English as an International Language
This paper is intended to raise awareness on the aspects which define English as an international language, by examining the characteristics of an international language, the number of users, how it spread to reach global status, what factors may impede its continued spread and what dangers are involved in the development of English as an international language.
English’s international status is determined by a constellation of political, economic, demographic and social factors being a communication bridge across linguistic and cultural boundaries. English is a language studied by more and more individuals as an additional language, it is central cu a growing global economy and it is the major language of a developing mass culture The main point of this paper is the idea that learning an international language is different and has other implications than learning other foreign languages.
It has the particularity of belonging to the people who use it, not to only one country. Key words: international language, spread of English, wider communication Today’s society is more and more involved in the study of English. The interest in the learning of this language has increased so much that is now considered by many an international language. English has a wide territorial reach and its domination at global scale is now undeniable.
The language plays an important role as a language of diplomacy and international communications, business, tourism, education, science, computer technology, media and Internet. It is a fact that English is frequently used in official documents of many international organizations, treaties, contracts and summits being exclusively used in international shipping business. This paper intends to clarify some important aspects regarding the development of English as an international language, the path taken to reach global status and the long-term effects the spread of this language has over countries around the world.
Starting from the assumption that English is an international language, this paper is based on defining the essential characteristics of an international language, analyzes why English has developed as one and underlines some important aspects which favor or impede the spread of this language. It is also discussed the way in which English reached such high status and what effects, negative or positive, this status holds.
It opens with the definition of the term ‘international language’ and subjects English to an analysis in two direction: from the perspective of the number of users and their recognition as English-speakers and secondly, by summarizing the features of an international language having English as model. The second part of this paper opens a discussion about the spread of English making a categorization of the reasons which lead to its spread and what negative effects can this have over other languages.
Next, the third and final part of the paper is dedicated to the wheel which makes this machine work, the users of the language. They are the key to English’s expansion worldwide and another feature that defines English as international language: the bilingual users. It is discussed the growing number of bilingual users of English, what characterizes them as being bilingual and what motivates them to use English as a second language.
The last part of the paper also examines the meanings of the term ‘native speaker’, describing types of bilingual users and how they make use of the language. If today, English-speaking countries, taken together have about 400 million native speakers, the demographic projections show that the number of individuals who will acquire the language will grow. The spread of English began in the nineteenth century due to different factors such as migration of English-speaking individuals and technological and scientific advances occurred in English-speaking countries.
Since then it has been in a continued growth, reaching today global status and winning the title of international language Therefore, the study of this phenomenon and the study of English’s evolution is a subject of major interest because of its multitude of cultural, political, economical and social implications. 1. Defining an international language By definition, an international language is a language that has a large number of native speakers. If this definition is sustained, then Mandarin, English, Spanish, Hindi, and Arabic are five most widely spoken languages in the world today.
Even so, unless these languages are spoken by a large number of native speakers of other languages, the language is not considered a language of wider communication. English, in this sense, is the international language par excellence (McKay 2002). And in many instances it is a language of wider communication both among individuals from different countries as well as individuals from one country. Globally and locally, English is an international language. Crystal (1997) states that when a language develops a ‘special role recognized in every country’ it achieves a global status.
The same case is when English is made the official language of a country or when is being learnt with priority as a foreign language. Nowadays, there are over seventy countries in which English holds this special status. Kachru(1989) stats that English serves different roles in different countries. He categorizes the countries in which English is used in three concentric circles: (a) the Inner Circle, where English is the primary language of the country.
This is the case of Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom; (b) the Outer Circle, where English plays the role of a second language. These countries are multilingual and include Singapore, India, and the Philippines; and (c) the Expanding Circle, where English is widely studied as a foreign language such as in China, Japan, and Korea. With the passing of time, changes have occurred and many countries which were before categorized as in the Expanding Circle have more English-speaking bilinguals than countries in the Outer Circle.
One of the advantages of Kachru’s model is that it highlights the unique development of English in these three contexts (Graddol 1997). The migration of English speakers led to a wide spread of this language as a primary language. Things developed in different directions, each country developing its varieties. The second category is a result of colonization, which divides in two types of linguistic development. Some countries which where under colonial powers developed
English as elite second language and others, the cause was the slave trade which influenced the spoken English and led to a English-based pidgins and creoles. The case of the Expanding Circle English is a result of foreign language learning within the country. Graddol (1997) contends that English is shifting, being used by many countries in the Expanding Circle within the country as well as for international communication. It is the case of countries of the Outer Circle. We encounter difficulties in accurately counting the current number of English users.
According to Crystal (1997), there are more sources of statistical information upon the total number of English language users worldwide, therefore all statistics are estimative and not accurate. We agree to the fact that the exact number of users of English is difficult to determine, but it is clear that the number of individuals who are familiar with the language is vast and in a continuous growth. The Expanding Circle has the greatest potential for the continued spread of English.
Graddol (1997) argues that English is the most popular modern language studied in these countries, and points out the example of the Russian Federation, where 60 per cent of secondary school children study English as one of their foreign languages. Even so, it is not the number of speakers that define a language as an international language. We have to take into account other features. Smith (1976) was one of the first authors to define the term ‘international language’, pointing out that an ‘international language is one which is used by people of different nations to communicate with one another’
Furthermore, Smith structures the relationship between international language and culture into three main ideas: first, the learners of international language do not need to internalize the cultural norms of native speakers of that language; second, the international language does not belong to a country, but to the people who use it; and the third idea is regarded to the goal of learning such a language, where the people are able to share their ideas and culture to the world.
Smith continues his ideas by pointing out several revisions regarding the relationship between international language and culture: first, as an international language, English is used both in a global and local sense in international communication between countries, as well as a language of wider communication in different societies, enabling speakers to share their ideas and culture. Moreover, as an international language English is no longer connected to one culture, but becomes part of the culture of countries in which it is spoken. Brutt-Griffler (2002) adopts the model of four central features of an international language.
The first feature regards the development of a economic-cultural system spread worldwide (the development of a world market and business community). Another feature is that an international language has the particularity to enable itself among local languages, having bilingual speakers. The third feature is that, unlike lingua franca, an international language is learned by various levels of society. Finally, an international language is spread by many individuals who acquire the language. The features of an international language are well exemplified in English nowadays.
More and more products coming from a variety of countries are reaching global markets, all as a result of the fact that English as a language dominates economic and cultural areas. As an example 30 per cent of Coca Cola’s income as well as Toyota’s sells of over 1,3 million cars come from the United States. Following the same pattern, 90 per cent of the top money-earning films in history as American productions. These statistics are mentioned by the editor of National Geographic (Swerdlow 1999) in an article about the development of a global culture.
English as an international language helps this process and allows it to spread. Crystal (1997) enters into details by showing other areas where English dominates the market. These areas include international relations, the mass media, international travel, international safety, education and communications. Brutt-Griffier’s model, that of a world language which establishes itself alongside other languages, is sustained by the demographic projections. On the other hand, Graddol’s (1999) view is different, concluding with a shift in the balance between native and non-native speakers of English in the near future.
He sustains that: ’based solely on expected population changes, the number of people using English as their second language will grow from 235 million to around 462 million during the next 50 years. This indicates that the balance between LI and L2 speakers will critically change, with L2 speakers eventually overtaking Ll speakers. ’ (Graddol 1999: 62) All these assumptions lean to the idea that the number of people that will have familiarity with English is growing, so is well pointed the idea of considering English an international language.
It is a language of wider communication and serves to a variety of purposes. The third feature in Brutt-Griffler’s model is the idea of an international language learned by various levels of society. If we start from the assumption that English is a required subject in a country, then the school children have exposure to it. Furthermore, to achieve a high level of proficiency, more work than can be obtained in a state school, is required. For this reason learners seek private institutes.
In the Expanding Circle countries exists a huge industry of private programs to help learners reach a high level of language acquisition. This rule is also true in some Outer Circle countries in which English is at a medium level. Therefore, it is a fact that a country with economic resources is able to obtain a greater proficiency in the language acquisition. The final feature of Brutt-Griffler’s model of an international language is its spread, due to many individuals in a speech community acquiring the language. The term used by the author is ‘macroacquisition’.
Macroacquisition occurs mainly in the Outer Circle countries and has as result bilingualism at a large scale. According to Brutt-Griffler (2002), macroacquisition has two important implications: the study of bilingualism in Outer and Expanding Circle countries and the fact that the focus of these investigations must be on bilingual English speech communities, not on individual language learners. The urban migration is a significant factor in the continued growth of English. Graddol (1997) shows that the most rapid urbanization today takes place in the developing world such as Asia.
In this sense, urban areas are the focus of linguistic change, therefore urbanization will have long-term effects for the future of English as an international language. For Graddol: ‘Urbanisation thus has important effects on language demography. New languages emerge, others change, some are lost. In the world s cities—the nexus for flows of people, goods and ideas—the spread of English will be felt first and most keenly; new patterns of English uses will arise amongst second-language speakers.
But such cities will also form the foundation for other, potentially rival, lingua francas. ’ (Graddol 1997: 27) The process of urban migration may encourage individuals with economic resources to learn the language and, this way, creating an economic split between English-knowing bilinguals and others with little proficiency in the language. Urban centers may lead to language change, therefore resulting in new varieties of English. There are characteristics of English in today’s society which assert it as an international language.
Being a language of wider communication, learned by more and more individuals as an additional language, English plays an important role in global economy and is a language of mass culture. 2. The spread of English English has acquired a international status due to a series of factors and changes in the development of the world. There are authors who studied these factors and reached interesting conclusions. Crystal (1997) points out these factors which led to the initial spread of English. They are of geographical, historical and sociocultural nature.
To these we add the British and American colonialism and the migration on English speakers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Furthermore, Britain becomes an important industrial nation, closely followed by the United States. Both countries were English speaking countries and the most powerful in the world. During the Industrial Revolution, innovations came from Britain, therefore the ones who worked in these technologic and scientific areas had to learn the language. By the end of the century, the United States overtook Britain with a growing economy, producing many new inventions.
After underlining some of the aspects that influenced the spread of English, Crystal concludes with an interesting idea. He sustains that one of the primary reasons for the spread of English is that it has been in the right place at the right time: ‘In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English was me language of the leading colonial nation—Britain. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was the language of the leader of the industrial revolution—also Britain. In the late-nineteenth century and the early twentieth it was the language of the leading economic power—the USA.
As a result, when new technologies brought new linguistic opportunities, English emerged as a first-rank language in industries which affected all aspects of society—the press, advertising, broadcasting, motion pictures, sound recording, transport and communications. ’ (Crystal 1997: 110-11) After having established the factors which led to the initial spread of the language (colonialism, speaker migration, and new technology developed the United States and Britain), we take a look at the factors that keep the
language at an international status today. Important aspects are the current uses of the language in intellectual, economic and cultural areas. Crystal (1997) points out cases such as the one of international organizations, which make official use of the language. The motion pictures industry is attached to this survey because they are controlled by the United States. In the music industry, 99 per cent of the pop groups work entirely in English, according to The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
These industries developed in the United States or Britain, and enjoy a wide range of popularity which motivates young people to learn it, resulting in the development of a global culture under the sign of English as international language. In tourism, the United States is leader. Graddol (1997) enters into details, pointing out that 10 per cent of the worlds labor force is now employed in tourist-related industries, international travel having a globalizing effect, therefore promoting one common language.
English dominates this market in the sense that international airports have information available in English and international hotels have English-speaking staff available. Other interesting facts are in cultural areas. English is a key language in the storage and dissemination of information. Crystal (1997) notes in the 1980s a rate of 85 per cent of biology and physics papers, 73 per cent of medical papers, and over 65 per cent of mathematics and chemistry papers, are all written in English.
Graddol (1997) adds the high number of book publishing in this language as well as both printed and electronic information done in English with an amount of 84 per cent of Internet servers that are English medium and about 80 per cent of the electronically stored information is in English. In many countries English plays a significant role in higher education. Access to higher education also dependents on a knowledge of English, due to all key information stored in this language. If students need to have access to it, they have to study the language.
According to Widdowson (1997) English has a variety of specific purposes which gave it the global currency Furthermore, 85 per cent of international organizations make official use of English. These organizations involve international relations, some carrying on their proceedings only in English. There are organizations in Asia and the Pacific where about 90 percent of international bodies carry on their proceedings only in English. Sports associations also enter this category. The examples mentioned have a large-scale implication, and English is the key language applied in these political, social, educational, and economic contexts.
In order to enter a global community and to achieve economic development, countries all around the world have to put English as a language of primary interest. The economic development of a country starts from many areas; one aspect is the international funds a country receives or the private funding sources. The language used in such areas is English so the countries need to use it in order to make these structures work together. Other fields in which English is used are: agricultural development and advancements in transportation structures, in which all relevant information is stored in this language.
Nevertheless, there are several factors which may impede the spread of this language as an international language. Martin (2000) notes that English may not spread widely in countries with low contact ration between the individuals of the country and English-speakers. There are countries which have an economy not related to English-speaking nations, therefore there is little need to study the language and a good example for this is Japan. Graddol (1997) points to other factors as a possible obstacle for the language spread.
One may be the competition from other languages in economic areas that could occur in the educational system, where other languages have priority due to political reasons. Therefore, the study of English may not be required. The popularity of English on the Internet may diminish if, in the near future, new technologies are invented and new servers on the Internet will be capable to translate any given text in the language required. This idea was pointed by Crystal and was sustained by Graddol (1997) who maintains that the future is represented by the use of more languages on the Web.
In the same time, national resources play an important role in the spread of English. The macroaquisitions of any language need economic support. If not, the language is not likely to spread. Another factor that may impede the spread of English is the belief that a nation’s culture may be compromised by it. There are countries which already gave an official status to other languages than English. This issue raises other problems, leading to the potentially negative effects of the development of English as an international language.
Swerdlow (1999) and Krauss (1992) discuss the influence that English has upon other languages, diminishing their roles of existing languages, leading them to extinction. Phillipson (1992) introduces the term of “linguistic imperialism” considering that English- speaking countries maintain dominance over “periphery countries”: “the dominance of English is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.
The need to have access to technological and scientific information, to global economic trade or to higher education has as result the study of English. In Kachru’s view “knowing English permits one to open the linguistic gates to international business, technology, science and travel. English provides linguistic power. ” (1986:1) Judging from another point of view, English dominance leads to a dysfunctional relationship between language and cultural identity. Local traditions were replaced by a largely western-influenced global culture.
Good examples are the celebration of Halloween in Chile, Christmas trees in Japan, and Valentine’s Day in India. These involve other implications, such as economic benefits from these adopted celebrations through marketing of greeting card and gifts. In this situation, the spread of English is directly connected. (McKay 2002) The spread of English can also have negative economic repercussions. There is a strong relationship between economic wealth and proficiency. In this sense, Tollefson (1991) underlines an important aspect of the level of English learning individuals.
In his opinion, there are individuals who can encounter obstacles in acquiring the language. In this case, they are not equipped for a job in fields that require English-speaking abilities. This language policy can lead to social inequalities. The spread of English is a complex process formed by those who promote the language and those who, for different reasons, choose to learn it. Therefore, we have seen that the study of the language depends on the resources available to pursue its study. 3. Bilingual users of English
Undoubtedly, the number of users of English will continue to grow, surpassing the number of native speakers. The term of ‘bilingual users of English’ is used to describe individuals who use English as a second language. Jenkins (2000) attaches this term to both native and non-native speakers. Bilingual users of English make use of the language for restricted and formal purposes, in order to meet their communication needs. McKay (2002) points that in pedagogy and research there is an assumption that the goal of bilingual users of English is to reach the level of a native-speaker.
However, there is a category of individuals who use English as a language of wider communication, therefore they don’t need higher competence in English. The term of ‘native speaker’ is widely discussed, but according to Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (Richards, Platt, and Weber 1985:188) a native speaker is a ‘person considered as a speaker of his or her native language’. Continuing this idea, a native language is defined as the language that ‘a person acquires early in childhood because it is spoken in the family and/or it is the language of the country where he or she is living’ (ibid: 188).
The use of English as an international language is predominantly among bilingual users of English, therefore is more important to analyze them within their linguistic repertoire rather than compare them to native speakers. To continue this assertion, we underline the use of English in many multilingual communities. The spread of English as an international language is a result of macroacquisition, leading to bilingualism and multilingualism.
Graddol (1997) points some interesting aspects concerning bilingual users of English; he considers English a language with a large number of speakers that are not first language speakers and highlights the European concept of ‘bilingualism’, where each language has a geographical ‘home’. He continues by defining the bilingual speaker as a person ‘who can converse with monolingual speakers from more than one country. The ideal bilingual speaker is thus imagined to be someone who is like a monolingual in two languages at once. ’ (Graddol l997: 12) An interesting aspect would be to categorize the purposes for which bilinguals use English.
Graddol deepens his study by hierarchically ordering languages in a pyramid. At the base we find languages used with family and friends for informal purposes. These are usually languages that children first acquire. Then, higher up the pyramid, we have languages used for more formal purposes, especially in public domains. This type of languages has, according to McKay ‘a more extensive territorial reach’ (2002: 33) and is generally used for local news reporting or commerce. At the top of the pyramid we have languages used in official administration and in higher education.
This type of languages is of wider communication and reach international status. English serves as example of such languages, alongside French. Graddol calls these languages ‘big languages’ (1997: 13). The consequence of this organization of languages, based on their importance in international contexts and their worldwide spread, will be that more and more people will learn the languages at the top of the pyramid, not because they choose to, but because they need to learn these languages. This applies especially for countries which intend to develop.
It is a great diversity of ways in which bilingual users make use of the language, each country has its own way of using the language and each community developed differently in time. One important aspect in discussing an international language is if it keeps its status in countries with more than one language as official language. McKay (2002) argues that multilingual communities can use English as an international language because a characteristic of an international language is to communicate across linguistic and cultural boundaries, boundaries which may or may not coincide with the national ones.
English is used as a language of wider communication on a global scale, therefore surpassing national boundaries. McKay (2002) points out the fact that English provides neutral bases of communication for groups within a nation. Bilingual users make use of the language differently in a variety of countries, many without the purpose to achieve the competence of a native speaker, but rather to meet, their communicative need and their access to information. The concept of ‘international language’ has been attentively discussed and contextualized in the article above, reaching a common ground.
An international language is a language linked not to a culture or nation, but to the users of that language. The notion that a international language must be widely spoken takes new dimensions, reaching to the central idea that a international language serves to global needs as a language of wider communication. This paper also examines the factors that led to the spread of English and what factors may impede its continued growth. In this sense, new translation technology and the lack of economic resources to pursue its study can lead to a major downfall in the spread of English.
An international language can contribute to greater efficiency in the sharing of information, to economic development and to cross-cultural communication. Finally, the spread of English has both positive and negative implications. Another aspect of the paper is the bilingual users. It is important to consider how English is used within specific bilingual communities, therefore the last part of the chapter explores the various ways in which bilingual users of English make use of the language for purposes of wider communication.
Taking into account these considerations, we can assume that the future of English as a global language will depend very largely on the political, economical, demographic, cultural trends in the world. The purpose of this paper is to give the reader more insight on the elements that create an international language and what implications this language has in our growing global community.