Whether or not English is, or will be, the “global language” is a matter of debate, according to a recent article.
“English may eventually usurp all other languages, establishing itself as the global mother tongue,” wrote Andy Steiner in the November-December issue of Utne Reader.
“Technology, the force that’s making our world smaller and more accessible, is largely to blame: satellites beam English-language TV to all corners of creation; bigger, faster airplanes carry hordes of money-wielding (and English-speaking) tourists to even the remotest of villages; and popular American music and movies . . . are everywhere,” wrote Steiner.
However, English is not the most widely spoken language on the planet. That distinction belongs to Mandarin Chinese, spoken by 885 million people, according to the article.
English is a distant second with 322 million native speakers, followed by Spanish (266 million), Bengali (189 million) and Hindi (182 million), according to the article.
Nevertheless, English has linguistically dominated the world in recent memory, due largely in part to the economic and military influence of the United States, wrote Steiner.
But linguist Joshua A. Fishman, in Whole Earth magazine, cited three “reasons to believe that the English language will eventually wane in influence.”
First, “English actually reaches and then is utilized by only a small, atypically fortunate minority.”
Second, “globalization has also encouraged regionalization, and with it the spread of regional languages.”
Third, “the spread of English and these regional languages collectively has created a squeeze effect on small communities, producing pockets of anxious localization and local-language revival resistant to global change.”
In fact, Fishman suggested English speakers “adopt and encourage regional languages suited for distinctive social functions,” according to the article.
“The language characteristically used with intimate family and friends, the language generally used with co-workers or neighbors, and the language used with one’s bosses or government need not be the same,” Fishman is quoted in the article.
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s project coordinator.