Is It Me, or Are We Speaking English Again?

The world of the 21st century has gone a long way in linking people in ways previously unheard of. Emerging as the lingua franca of the world, English sits atop other languages in many respects. It is the language of science, aviation, computing, tourism, and more importantly, diplomacy. Competition, however, is an inevitable consequence for what seems to be a language monopoly. A globalising world requires a global language. It is only natural that a global community be represented by a singular language, one that serves as the primary means of communicating, further easing the problem. It just so happens that that language is English.

Behind this hegemony on internet language are the lingering effects of Imperialism during the 19th and 20th centuries. England had a vast empire beyond Europe and America under its control. In one way or another, it influenced the lives of much of the world’s people during the age of imperialism. Even with the recent rise of Mandarin Chinese, English commands global attention, and remains the language of business. 380 million speakers are native, another 300 million speakers use it as a second language, and another 100 million learn English as a foreign language. Consolidation seems to be the only viable direction.

Because of that increasing globalisation, languages have also influenced one another. English is complimented by the wealth of foreign words it borrows. Ever since William’s conquest of Normandy, the influx of foreign words has greatly expanded the English vocabulary. Examples include the use of au courant, which is really a shorter way of saying that something is up to date. Another term expresses the ephemeral nature of trends, only better: du jour.

One interesting fact to note is that, of the nearly 3,000 different languages that are still alive, English is richest in vocabulary, boasting a vocabulary of half a million words according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Moreover, another 500,000 technical and scientific terms remain un-catalogued.

French FlagThe French have always taken steps to promote the use of French. But since 1994, the French government enacted legislation requiring that media (viz., advertisements), work-contracts and official documents be in French. One of the ways The General Delegation, the institution charged with creating new words, is going about maintaining the French language integrity is through the creation of French equivalents to technical terms, most of which are English. However, the French are not alone in feeling that they are at the other end of an invasion. Germany, another country which in recent years has felt particularly compelled to reassert its national language, has taken a similar approach.

German flagSeveral institutes are charged with promoting the German language, among them the well-known Goethe Institute and the Central Agency for School Abroad, as well as the German Embassies themselves. Together, they have a network of 70 experts spanning 46 countries who aid in the creation of curricula and provide training for teachers. Alongside Mandarin, English, and French, Germany seeks to cement its position as international language, vying for position with some very tough opponents. When it comes to book production on a global scale, in 2005 German held a third place position, 12% of all literature being published in the German language.

Less than a year ago, Rwanda, at one point under Belgian control, chose to promote English over French as their language of learning, governance, and trade. More telling is that fewer than five percent of the populace spoke English. Slated to be the language of instruction in schools, it seems only logical; French versions of books cost considerably more than their English counterparts.

A testament to the current dominance of the English language is its willingness to accommodate other languages, aiming to be the perfect amalgam, and as a consequence beating out any competing languages. Many other countries feel that English is unfairly imposed on them, but in accepting and continuing to borrow words from other languages, English, in a rather ironic manner, continues to be the dominant language of global interaction.

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