In the early twenty-first century, it goes without saying that the English language holds the title of Lingua Franca on Planet Earth. It is the language of international diplomacy, business, science and broader culture. Lingua Franca, is a latin term that more or less means, global language. It first came into use during the era of the Crusades, when European Crusaders began using a pidgin language that combined French and Italian.
English doesn’t hold the top spot in boasting the total number of native speakers (Mandarin takes that title), but that doesn’t change the reality that people across the globe, understand that learning English, will drastically improve their options in life.
Whatever one’s chosen career field, the ability to comprehend English is not only important, it could be a skill that separates candidates in a competitive job market. Many non-Western companies are beginning to require a basic command of the English language in their employees. In the fields of science and medicine, much of its terminology and theories can only be learned in English. Thus, it is vital that aspiring learners from around the world, learn to speak English professionally and not just rely on slang or jargon that is learned from absorbing TV, movies and other media outlets.
It is still possible in some parts of the world, such as rural China, India and areas of South America to survive without knowledge of English. Though opportunities beyond one’s local region may be slim. Due to the forces of globalization, economies are only becoming more linked, hence business exchanges and interactions, involve the use of the lingua franca.
Beyond speculation, native English speakers have an advantage over non-native speakers. Being born in an English speaking country automatically bestows the privileges that come with fluency in the global language such as broader job and career opportunities and the ability to travel abroad without necessarily having to learn a new language.
Travelers more than most, understand the importance and influence of the English language. Where ever one may be in the world, the tongue of choice in communication across culture and nationality is almost always English. It is common to witness in Asian cities for example, Chinese, Thais, Vietnamese, or Koreans attempting to converse with each other in English rather than one of their own languages.
English is a Germanic language that was originally spoken by the tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes who emigrated from the mainland of Northwestern Europe to the island of Britain, beginning in the fifth century BC. For centuries they spoke a dialect called old English, which was purely Germanic and far different than the current modern English. The language received a few modifications after the Norman conquest in 1066. William the Conquerer defeated King Harold, the last Saxon King of England at the Battle of Hastings and this outcome changed the history of the world forever. The Normans outlawed English and instead enforced French which in the long run, largely morphed the English language into what it is today; A Germanic language in root but largely influenced by the Romantic languages of French and Latin.
A modern day Global Language
How did the vast Anglicization of communication that we see today occur however? Why is it English and not French, Latin, German, Russian or Mandarin for example, that has come to dominate the linguistic aspect of the human experience?
Essentially it comes down to two words; Imperialism and colonialism. As most who have even the most rudimentary understanding of recent history know, Europe and Great Britain, began to dominate the world technologically, economically and militarily beginning after the fifteenth century. Britain was so successfully in it’s colonial ambitions, that by the start of the twentieth century, it held the largest empire in all of history and held influence over a quarter of the Earth’s population. Upon all of it’s colonial subjects and areas that it held dominion over, the British enforced their language.
Furthermore, one of its former colonies that broke away to form The United States of America, rose in prominence to eventually eclipse Britain in it’s power and today holds dominance in every category of influence over the world. It is intriguing that even with Great Britain’s drastic decline after the first World War, the United States was able to step in and fill the power void that has kept the English Language at the forefront.
American contributions to technology, science, government and culture are unparalleled across the globe today. American movies, music, television and media have become for many people in countries across the globe, a first exposure and avenue to learn the English language.
As the result of these forces, today English holds the title of Linguistic global hegemony.
But will it always be this way? Will English continue as the dominant language? While impossible to predict for sure, the answer is; probably not.
There are two themes that most historians will probably point to as the primary driving forces of the early twenty first century; Globalization and the decline of the West. With globalization, there is a massive increase in world wide economic, technological and culture exchange that is slowly breaking down the barriers of the pre-existing cultural and national boundaries. Asia, Africa and elsewhere are now developing and adopting the ways in which Europe and the West have used to dominate the world in influence. Europe and North America on the other hand, have aging populations and a low birth rate. Both Asia and Africa have substantially higher populations than the West, with Asia alone accounting for almost 60% of the total world’s population. There is a saying that China has more smart people than the United States has people. There is some truth to that statement.
China is no longer burdened by a lack of technological ingenuity and now boasts the second largest economy in the world. It also holds the single largest population in the world. With over a billion native Mandarin speakers, there is no question that the language will only grow in prominence as China continues to become more influential economically, military and technologically.
Then there is India, which also has a population of over a billion people. With Globalization and the West’s loss of their monopoly on technological supremacy, it is mathematically certain that a required knowledge and fluency in Asian Languages will only continue to grow.
Who does the future belong too? It most likely belongs to the person who is bilingual.