English. That is what I assumed it would always be. You could generally survive in most metropolitan places in the world if you have some knowledge of English. You have access to ‘better’ education resources if you know English. The www is open to you if you know English. Hell, I am blogging in English! It was the language of commerce, the language of conquerers, and the language of conversion. But the key word is ‘was’. You would expect, in this global village of ours, where cultures intermingle and at times meld, that a common global language would gradually form (A Language of Wider Communication or LWC). But I feel we are somewhat further from that goal now than we were, lets say, 80 years ago.
The primary language of any civilization is generally the language of its rulers or conquerers. Being a colonized by the British means that we have the most influence from the English language. The sun may not have set on that Empire (until the war on Iraq maybe) but they no longer have the commercial and technological advantageous over the rest of the world, that they used to have. And yet, being the last ‘Empire’, it is their language that has the most recent influence on us (By ‘us’ I mean in specific, Sri Lanka, and to a more general extent, the rest of the world).
But, with the gradual economic, and military emergence of other nations, there has been a gradual shift away from focusing on one particular language, and instead a reverting to a country’s language roots. I do not believe this shift to be solely patriotic or functional. If you have been ruled or influenced by force, once you are liberated you try and erase any influences left by those that ruled you, and so the shift to retain as strongly as possible, a country’s identity. And one of its strongest points of identity is its language.
In 1958, 9.8 % of the word population spoke English whereas 15.6% spoke Mandarin. Now, even though Mandarin is spoken by a much larger percentage of people, it is largely due to the sheer population of China, unlike the English language which spread largely through trade, culture and religion which makes it more consequential. But as of 1992, while the percentage of Mandarin speakers has remained largely the same, English has dropped down to 7.6% with increases in those who spoke Arabic, Hindi and Spanish. Countries now try to put more focus on their own languages, now that they have their own systems of education, media and economy. Russian university students study in Russian, French for Universities in France, German for students in Germany, and so on. Books of study are no longer restricted to English. My Father-in-law had to study French and German to be able to complete his PhD. The English language is not a language for use between countries either. Chinese diplomats learn Hindi in preference to English to deal with their Indian counterparts.
But yet, English persists. Why?
I believe it has to do with a cultural and economic conquest as opposed to a military one. No matter how you abhor it, ‘Western’ culture is all pervading. Hollywood makes Western Culture cool. It glorifies freedom, money and entertainment. Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll baby! The economy is richer. Its more free. That freedom and money is a liberation to people. And what you envy, you emulate.
Western languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French) are spoken by 20.8% of the world, which is more than all the Chinese languages put together. Then consider how many people speak English as a second or third language. This shows the cultural /economic influence of the West. And as for education, good universities are still found in the west, and still teach in English. Text books are in English. Novels are in English. Most of the internet is in English. (Granted, there are a lot of sites in other languages, and the majority of blogs which, according to the NY Times, are in Japanese, but yet English is required for the larger part.)
Times are changing, true. Western culture and language is being taken, and moulded and adapted to fit other cultures, whether it be pop culture, or dress, or film, but I still believe English is going to be around for a long time, and retain its influence.
As Huntington says:
Because Japanese banker and an Indonesian businessman talk to each other in English does not mean that either one of them is Anglofied or Westernized…..
It is a tool for communication not a source of identity and community
And so, despite the antipathy and combined with other cultural influences, I still think English is going to be around a long time.