English as a World Language

Seminar Paper 2001 15 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics





The current status of English around the world


The establishment of English as a world language - not only considered from the linguistic point of view

Linguistic reasons for the establishment of English as a world language
The simplicity of English
Varieties of English
English-based pidgins and creoles





English as a world language- a challenging topic that is fully treated in literature, because it is a topic of general interest. But during my researches, I realized that it was difficult to find literature about linguistic reasons for the establishment of English as a world language. Since this aspect is often interwoven within other reasons, for example geo-political reasons, linguistic reasons are seldom explicitly stated. Frequently, mixtures of reasons that have finally helped English to reach its high eminence as a world language are presented.

In the end, I found some important aspects by picking them out of different texts and books and confined myself to present three important linguistic reasons for the establishment of English as a world language. Therefore, this paper does not claim to be complete, otherwise it would extend the prescribed lenght of the paper.


The geographical dissemination of English and its high eminence are an unique case of language spread and language imposition. English as the most important world language has a greater number of speakers than any other language (except Mandarin).

The aim of this paper is to give an answer to the questions that are raised by this fact: Why is it English that has reached the highest eminence of all the world languages? And what are the linguistic aspects that helped English to its success?

As a consequence, the linguistic reasons are the most important aspect in this paper, since they should explain how English reached its status as the most important world language. But before explaining three important linguistic reasons in detail, the current status of English and some important definitions have to be explained. In addition, there is a brief explanation of other reasons that have supported English in its way to the top. This allows the reader to put the linguistic reasons into context and not just to see them as isolated from other factors.


For the first time, the English language was brought to Britain in the fifth century, and in the period after its initiation, it was spoken almost exclusively by people in England and by some in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. At that time, English was a language of minor importance than today. It was neither spread all around the globe, nor known as an important world language. By 1850, English finally became a world language that had and still has a high international eminence. Today, English „has spread all over the globe and is the international language par excellence.“(Shores, p.15) It is the dominant language all around the world, and this „spectacular domination is without parallel in history“(The English Language, p.1).

English is the second most spoken language in the world (see appendix). In fact, Mandarin is spoken by more people than English, but it has not such a world authority, such a geographical dissemination and such important literature and scientific writings as English. English is spoken as a mother-tongue by about 400 million people (for example in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the British Isles) and as a second language with official status by around 300 million people in countries as India and Nigeria. Furthermore, about 300 million people claim some proficiency in English as an additional language. Since English is spread all around the globe, there exist not only the Standard English, but also many distinct varieties of English.

Additionally, English „makes possible the universality of science“(Shores, p.15), because the scientific vocabulary of English has international importance, and new English terms which are especially coined for scientific areas like genetics or nuclear physics are rapidly spread around the globe.

The significance of English in international relations has also to be mentioned, because English serves more than 160 million people as a vehicle for diplomacy and has a significant role in national affairs and commerce.


In this paper the terms world language, first language, second language, foreign language and dialect are often used. The following definitions should be helpful for understanding the explanations.

A world language is defined as:

A language that is used to overcome global language barriers and that is dominantly used in the areas of politics, international organisations, economics, science and many technical terminologies. The significance of a language as a world language can be gauged more by the number of speakers that use it as a second language than as a mother-tongue.

By the term first language is meant:

A person’s first language is the language they learn from their parents as they are growing up (Cambridge Dictionaries Online,p.1).

First language is also a synonym for mother-tongue.

A second language is:

[...] a language that a person can speak which is not the first language they learnt naturally as a child. English as a second language is English taught to people whose language is not English, but who are living in an English-speaking country (Cambridge Dictionaries Online, p.1).

Second languages are used in multi-lingual communities. For public purposes they often become the official language of a country. (An official language is especially used in government, science, media, administration, commerce and education.)

A dialect means:

[...] a variety of language spoken by a distinct group of people in a definite place. A dialect varies in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar from others varieties of the same language. People united by dialect form a speech community (Shores, p.17).

Another definition states:

When different groups of people speaking one language become separated by geographical, political, or social barriers, each group gradually develops its own variety of the language, which we call a dialect (Shores, p.7).



ISBN (eBook)
File size
483 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Basel – Seminar for English Literatur and Linguistics
English World Language Seminar



Title: English as a World Language