English as a Global Language: Opportunity or Threat?

Today, the ability to understand and use English is essential for a person’s status in society, as it extends access to opportunities in education and employment. While people in such countries as China or Japan need to learn English, native speakers already have an advantage. That is why it is debated whether English is the means of uniting people or imposing the power of English-speaking elites. However, there is no single homogeneous community of native speakers who could have been suppressing other people. Moreover, English-speaking nationalities often influence English, creating “blends, pidgins, creoles, and mixed English languages” (Riddle, 2013). Although previously English served the purposes of colonization, the concern that language attitudes can serve as instruments for exercising control over other people is not valid in the situation with modern-day English.

The case from Nigeria, where English is spoken nationwide, alongside different local languages is the proof of this statement. Ugwuanyi (2020) reports that the recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contained 29 new words that originated in Nigeria. They mostly derive from the connection to local languages and elements of the Nigerian lifestyle. Thus, Nigerians show that by taking English into ownership, they do not become ruled by it, but also make “a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language” (Ugwuanyi, 2020). That is why English steadily becomes a product of international communication, rather than an instrument of power of one nation.

Although English is not a leading language in terms of the number of native speakers, it is used universally for international communication as a lingua franca (House, 2012). Interestingly, non-native speakers account for 80% of English-speaking interactions in the world (Riddle, 2013). The trend is well observed in the academic area where English-speaking discourse prevails. According to Hyland (2009), researchers from different countries choose to publish their works in English, while these papers have significantly higher citation rates than those written in their native languages.

English has taken this place in global communication due to a long-term historical process that started in the era of colonization. In that period, the British Empire dominated worldwide trade and was present in Africa, Asia, and North America. Although the UK takes a relatively small place on the map of the world today, the spread of the language was consolidated by the striking development of the US – a former colony that adopted English as a native. The growing economic and media influence of the US has helped to establish English dominance through the impact in culture, media, or technology. Lastly, the popularisation of English in China, a rapidly growing economy, has secured its position.

Having one language for communication has several benefits for the international community. The most evident of them is the simplification of international cooperation due to the removed barriers and the use of common language. The absence of this gap facilitates international trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations. It is especially beneficial for the world of science as scholars have an increased capacity for sharing and accessing information. Therefore, the works of other scholars of different nationalities can significantly contribute to scientific research. According to House (2012), the establishment of English in the role of lingua franca has positively influenced the translation industry, despite most concerns. Moreover, the evidence from Germany proves the absence of destructive influence on the native language caused by international communication in English (House, 2012). Apart from the global community, the development of English also benefits from this situation. Indisputably, the language’s prevalence and universality secure its position. Moreover, English speakers can benefit from the power of their language that is distributed through the technological and scientific environment.

Nevertheless, the historical examples show that communication in the same language does not grant the absence of misunderstanding and conflicts, as it often happens with civil wars. On the contrary, the prevalence of one language over the others can lead to unequal power distribution and cultural or economic imperialism. Crystal (2003) expresses concerns that “global language will ‘cultivate an elite monolingual linguistic class, more complacent and dismissive in their attitudes towards other languages” (p. 15). As English is distributed through such areas as science, technology, and media, the corresponding activities can suffer in other countries due to the dominance of products emerging in English-speaking regions.

The impact that English has on other languages is another significant ground for concern. Riddle (2013) argues that the academic dominance of English in such countries as Germany, China, or Japan, poses a significant threat to local languages. Thus the expansion of English might appear to be disastrous for the diversity of the world’s cultures and languages. Moreover, Wodak (2012) claims that language choices impact the process of identity construction, both on the collective and individual levels. Finally, the globalization of the language can negatively influence English itself. As it was mentioned above, there is no such concept as universal English, while its variants vary across the world. Kushner (2003) highlights the necessity of taking the process under control through standardization and “quality control of the teaching of English as a foreign language” (p. 22). These measures should be taken to avoid the loss of proper English under the influence of global transformations.

Although the influential role of English in the modern world is an evident fact, there is still a question of whether this position will be maintained for long and what should happen to change it. As Burns (2003) claims that the popularity of English might decrease as western societies are characterized by the decrease of birth rate while populations of Asia and Latin America thrive. However, native speakers do not contribute to English-speaking communication as much as those who use it as a lingua franca. As Crystal (2003) connects language dominance to economic and political power, the situation can change only when the global power balance shifts.

Although China and countries of the Middle East that speak Arabic are gaining significant power in the world, their languages do not seem to spread rapidly. Currently, Asian countries tend to assume English as a means of global communication, and English education is prevalent in China. Even if English will lose its popularity, there is no equal rival to substitute it in the role of a global language. Therefore, the transformation can happen only in the case of linguistic disintegration and development of local languages which is not unlikely due to the development of automated translation technologies that remove many barriers.

References

Burns, A. (2003). Opportunities or threats? The case of English as a global language. Publishing Research Quarterly, 18(4), 18-25.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

House, J. (2012). English as a global lingua franca: A threat to multilingual communication and translation? Language Teaching, 47(3), 363-376.

Hyland, K. (2009). Academic discourse: English in a global context. A&C Black Continuum.

Kushner, E. (2003). English as a global language: Problems, dangers, opportunities. Diogenes, 50(2), 17-23.

Riddle, S. (2013). Renaming English: Does the world language need a new name? The Sydney Morning Herald.

Ugwuanyi, K. (2020). A quarter of the world speak English – what makes it so popular? World Economic Forum.

Wodak, R. (2012). Language, power, and identity. Language Teaching, 45(2), 215-233.