English as a Global Language; An Overview
by Ian Akbar
Today, an estimated 1.5 billion human beings speak to each other in English, whether as a native, second or a foreign language. (Anthony 2OO2; 1, 2) English has truly become a global language. English also composes the majority of the world's books, academic papers, newspapers, and magazines. Never before in human history has one language been spoken (let alone semi-spoken) so widely and by so many. (Fishman 1998, 26) The forces that have brought about the dominance of English as the current global language will be discussed below. Particular attention will be paid to the influence of history, as well as, cultural, technological, economic and social factors in contributing to the spread of English across the globe, specifically its' accent and structural features, The structural features that have helped English become the language of internationaI communication as well as possible future influences on the phonology and morphology of global English will also be briefly examined.
English derives from the West Germanic branch of the lndo-European family of languages. Old English or Anglo-Saxon was a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (feminine, masculine, neuter), two numbers (singular and plural) and four cases (using nouns, pronouns, adjectives and particles). Old English adjectives, verbs, determiners and other word classes showed morphological agreement with their heads; the pronominal system was highly elaborated. Grammatical relations were primarily marked by inflection, word order was variable, with a preference for SVO (subject-verb-object) in main clauses, and SOV in subordinate clauses. (Hellinger 2001; 106, 107) Modern English has been reduced since the Old English period, but still retains its' basic structure, which is still in use to the present day.
As a consequence of extensive phonological reduction and merging during the Middle English period (14th century), English lost much of its synthetic character; grammatical relations began to be expressed by a more rigid word order and the increased use of function words such as prepositions and auxiliaries. The fact that English word order and phonology changed was, no doubt, affected by the fact that the London Court began to use English as it's official language. (Hellinger 2001, 106) And, with British colonial advocacy and the increased need for communication between nations, English established a strong foothold in Australia, South Africa, and lndia, and other British colonial outposts in the 19th century. At this point, the standard pronunciation was RP or British Received Pronunciation.
The English lexicon increased through borrowings from Scandinavia in the 5th century and French due to the Norman invasion in the 11th century. ln the 16th century, borrowing occurred from Latin and Greek, and the cloning of new words with Latin and Greek morphemes. By the 19th century, a standard variety of American English developed, based on the dialect of the Mid-Atlantic States. (Kemmer 1998, 4) English became the official language of the United States in the 20th century, a new superpower on the world stage and a leader in science, technological and cultural breakthroughs. (Wallraff 2000 online) The ascendancy of American English may have influenced many, especially those pursuing careers in science and technology (Anthony 2002, 4) to gain proficiency in the variety, not to mention the immeasurable linguistic impact that American songs, dress, food, sports, movies and recreation have had on global English (Fishman 1998, 28) With the rise of American English, the American accent, word use and spelling came into vogue and as it still remains the world's only superpower, its' influence continues today and will continue into the foreseeable future.
One of the biggest factors affecting the spread of English, was of course the development of the World Wide Web in the U.S. The lnternet was born in the U.S., as a Pentagon research and development network. About 80 percent of all electronic information stored in computers and transferred via the lnternet is in English. Also approximately 65 percent of lnternet host computers are in the U.S. At present, English appears to be the most popular language on the Net. ln more than 100 countries, people in chat rooms discuss topics and communicate in English. ('Languages on the World Wide Web'2003 online). The type of language switching and word borrowing that typically goes on in any multilingual community is now happening on the lnternet on a massive scale. (Graddol 2000 online) lnternet communication is used for a variety of purposes including. personal, business and study. Being able to speak or at least "write" in English allows users to take advantage of the lnternet as a medium.
Technology has always been fertile ground for vocabulary. Technology and science, including medicine, together account for 50-60% of the new words in the addenda pages of "Webster’s Third New lnternational Dictionary", according to Frederick Mish, editor-ln-chief of its publishing company. (Economist 1996, 76) The staccato style of much electronic exchange is accounted for by the lack of linguistic norms and the capacity of the medium. (Economist 1996, 77) Since SMS messages are usually limited to 160 characters, they impose strict constraints on how much information one message can contain. They therefore encourage the omission of any words, or characters, which can be left out without rendering the message unintelligible. ln doing so they draw on many traditions of casual written language. abbreviations, iconic representations of words (e.9. CU for "see you" or B4 for “before”), etc. There is abundant evidence that most e-mail users treat it more as an extension of casual face-to-face conversation, freed from formal requirements, such as punctuation. (Battarbee 2001, 7) Also, as the proportion of lnternet users who are not native English speakers rises and they make disproportionate use of English, the lnternet further serves to drive the spread of the English language.
In global society as a whole, access to English has also become a prerequisite for any individuals, companies or societies expecting to compete in the international marketplace. (Bruthiaux 2002;.129, 130) lt is important to remember that English-speaking countries account for approximately 40 percent of the world's total gross domestic product. (Fishman 1998: 26) Other factors include the demise of the centrally controlled alternative to the capitalist socioeconomic model and the geopolitical and economic realignment that resulted from this shift. (Bruthiaux 2002, 130) In post-Soviet Hungary as in many other societies, English is seen as both symbolizing and making available modernizing and liberating values. (Bruthiaux 2002, 145) The fact is that many of the citizens of these former states are now seeking to immigrate to English speaking countries and acquiring English as a second language, in their respective countries and abroad. (Fishman 1998, 28) Many of these learners are acquiring English in order to obtain the economic security that employment in the English speaking world or employment using the English language can provide.
lnternational trade, travel and tourism also fuels the spread of global English. The world's ships and airplanes are safer having a language in common; English is used for that purpose. (Wallraff 2000 online) Standardizing on English is a safety measure; it makes communications easier and cheaper. Like falling telephone tariffs and lower transport costs, it creates a virtuous circle: communication becomes less expensive, so more of it occurs. (Economist 1996, 80) As a result, English is spread globally and the continued spread of English today has become both a consequence of and a contributor to globalization.
Basically, English has emerged as a global language because it possesses minimal inflectional morphology, non-tonal phonology, and a non-logographic script. lt also benefits from weak political and administrative control over formal usage, English doesn't belong to any one nation, and it enjoys the freedom to accommodate unplanned, user-driven change leading to both structural simplification and a degree of creolization as the language adapts to local conditions in a multiplicity of socio-linguistic settings. (Bruthia ux 2002, 131)
Today, the dominant view of English as a global language emphasizes the range of its varieties operating as an interconnected system. These settings are, of course, widely distributed across the globe and there are quite a few varieties.
Types of World English
- Australian English
- British English
- Canadian English
- Caribbean English Hong Kong English lndian English lrish English
- Malaysian English
- New Zealand English
- Nigerian English
- Philippine English
- Scots English
- Singaporean English
- South African English
- U S English
- Zambian English (Gilsdorf 2A02; 367, 368)
The important features of English are hybridity and permeability, which have helped it to expand quickly as a world language. Simply speaking, English is adaptable and flexible. Since many Asian speakers find the consonant clusters at ends of some English words (e.g., "texts? With -its /-ksts/) very hard to pronounce (Gilsdorf 2002; 372) they, therefore, tend to pronounce those sounds in their own particular manner. (Jenkins 2000: 94) For instance, Dutch speakers of English do not make enough use of phrases such as “please” and “thank you”. They also have problems with English intonation, since Dutch intonation is much flatter. (Booij 200l, 353) As a result, global English is characterized by having no single correct accent or pronunciation standard, except in specialized areas, i.e., sea transport, air travel, etc.
ln addition, instructors, who have had little or no contact with native speakers, are increasingly teaching some students of English; therefore spoken English acquires strong regional idiosyncrasies. (Fishman 1998. 32) David Graddol relates a story about visiting China and finding a university that had chosen a Belgian company to develop English lessons for it. When Graddol asked those in charge why they'd selected Belgians, of all people, to teach them English, they explained they saw it as an advantage that the Belgians, like the Chinese, are not native speakers. The Belgians, they reasoned, would be likely to have a feel both for the intricacies of learning the language in adulthood and for using it to communicate with other non-native speakers. (Wallraff 2000 online) Unsurprisingly, second language learners acquiring grammatical and pronunciation standards from other second language learners is bound to produce unique phonologies.
Finally, the velocity and spread of the globalization of English depends upon state power and shifting corporate alliances, technological power and advances, enhanced travel opportunities, and the attitudes of whole populations about the languages - and the words in those languages - that they wish to use in communicating among themselves and with others and for what purposes. (Soukhanov 2000, 1) Should the present world order be disrupted this will undoubtedly be reflected in the language paradigm. AIso the rise of new economic competitors, such as China and India, may also influence second language acquisition trends and the English language lexicon and phonology. Regardless, the growing demand and importance of English for international communication requires mutual intelligibility and common standards among the varieties; American English continues to serve this function for the present and will for the near future. By adopting such a standard, the need for mutual intelligibility is assured, while simultaneously furthering the development of local varieties by making available the knowledge that this common tongue allows and which can be resorted to for international comprehension.
As we have seen above, the accent and the structural features of English has substantially changed in the past 1,500 years. lt is changing today and will keep changing in the future. Speakers of English as a foreign language will continue to exert pressure on it to conform and therefore, English as a means of international communication has become and will be easier for speakers of other languages to learn and to use. There is a common variety for international communication (i.e., American English) and intelligibility, but also a multiplicity of local varieties, each variety will possess its own internal norms pertaining to accent and structural features. However, these diverging trends will not threaten the role of English as a lingua franca since many varieties of English have existed for a very long time. Therefore, without a serious competitor, linguistic or mechanical, and lack of national ownership, English will continue to be a means of world communication, due to its' adaptability, minimal inflectional morphology, non-tonal phonology, non-logographic script and a complex interplay of social, economic, technological and historical factors.
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