There are about five thousand groups of people in the world that speaks various languages which makes it difficult for them to communicate and understand each other. Furthermore, the population of the Earth is also organized into hundred of states and networks so that different languages from all over the world persists. Because of this multitude of languages, there has been confusion and misunderstanding for most of us. However, even with this kind of predicament, a lot of us but not all are still connected.
One of these connecting factors is multilingualism where people are able to communicate with each other because they know another language than their mother tongues (Swaan 2001). While it is possible that people from different parts of the world understand each other by using a language other than the language that they speak, this is not true in all cases. There is a scheme in the world’s languages that multilingualism has a strong ordered hierarchical pattern which means that there is one certain language that prevails.
As a matter of fact, 98 percent of the world languages today are considered to be in the lower part of the hierarchy. These so called peripheral languages are used only by about 10 percent of human population. Because of this, speakers of peripheral languages find it hard to deal with traders and other kinds of transactions done in a language other than their mother tongue. They had to learn a central language so that they can understand and be understood by others. In this case, peripheral languages revolved around a central language just as planets revolved around the sun.
In this case, a global language is really needed (Swaan 2001). For instance, in communities like Africa and South-East Asia where there are a number of languages used, bilingualism or multilingualism does not work. The only solution that was adopted and was proven to be effective is to find a lingua franca or a common language for people to communicate with each other. Sometimes this common language is in the form of a pidgin where two different languages are combined for two groups of people to understand each other.
Sometimes, there is one indigenous language that will persist just because it belongs to a group of powerful ethnic group such as in the case of Mandarin Chinese. Other groups will then be forced to learn this language with varying degree of success. But for the most part, a language that is considered a lingua franca is the language that is accepted from outside the community because of its political, economic, and religious influence of a foreign power such as in the case of English and French (Crystal 2003).
It is beyond dispute that English has now become the premier international language in the world. As a matter of fact, English is everywhere whether as an official language, a co-official language, or a preferred foreign language. It is also prevalent in domains from business to science to technology to communication and to popular culture. For instance, when a Swedish transacts business in Thailand or in the Philippines, he does this in English. When a Brazilian scientist wanted to publish his research, he does this in English.
When an Egyptian pilot flies from one point of the planet to another, he communicates with his passengers in the English language (Trask 1999). As already mentioned, English’s pre-eminence is traceable to the rise of American political and economic power which includes the spread of American culture right after World War II (Trask 1999). Furthermore, it was reinforced by the emergence of the United States as the superpower in the international trade that sparked an international phenomenon called globalization.
People have regarded English as a key to professional success and a greater well-being the same as the position of Latin several decades ago (Rubdy and Saraceni 2006). As of present, the English language has enjoyed a special status in many countries all over the world. As a matter of fact, in countries like Nigeria, India, and Singapore, English is now used for administrative and commercial purposes. In Spain, Germany, Greece, Algeria, Korea, and Japan, French and Chinese has already been abandoned for English as the most preferred foreign language.
Dutch universities have also adopted English as the sole language of instruction in all subjects. Statistics also show that about a quarter of the world’s population are already competent in English which is recorded to be the first language to have gained this popularity in history (Trask 1999). But this reputation and eminence of English is not without criticisms. There are issues on linguistic power which is concern on the status of mother tongue speakers of the designated global language and those who just learned it as a second or a foreign language.
In this case, Americans and British will have linguistic power over the Koreans and the Spanish. There is also the issue of linguistic complacency where native speakers of the global language traveling all over the world will be complacent enough not to learn the language of the inhabitants of the place because they are confident enough that they will be understood through English (Crystal 2003). Moreover, Crystal in his book Language Death, has also introduced the possibility that the growth of English as a global language would lead to deaths of other peripheral languages (2002).
All these and more have prompted language advocates to find alternatives to English as a global language. For instance, there is a proposal from Ludwig Zamenhof that people would use a neutral artificial language such as the Esperanto. While there are already a number of people who have learned Esperanto, still they do not equal the number of English speakers. Even when it is easier to learn than English for non-native speakers, it would not succeed as a global language because it has not yet or will not gain the status that English has today.
That status is important because as mentioned already, English eminence did not happen overnight but is a product of history and influence of the United States in globalization (Rubdy and Saraceni 2006). Indeed, English has rise into a special position in linguistic history as a global language the same as Latin in the classic time. This has nothing to do with the linguistic quality of English but to the circumstances of its speakers. Its global eminence and prominence was not something made up but a product of a long history and civilization.
As long as the United States remains as a superpower of the world, English will remain a global language that everyone in the world would want to learn.
Crystal, D 2003, English as a Global Language, Oxford, Cambridge UP. Crystal, D 2002, Language Death, Oxford, Cambridge UP. Rubdy, R and Saraceni, M 2006, English in the world: global rules, global roles, USA, Continuum International. Swaan, A 2001, Words of the World: The Global language system, USA, Wiley, Blackwell. Trask, RL 1999, Key concepts in language and linguistics, Oxford, Routledge.