In the beginning, the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. This gave mankind the opportunity to think with oneness of mind. They decided to build a tower that will reach unto Heaven. God saw no reason for this and He confused the source of their agreement – language. As it happened in the beginning, it is happening now. The world has started speaking one language and that language is English.
In this era of globalization and technology, English dominates the world as no language ever has and it appears that it may never be dethroned as the king of languages. Some linguists still insist that linguistic evolution will continue to take its course over the centuries and that English could eventually die as a common language as Latin did, or Phoenician or Sanskrit or Sogdian before it.
The factors that underscore the grip English has on the world are disasters like war or climate change that causes people to migrate or the eventual perfection of translation machine that would make a common language necessary. The current migration of Syrians to Europe especially Britain, America and other English speaking countries will increase the number of English speakers in the world as these migrants would have to learn the language of their new host and use less their native languages (Arabic and Kurdish).
Exploring some of the opinions of these linguists, mostly American, the scepticism that the future of English is very bright seems to be a minority view. Experts on the English language like David Cristal, author of “English as a Global Language” said that the world has changed so drastically that history is no longer a guide. He pointed out that this is the first time we actually have a language spoken genuinely globally by every country in the world, and that there are no precedents to help us see what will happen.
John McWhorter, a linguist at the Manhattan Institute, a research group in New York and the author of a history of language called “The Power of Babel”, was more unequivocal. He said that English is dominant in a way that no language has ever been before. It is vastly unclear to him what actual mechanism could uproot English given conditions as they are.
In this new millennium, about one fourth of the world’s population can communicate to some degree in English. It is the common language in almost every endeavour, from science to air traffic control to the global Jihad, where it is apparently the means of communication between speakers of Arabic and other languages. It has consolidated its dominance as the language of the internet, where 80 percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. The world is currently experiencing a dominance of English language in technological inventions. For example, most mobile phones and tablets that are being used in the world today have their preinstalled applications in English though provision for a change of language is made available in the settings. According to David Graddol, a linguist and researcher, English is spoken across cultures and it is mostly language of instructions at schools. Children are taught the language to help them become citizens of an increasingly intertwined world. At telephone call centres around the world, the emblem of a globalized workplace, the language spoken is naturally English. In countries where English is used as the second language, broadcasting stations cast their news in English language before their native languages. English has become the second language of everybody, it has gotten to the point where almost in any part of the world to be educated means to communicate in English.
As English continue to spread, the linguists say, it is fragmenting as Latin did, into a family of dialects – and perhaps, eventually fully fledged languages – known as Englishes. A full fledge fragmentation of English may see to the end of the real English we know. New vernaculars have emerged in such places as Singapore, Nigeria and the Caribbean, although widespread literacy and mass communication may be slowing the natural process of diversification. The pidgin of Papua New Guinea already has its own literature and translations of Shakespeare. On the other hand, unlike Latin and other former common languages, English seems to be too widespread and too deeply entrenched to die out instead, it is likely to survive in some simplified international form – sometimes called Globish or World Standard Spoken English – side by side with its offspring.
“You have too many words in English,” said Jean – Paul Nerriere, a retired Vice President of IBM, USA who is French. He has proposed his own version of Globish that would have just 15,000 simple words for use by non-native speakers. “We are a majority,” Nerriere said, “so our way of speaking English should be the official way of speaking English”. While Paul proposed Globish for diverse use especially among non-native speakers, Robert McCrum, the literary editor of the London Observer saw it as an economic phenomenon.
As a simplified form of global English emerges, the diverging forms spoken in Britain and America could become no more than local dialects – two more Englishes alongside the Singlish spoken in Singapore or the Taglish spoken in the Philipines. A native speaker of English might need to become bilingual in his own language to converse with other speakers of global English. Crystal wrote that we may well be approaching a critical moment in human linguistic history and that it is possible that a global language will emerge only once.
The dominance English has on the world today is as a result of successive English – speaking empires; British and American, and continues with the new virtual empire of the internet.
The teaching of English has become a multibillion – dollar industry, and according to Graddol, nearly one-third of the world’s population will soon be studying English. In fact, to enter higher institution in Nigeria and some other countries of the world, at least a pass at credit level in English is required. Most overseas higher institutions require a test of English for an international student who doesn’t speak English as a native language before he/she can gain admission.
By the most common estimates, 400million people speak English as first language, another 300million to 500 million as a fluent second language and perhaps 750million as foreign language. The largest English – speaking nation in the world, the United States, has only about 20 percent of the world’s English speakers. In Asia alone, an estimated 350 million people speak English, about the same as the combined English – speaking populations of Britain, the United States and Canada. In Africa, about 200million people speak the language. David Crystal puts the current estimates of English speakers in the world at 1.5 billion. Thus, the English language no longer belongs to its native speakers but to the world.
A non-native English speaker Yilin Sun, a Chinese, is the current president of the International Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages known as TESOL. Even if English were somehow to collapse as the language of its birthplace, England, Crystal said, it would continue its worldwide dominance unperturbed.
The people who were once colonized by the language are now rapidly remaking it, domesticating it, becoming more and more relaxed about the way they use it, creating pidgins and creoles. The advance of technology that helped push English into its dominance position could pull it down again. Though it still sounds like science fiction, it seems likely that some time, many decades from now a machine will be perfected that can produce Yoruba when it hears someone speaking German. The sociolinguistic fact remains that the dominance of a language endangers and forces other languages into extinction. This has prompted organisation like the Living Tongues in the United States to promote the documentation, maintenance, preservation and revitalization of endangered languages all over the world. Tertiary institutions in Africa especially in Nigeria where at least 512 languages are currently being spoken are gathering word list of these languages for the purpose of research and documentation. Whether English language fragments into Englishes and a standard form like Globish as proposed emerges or it continues its dominance as the king of languages the fact is that the world has started speaking one language.