Historically, Why did English Arise as a Global Language?
English as a global language is increasing public recognition of the global position of English. We hear it on television spoken by politicians from all over the world. Wherever we travel, we see English signs and advertisements. English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools, often displacing other languages in the process. The statistics suggest that about a quarter of the worldâs population estimated about 1.5 billion people, is already fluent or competent in English, and this figure is steadily growing. No other language can match this growth. Even Chinese is known to âonlyâ some 1.1 billion.
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So, the question would be easily brought up, i.e., why has English, and not some other language, arisen to achieve such a status?
A language has traditionally become an international language for one chief reason: the power of its people â especially their political and military power. Throughout history, the explanation has been the same. The history of a global language can be traced through the successful expeditions of its soldiers and sailors, and English has been no exception.
The core of English is derived from a language called Anglo-Saxon, which still comprises about 20% of the vocabulary. When the Normans conquered England in 1066, they introduced words that came from French and Latin into English. These words currently consist of about a quarter of the English vocabulary. Right now, the English vocabulary has words originating from as many as 120 different languages, and as increasing in size by about 8,500 words every year. A notable exception to this is French, which has tried to exclude the influence of English from its language. The process of the English language becoming international began in 1607, when British settlers founded the first permanent English colony in North America. Settlers came to North America not only from England but also from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Over the 17th century, the English took control of Dutch and Swedish colonies in North America, and in 1763, annexed the French colonies in Canada and the Ohio River Valley. Parts of the languages of these other European countries were brought into the English language. The settlers also came into contact with a Native American tribe called the Algonquians, whose language had an influence on the English language spoken in North America. For example, the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut had their names originate from Algonquian.
The colonization of North America, and later on the colonization of Australia and New Zealand in the 19th century, created what is known today as the âinner circleâ of global English, made up of countries where the majority of the population is composed of people descended from British settlers. The âouter circleâ of global English was created when the British Empire formed colonies in India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Unlike North America and Oceania, these places have a significant native population and few British settlers. While native languages such as Hindi in India continued to be spoken in the home, English was the language of the public sphere, used in official documents, law courts and education.
As a result of the global spread of British colonists, English has become the dominant language in many aspects of society. Nowadays, two-thirds of all scientific papers are published in English, and as many as 95% of the articles in the Science Citation Index were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries. Up to half of all business deals throughout the world are conducted in English. Popular music worldwide is overwhelmingly dominated by English, and American television is available almost everywhere. Half of the world newspapers are in English, and some 75% of the world mail correspondence is in English. At least 35% of Internet users are English speakers, and an estimated 70-80% of the content on the Internet is in English.
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Why did Greek become a language of international communication in the Middle East over 2,000 years ago?
Not because of the intellects of Plato and Aristotle: the answer lies in the swords and spears wielded by the armies of Alexander the Great. Why did Latin become known throughout Europe? Ask the legions of the Roman Empire. Why did Arabic come to be spoken so widely across northern Africa and the Middle East? Follow the spread of Islam, carried along by the force of the Moorish armies from the eighth century.
However, international language dominance is not solely the result of military might. It may take a militarily powerful nation to establish a language, but it takes an economically powerful one to maintain and expand it. This has always been the case, but it became a particularly critical factor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with economic developments beginning to operate on a global scale, supported by the new communication technologies âtelegraph, telephone, radio â and fostering the emergence of massive multinational organizations.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain had become the worldâs leading industrial and trading country. By the end of the century, the population of the USA was approaching 100 million, larger than that of any of the countries of western Europe, and its economy was the most productive and the fastest growing in the world. British political imperialism had sent English around the globe, during the nineteenth century, so that it was a language âon which the sun never sets.â During the twentieth century, this world presence was maintained and promoted almost single-handedly through the economic supremacy of the new American superpower. Economics replaced politics as the chief driving force. In summary, the language behind the US dollar was English, and English as a global language has been arising.
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