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English as a Global Language: The Controversy Continues

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 7/12/2012

It is widely accepted that English is the global language of modern times. Is this role an irreversible one? Will Spanish or Chinese replace English as a global language?

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    The Controversy Continues

    It is interesting that a controversy continues worldwide on the role of English as a global language, even while the trend of English being taught as an international language appears to be on the rise. Everyone wants to learn English, but there is a subtle wave of thought emerging especially among some intellectuals that Chinese (Mandarin) will be the future global language.

    children-studying 

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    Spanish

    Spanish is also considered to be a global language. In recent years, it has dominated the French language in this respect, especially in the Western Hemisphere. In the United States, for example, the bookshelves in bookstores and libraries with Spanish texts outweigh those with French texts enormously. In one popular, well-renowned bookstore, a customer was shown an entire shelf of Spanish texts compared to four French texts when inquiring about French texts for children. Spanish is also an immensely popular language in Europe. It is actually the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world after Mandarin, Hindi, and English. Spanish is also one of the six official languages in the United Nations. The study of Spanish has been on the rise in Brazil and some Caribbean islands and has become sufficiently important to influence national policy in these regions. If English is to be replaced as a global language, why are some people looking regions and elsewhere. As such, Spanish has challenged the dominance of English. So, why are some people looking towards Chinese and not Spanish? First, it is necessary to understand what a global language is.

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    What Is a Global Language?

    Dictionaries generally define a global language as a world language which is spoken internationally and learned by many people as a second language. English is listed as the official or co-official language of more than forty-two countries in addition to being spoken extensively in many other countries where it has no official status In recent years. The Internet and computer, which were home-grown in America, have pushed the English language even more into prominence since computer keyboards and software interfaces have the English language as their base. Mandarin (Chinese) is spoken by many more people however as a first language; it is widely established as "the world's largest language in terms of native speakers."

    Demographics play a large part in the establishment of a global language. According to David Graddol [1], Managing Director of the English Company in Milton Keynes, England; and author of a new study on the future of language, “the status of English as global language may peak soon". Graddol claims that the relative decline of English is continuing. In the mid-twentieth century, says Graddol “nearly nine percent of the world's population grew up speaking English as their first language. In 2050, the number is expected to be five percent."

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    The Rise of English

    About three decades ago, French was recognized as the language of diplomacy, and German was considered the language of science and technology. English now dominates not only as the language of science but also diplomacy, aviation, computing, and tourism. Today, Mandarin Chinese is well established as the world's largest language in terms of native speakers. Scott Montgomery, a Seattle-based geologist and author ofThe Chicago Guide to Communicating Science has stated in an accompanying article to Graddol’s, that “English has established itself as the preferred world language for science." The article further states: "Because of its scale and dynamism, science has become the most active and dynamic creator of new language in the world today. And most of this creation is occurring in English, the lingua franca of scientific effort," Montgomery also believes “the future will almost certainly see a continued expansion of English use in science, especially in international settings.

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    China: The New World Power

    Yet there are those people who believe that China will emerge as the most powerful country in the world in the near future. Some have even pinpointed the date as early as the year 2020. At present, while English is more widely spoken than any other language, there are more people who speak Chinese than English due to the large population in China alone. If China does emerge as a world power, there is absolutely no doubt that this language will spread worldwide.Graddol states that Chinese “is demographically huge, but when the Chinese economy has overtaken that of the United States, no one will be able to ignore its global power," Graddol adds "We know from the past that great languages of science can be overtaken." He adds " Latin was preeminent when modern science began in the 17th century."

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    English or Chinese

    As the controversy over which language will become dominant in the world continues, there are many who feel that the dominance of English is unique and irreversible. However, a separate study from David Graddol’s suggests that English's dominance in the scientific arena will continue to expand. There is also a thesis that the English language would be transformed by 2020 for various reasons. Some of these reasons are cited as English absorbing words and slang from other languages; that English would break into many sub-languages and even that more English dialects would be created by the mixing of the many cultures on the online realm. With the possibility of China rising as a world power, Mandarin could definitely challenge the dominance of English as a global language.

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    References

    1. English in Decline as a First Language, Study Says: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0226_040226_language.html

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