The Emergence of English as a Global Language

3 March 2017

Emergence of English as a world language The need for a global link language Prof. Anil Sarwal[1] The primary means of communication among the peoples of the world is language. According to a well known linguist, Frank Palmer[1], the difference between human beings and animals is poorly described by the label homo sapiens (man with wisdom). He questions what do we mean by wisdom? Anthropologists describe man as a tool maker, but even apes are known to be able to make primitive tools. In fact, what sets us apart from animals is our ability to speak.

Man is a speaking animal—homo loquens—and this ability has greatly facilitated our advancement in all spheres. At present, humanity uses 6,809 living languages and about 100 living scripts to facilitate its social interactions[2]. However, there is an urgent need for the adoption of a common link language in a world in which all its people are quickly becoming interdependent despite the many differences of their myriad cultures, races, religions and ideologies.

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The ‘planetization of humankind’[3] is almost complete due to the effects of recent dramatic advances in transport and communication.

Communications have been greatly improved by the widespread adoption of mass media—especially radio and television—coupled with reduced costs and time that has been made possible by the use of satellites, computers and mobile telephones. The Internet is quickly emerging as the preferred information highway to meet our daily communication needs as well as for conducting important business transactions. It is now almost impossible for us to fully participate in the global village that we live in, without ‘knowing’ a common world language. 4]  However, the common link language that would be the universally accepted means of communication should not be allowed to undermine the importance of any other existing language or culture. In fact, new linguistic insights have made us aware that no human language is superior to any other and that the development and growth of a language depend upon its use. Meanwhile, English, for various reasons—primarily due to British rule in the many parts of the world—has emerged as the popular lingua franca[5].

In the process, it must be acknowledged, the role of English and its functions have vastly changed. English is no more seen as the language of the rulers, or as an instrument of promoting British culture and values. According to the famous linguist Tom McArthur, “In the closing years of the twentieth century the English language has become a global resource. As such it does not owe its existence or the protection of its essence to any nation or group. ”[6] It is estimated that about a billion people in the world use English either as their native, second or foreign language.

English is used in over 70 countries as an official or semi-official language, and plays a very significant role in 20 others. Over 1,400 million people live in countries where there is a tradition of using English. Some 75% of the world’s mail and world’s information is stored in English. Of the estimated 50 million users of the Internet, a majority use English. [7] With the evolution of English to the status of a world language, we have become aware of some of the features that a world language must possess. Irrespective of its origin, a world language must become a utility language that embraces the needs of everyone.

Though English originally was the language of the British, there are now many varieties of English, including American English, African English, Indian English and Australian English. Moreover, English now encompasses the dreams and aspirations of many peoples and experiences of diverse nations. It is used to transmit a mass of various information whether it be the latest advances in the fields of science and technology, the experiences of an ethnic group, negotiations in the field of commerce; documentation of cultural ethos; or individual experiences.

Its vocabulary has been vastly enriched with the inclusion of many new words from other languages of the world. Some ten thousand words derived from Hindi and other Indian languages have become a part of Indian English. These include:  guru, babu, chorpoy, curry, etc. We are very familiar with the following widely used pidgin words:  lathi-charge, rickshaw-walla, double-roti, etc. [8] Spoken English varies from region to region in accordance with cultural and native language differences.

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