Spread of English Language
Does the Spread of English Kill other Languages?
The past few decades have witnessed a rapid decline in the number of exotic, native languages the world over. Linguists intimate that nearly 50 languages disappear every year throughout the world. One of the explanations that have been advanced to explain this strange phenomenon is increased interconnectedness and interaction of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The implication is that increased globalization efforts have promoted the spread of several, apparently prestigious languages, such as English, French, Italian, and German, to other parts of the world, where they are increasingly spoken or, otherwise, used at the expense of local, native languages, ultimately causing their demise. One of the languages whose widespread popularity has particularly resulted in this unfavorable phenomenon is English. This paper interrogates whether the spread of English “kills” other languages. Analysis indicates that high acknowledgement and wide use of English do not harm other languages, especially exotic ones; instead, English merely acts as a lingua franca, thus facilitating interaction between linguistically-diverse people.
The most prominent evidence that has been advanced by proponents of the viewpoint that the rapid spread of English does not endanger the existence of other languages is the fact that it solely aims to become the de facto native language of the world. Despite its growing popularity, English is considered the first language in a comparatively very small part of the world (Chowdhury, 2013). Only the United Kingdom, the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and several other countries consider English as their first language. At the same time, the larger part of the world does not regard English as the first language. The core implication is that no matter how widespread its use becomes, it does not replace other native languages in their respective countries (Chowdhury, 2013). It merely becomes an alternative language. Its effect, therefore, is not subtractive, but rather additive. It does not contribute to the demise of other languages by means of reducing the number of languages spoken in a region, but rather appears as an alternative than representatives of a foreign nation can use in their day-to-day communication. If the spread of English resulted in abandonment of other languages, then the countries that are predominantly non-English speaking nations would have made English their first language (Chowdhury, 2013). Instead, such countries as France, Russia, and China maintain the use of their respective native languages for communication. In these countries natives acquire and use English as a second language, not their first one. The spread of English, therefore, cannot possibly “kill” other languages, especially in regions where English is not the first language of the majority.
Secondly, and most importantly, the spread of English across the world has made it the most popular lingua franca. As a result, the majority of non-native English speakers perceive English as a bridge that enables interaction between linguistically-diverse groups (Soler & Jorda, 2007). In non-English speaking regions, English is a popular secondary language that facilitates the communication between people with different first languages. For example, an Amharic speaker in Ethiopia can use English to converse with an English-speaking Turk residing in Turkey. The common platform it offers facilitates interaction between nations; consequently, it is a mere catalyst. Nevertheless, as the most popular lingua franca English does not replace or, otherwise, cause neglect of native, exotic languages. On the contrary, it enables interaction between different groups of people (Soler & Jorda, 2007). When they are not interacting with outsiders, the members of each ethnic group use their native first language, but not English. Taking into consideration the wide use of English as a lingua franca, it is virtually impossible to assume that, despite its rapid spread, it may “kill” other languages.
Furthermore, if a language is conceptualized as a rich expression of culture, then the spread of the English language cannot possibly cause the demise of other languages. A language comprises of many aspects; it is certainly more than a simple collection of words which, applied in a grammatical model, construct meanings (Hilgendorf, 2007). Language is an expression of culture. Consequently, it is almost impossible to “kill” an expression of a culture merely by conversing in English. It is particularly hard for a native, exotic language speaker to disregard his or her culture and adopt English culture through speaking the English language. Hence, while the spread of English makes it famous, popular, and widely used, it cannot be construed as such that “kills” other languages.
The primary evidence fronted by proponents of the view that the spread of English causes abandonment of other languages is that English is being increasingly used as the main language of communication in many parts of the world. English is spoken even in non-English speaking regions, such as Russia and France (Yin, 2014). Ordinarily, English is spoken in the United Kingdom and countries that used to be its colonies, such as the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. In these regions, where the Britons ventured long time ago, English is the first language for the majority of residents (Pan, 2014). In other regions colonized by the United Kingdom only recently, such as Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, and some other African countries, English has become one of official languages. In the countries that have experienced interaction with the United Kingdom in the distant past, many native, exotic languages have been disregarded in preference to the widely-used English language. Studies conducted by linguists show that in the U.S. alone, for example, English has caused the demise of nearly 50 native languages (Yin, 2014). There remain very few Red Indians and Hawaiians who can speak their native language. The same phenomenon can be observed in the United Kingdom, where the spread of English has killed some local languages, such as Celtic. Moreover, in Australia and New Zealand its spread continues “killing” numerous Aboriginal languages every year.
Furthermore, the spread of English has resulted in it being instituted as one of official or national languages in countries where English is not a native language. Its growth in these countries has led to suppression of native languages, as English is given preferential treatment in comparison to local languages (Hurst, 2015). In some countries, such as the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, English is already considered an official language. Whereas in other countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, among others, English is not only regarded as the national language, but it has also gradually become the language of official communication and education. Hence, while most casualties as a result of the spread of English occur in English-speaking regions, it also causes other languages to be disregarded even in regions and countries that are originally non-English speaking (Hurst, 2015). As English gains popularity in these regions, alternative languages, in most instances exotic ones, decrease and ultimately cease altogether. By giving English undue preference, the local population in these non-English speaking regions undermines and gradually favors the extinction of their local, exotic languages.
The last major argument introduced by proponents of the viewpoint that the spread of English “kills” other languages is that this process has made English the de facto primary language of the contemporary world. The majority of technologies are designed in the way that favors English and its speakers, consequently disadvantaging non-English speakers (May, 2014). All major operating systems, for example, iOS, Windows, and Android are designed in English. The majority of popular software coding languages are also written in English. The core implication of these contemporary developments is that people in non-English speaking regions gradually start to perceive English as a superior language, because its applications transcend geographical boundaries (May, 2014). As a consequence, they start disregarding local languages, since their appropriation and application are limited to a sizeable geographical area. Due to the fact that more people become experienced in modern technology or start engaging in international business, local languages are used less frequently and ultimately become extinct. As globalization intensifies and people become increasingly interconnected, there will appear more speakers of the English language and fewer speakers of other local, exotic languages.
Responding to the Counter-Argument
While it is evident that English is being increasingly used throughout the world, it seems inappropriate and misleading to assert that its spread is killing other languages. The assertion proves especially faulty for regions where English is not the first language. In these places, the impact of English on other languages is almost negligible (Chowdhury, 2013). Although the widespread belief is that the increase in the use of English is inversely proportional to the frequency of the use of other languages, the reality proves that, in fact, it is directly proportional to the use of local, native languages. In non-English speaking countries, English merely complements local languages (Chowdhury, 2013). The native population continues learning local languages as mother tongues and gradually adopts English as a second language when they become older, typically by means of educational system. Even in countries where English is the native language, terming it as a killer language seems far-fetched for many people. Native languages remain being spoken, but slightly less frequently and mostly in informal settings. In such countries, English is a dominant language, but not a killer one.
Other proponents of the viewpoint that the spread of English “kills” other languages point to the fact that it is highly used as the official and national languages in non-English speaking countries. This argument, if properly scrutinized, will be found faulty. It presupposes that languages are mutually exclusive, that someone cannot use two languages at the same time, or that a country can only have one national and official language at a time. All these may be regarded misleading, if not illusionary (Soler & Jorda, 2007). The increased appropriation of English as a national or official language in these countries does not presuppose replacing local languages or killing them. English has transformed into a lingua franca in order to facilitate communication or, otherwise, enable interactions between linguistically-diverse groups. From an objective viewpoint, the English language in predominantly non-English speaking societies merely mutates into a bridge language. It does not become an alternative language and, as a result, does not “kill” other languages.
Last but not least, the argument that English is progressively used in business and technological circles with an aim of encouraging non-natives to disregard their native languages sounds deceptive and irrational. If this argument is followed, it may also be concluded that the unprecedented spread of English is facilitated by globalization. The major implication, therefore, is that its use is limited to people who are exposed to the effects of globalization. Preferably, these would include affluent members of the society, namely, students, business people, and politicians (Hilgendorf, 2007). These are the groups that interact with others beyond their geographical boundaries and need a unifying language to facilitate such interaction. Incidentally, these groups form a small, if not negligible, part of the society. Considering the small number of people in business and technological circles, it is evident that effects of the popularization of English are negligible. To suppose that the spread of English “kills” local languages is, thus, implausible.
It is evident that the spread of English, though unprecedented, has not resulted in the demise of other languages. A large number of languages are becoming extinct very fast. However, their demise cannot be attributed solely to the popularity of English. For, despite its rapid spread around the globe, English has retained its status as the first language only in the regions where it is the native language. It may only become the first language in non-English speaking regions. If its spread was detrimental to existence of other languages, it would have already replaced them, especially in the areas where it is not predominantly spoken. In fact, if being objective, one may observe that the spread of English has also had a beneficial effect. It facilitates globalization by acting as a bridge between languages; it is a lingua franca of transnational and trans-ethnic interactions. Consequently, the spread of English does not “kill” other languages, but rather encourages their growth through facilitating inter-ethnic and inter-racial interactions.