant over French in the United States, the growing global influence of the country gave the English language a momentum across the globe. Although the British were able to colonize Asia and Africa, they were unable to influence the native languages of these regions as much as they succeeded in manipulating North America (Fernandez 2005, p. 98). In the European Union, two thirds of Europeans (67%) consider English as one of the most useful languages in spite of not being an official language in their member state. However, English is by no means dominant in every single domain of influence. French and German, for example, are still much used in Europe, with German being the largest European language by the number of native speakers and it remains one of the most popular foreign languages in Europe, after English (European Commission 2012, p. 3-11).

The widespread circulation of printed materials, such as the television, radio, mass media and cinema, including the emergence of the Internet and the social media increased the potential of the English language. According to Phillipson (2000, p. 90), the global education of English was majorly responsible for its linguistic imperialism. The English language was widespread through its eminence in international language education, thereby undermining the rights of other languages and marginalizing the opportunities that might exist for the widely distributed multilingual education. Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, the widespread usage of the English language has companioned the economic and political intentions of the English-speaking countries for conquering other nations. According to Phillipson (2000, p. 94), such imperialism endangered the cultural ideals and beliefs, including the indigenous languages.

Furthermore, various organizations, such as the British Council and other major agencies favored the English language and came forward to perpetuate the myths about the importance and essentiality of speaking English, thereby making English a global language promoter.

4. The Global Spread of the English Language

According to Kachru and Bolton (2010, p. 24), the English language has touched the lives of millions of people across the world, spanning across varying cultures and continents. Over centuries, the English language has transformed into an unquestionable global phenomenon. Reinforced through the phenomenon of globalization, English is in use across all the continents and has become an official language and second language in over 100 countries. Over 85 percent of the international organizations consider English as an official language (Mair 2003, p. 47). According to the recent statistics, over two billion speakers across the world speak English in variable degrees of competency. The most interesting fact is that the ratio of non-native English speakers to native English speakers is 3:1 (Mair 2003, p. 112). This ratio suggests reconsidering the ownership of English. The English language serves as a common means of communication among speakers with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It is the language of maritime navigation and air navigation. Furthermore, the English language spans across the Internet, businesses, politics, media, education, sports, diplomacy and international conferences.

The global spread of the English language has led to the emergence of various dialects of English with varying levels of grammar, pronunciation, discourse styles and vocabulary (Hogg and Denison 2008, p. 37). In terms of vocabulary and grammar, the English language readily adapts to the linguistic and cultural situations across the world. The demand for English language centers and administration of specialized institutions, such as TOEFL and IELTS for admission into reputed international universities has increased the need for the English language (Hogg and Denison 2008, p. 29). In order to ensure the competitiveness of students, most of the countries that are economically affluent are investing into latest technology and English personnel for providing interaction with native English speakers. South Korea contracts British and American teachers through satellite technology, while European countries organize student exchange programs for enabling students improve their competency (Chang 2008, p. 4).



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english global language killer promoter threat menace englisch globale sprache weltsprache gefahr bedrohung multilinguism bilinguism communication lingua franca

Title: English as a Global Language - Killer or Promoter?