view updated

English as a global language

English as a global language

English history

About 500 years ago, between only 5 and 7 million people spoke the english language, and almost all of them were living in the British Isles. And now, around 1.8 billion people all around the world speak English. Why?

The language was spread around the world by the soldiers, pilgrims, sailors, missionaries and traders of the British Empire. And by the time anything resembling a language policy was introduced, English had already reached all the corners of the world.

English did not come to dominate colonies in Asia and Africa, in those two continents English was only for business administration and education, but it wasn't the language of the people. The reason was that the British Empire had a main goal, and that was trade so fewer Britons actually settled.

For a long period of time, access to English actually meant access to education, whether in the missions in schools in Africa or India. and that created an English-speaking elite in the largest and most populous countries in the world.

The cultural legacy of the post-war decades is very important to the growth of English as a world language.

USA sent money across the Atlantic, and also provided the soundtrack through rock and roll, jazz, disco and hip hop. But it wasn’t just American music that brought English into the world’s discotheques and homes, British bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, the Police or Led Zeppelin ensured that Britannia ruled the airwaves.

Hollywood movies became global sensations and American television series became cultural reference points. American culture is everywhere, gaining confidence and success; just the right things for a world that had been ravaged by war.

English is also the language of the technological revolution and the internet. The USA remains the most innovative technological nation and English is the dominant language because of the language policy of the nation’s founders.

Colonization

Colonization under the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries spread the English language around the world. English became the main language in many countries, Canada, South Africa, India and Pakistan, for example. English was, and is still used as the language of business and commerce and offered a good way of communicating between people who has many different dialects and languages. This led to the use of English as a lingua franca, where people with different mother tongues communicate with each other through English.

English as an official language

There are countries all over the world that speak English. In fact there are several countries in every continent in the world. Some of the countries are obviously England, Australia and the United States, but also countries in Africa such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Sudan for example. Actually, almost every country in Africa has English as an official language.

Also countries in Asia such as Singapore, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. In Europe, there are three countries who has English as an official language, these countries are of course Ireland, the United Kingdom and Malta.

Both South- and North America contain many English speaking countries. Countries like for example Canada, Jamaica and Bahamas.

The last continent that has not been mentioned is of course Oceania. In Oceania almost every country has English as an official language, except New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna where French is the official language.

There are several reasons why all of these countries are English-speaking. One of the main reasons is that the countries are all very affected by the English language. And we can surely state the fact that the British Empire had a lot to do with this. Countries like Ireland, Canada, Egypt, Nepal, Burma, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ceylon, Malaya, New Zealand, Australia, but most importantly India and the United Kingdom.

And even though there aren't many countries left in the British Empire such as India and Hong Kong, for example, but they are still affected by the English language and therefore has English as their official language.

English is spread around the entire world including the largest countries in the world, or with the largest populations, making it a necessary language for almost every country to learn to speak and it means that almost all of large countries, like India, speak English. India has a population of 1,324 billion people, making it the second largest country by population, after China. And therefore India has a huge impact on the world.

Blackbirding in Australia

In the 1700s the United Kingdom went through social changes which lead to increased crime, and because of this the authorities decided to introduce stricter laws and penalties. The penalties were often death penalty, and in the 1800s the authorities realised this penalty killed too many people and they wanted to get more out of these people. Therefore instead of death penalty they sent them to the British colonies i North-America with ships.

James Cook, an exploring captain, wanted to send people to more places and therefore sent the criminals from Britain to Australia. After that the colony; New South Wales were made, then there were made many more colonies called penal colonies. Because of this, English got spread all over Oceania. This was the main reason that English is the official language in Australia, as well as Australia joining wars. Most importantly world war 1 and 2, the boer war and the Vietnam war. This had a big impact on Australia as a English-speaking country.

The demand for labour in Queensland in the 1860s, resulted in blackbirding. Queensland was a self-governing British colony in Australia until 1901, that is when it became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Between 55 000 - 62 500 South Sea Islanders were taken to Australia and were referred to as Kanakas. They came from the Western Pacific islands such as; Melanesia, mainly the Solomon Islands, and the New Hebrides and from the Polynesian and Micronesian islands; Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu, for example. But also some Australian Aboriginals were kidnapped. And the workers were mainly effectively slaves, also called “indentured labourers”. Some of the labourers were willing to be taken to Australia to work, while most of them were tricked or forced.

The methods of blackbirding were varied. In some cases blackbirding ships would entice entire villages by luring them on board for trade or a religious service, and then setting sail. The trip took several month which unfortunately killed many of them. But many also survived and came to Australia as slaves, spreading the English language to all of Australia.

Lingua Franca

The term Lingua Franca means; "a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages". Today, English is the Lingua Franca of the world, meaning that English is the language that people around the world use as a common language when they don't have have same mother tongue.

Now

English is still a global language used by millions of people. But difference is that American is dominant instead of English. And the language will keep being the global language mostly because of popular culture and social media. Everyday children as well as adults, go on social media and more or less everything is in english. The apps, songs, movies and the most popular phone, iPhone, is also in english. And this teaches kids english much easier now, than ever before.

Also all of the world's best business schools teach in English, and all the international schools are English schools. The language is now the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 of

the 25 EU Member States where it is not an official. So it looks like the language is going to keep on growing and becoming more and more important and always be the global language.