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English Language Essays - The Lingua Franca

English Language Essays - The Lingua Franca

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It is the most commonly used language of international commerce, politics, science, diplomacy, and the most commonly used language on the Internet. It is a 'lingua franca,' or vehicular language, i.e. a language spoken and utilized outside of the country or countries of its origin, as opposed to a vernacular language, i.e. a language spoken within and amongst native speakers in the country of origin. English, like other lingua franca of the past, is often used as a second language to effect common communication for a specific purpose (such as diplomacy) between people for whom the lingua franca is not their first language.
It is the most commonly used language of international commerce, politics, science, diplomacy, and the most commonly used language on the Internet. It is a 'lingua franca,' or vehicular language, i.e. a language spoken and utilized outside of the country or countries of its origin, as opposed to a vernacular language, i.e. a language spoken within and amongst native speakers in the country of origin. English, like other lingua franca of the past, is often used as a second language to effect common communication for a specific purpose (such as diplomacy) between people for whom the lingua franca is not their first language.

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Page 1 of 6
Subject Area - English Language EssaysThe Lingua Franca
For better or for worse, and like it or not, English is in effect the ofcial language of theplanet.It is the most commonly used language of international commerce, politics, science, diplomacy, and the most commonly used language on the Internet. It is a ‘lingua franca,’ or vehicular language, i.e. a language spoken and utilized outsideof the country or countries of its origin, as opposed to a vernacular language, i.e. a language spoken within and amongstnative speakers in the country of origin. English, like other lingua franca of the past, is often used as a second languageto effect common communication for a specic purpose (such as diplomacy) between people for whom the lingua francais not their rst language.For example, French was once the lingua franca of diplomacy up until around World War I, only to be supplanted by English; scientists themselves declared English to be their lingua franca in a 1989 article in The Scientist magazine bluntly entitled The English Language: The Lingua Franca Of International Science. One may view the domination andglobal use of English as linguistic and cultural imperialism, and indeed we shall explore this notion further, but thesimple fact is that the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. It is everywhere. Some 380 million people speak itas their rst language and perhaps two-thirds as many again as their second. A billion are learning it, about a third of the world’s population are in some sense exposed to it and by 2050, it is predicted, half the world will be more or lessprocient in it. (The Economist, 2001).It is thus in the best interest of citizens and governments of any nations that wish to participate on the global stage -economically, politically, scientically, etc., to embark upon ofcial programs to ensure that people have the opportunity to learn English; in fact, it may be argued that the teaching of English should be mandatory in such nations. While thereare cultural drawbacks to the institutionalized teaching of English in non-ENL countries, the benets seem to outweighthe drawbacks, and we shall explore both as well.To understand themerits of education in English, as well as its drawbacks and the practicalrequirements therein, wemust rst understand something of the merits of theEnglish language itself, the historical circumstances and culturesthat spawnedit, and why it continues to be durable and vital as a universal language.The globalinuence and power of the British Empire, and then subsequently the UnitedStates as the British Empire’s scopegradually eroded, is primarily responsiblefor the primacy of English as a de facto ofcial internationallanguage. Latin,once the lingua franca for most of Europe, was graduallysupplanted in the 17th and 18th century as globalexplorationand colonization; for a time, scholars and clerics who regularlytraveled across the boundaries of national languagescontinued to use Latin andtheir lingua franca. But as knowledge of Latin declined and the rise ofmerchant and professionalclasses produced travelers unschooled in Latin,people sought alternative means of international communications.(Graddol,2000, p. 6)The victory of theAllies in World War II cannot be underestimated in terms of representing a hugestep in cementingthe destiny of English as the language eventually destined tobe the universal language of the globe. The only twopotential rivals at thetime were French, mostly due to historical inertia, and German, mostly due tothe astonishing rise
 
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Page 2 of 6
to military and economic power of Nazi Germany in the1920s and 1930s. Had the U.S. not lent its economic and military might todefeat the Germans and the Japanese, English might be a quaint relic of theplanet’s short-lived experiment indemocracy.Had Hitler won World War II and had the USA been reduced to a confederation banana republics, we would probably today use German as a universal vehicular language, and Japanese electronic rms would advertise their products inHong Kong airport duty-free shops in German. (Eco, 1995, p. 331) Unlike almost every other major nation that foughtin World War II, the United States emerged with its economy not only intact, but also thriving. It was therefore nosurprise that the United States took the lead in forming and administering institutions to aid the reconstruction andreintegration of Europe, Japan, and many other regions of the world. In short order, English-speaking nations were alsoexporting their culture, not simply their goods and goodwill.The ongoing hegemony that the United States and Britain enjoy in terms of cultural communications - lm, television, books, music, etc., helps perpetuate the inuence and staying power of English as an ofcial language. Even such culturalcommunications that are translated into the native languages of individual countries are not immune to the ‘Englishness’of the communications, i.e., the distinctly American and/or British cultural elements that inform the language of thecommunications and therefore necessarily survive any competent translation and are inculcated into the minds of thelistener/viewer/reader.In ways toointricate, too diverse for socio-linguistics to formulate precisely, Englishand American-English seemto embody for men and women throughout the world -and particularly for the young - the ‘feel’ of hope, of materialadvance, ofscientic and empirical procedures. The entire world-image of massconsumption, of international exchange,of the popular arts, of generationalconict, of technocracy, is permeated by American-English and Englishcitations andspeech habits. (Steiner, 1975, p. 469)Other than thecultural, military, and political hegemony of the British Empire and of theUnited States, what mightaccount for the staying power of English as a linguafranca? From a linguistic perspective, English is hardly the mostsensible choicefor a quasi-ofcial global language. English, simply put, is not the mostefcient and consistent language.English is an irregular and fracturedlanguage comprised of inuences from Latin and Celtic, and later ScandinavianandNorman French tongues. Its syntax, construction, verb conjugation,spelling, and other grammatical constructions, etc.,are riddled with maddeninginconsistencies that at times befuddle even native speakers, to say nothing ofthose whostruggle for years to master it as a second language.English lacks the simplicity and consistency of the Romance languages to the extent that it varies from its Latin andFrench inuences, though it is certainly easier to learn and utilize than some Asian tongues. However, these sameelements that make English a awed language are also believed by many linguists to be strengths that assist in thedurability and adaptability of English; it has historically adapted to and incorporated language inuences with ease thatit has encountered from around the globe. English has always been an evolving language and language contact has beenan important driver of change Some analysts see this hybridity and permeability of English as dening features, allowingit to expand quickly into new domains and explaining in part its success as a world language. (Graddol, 2000, p. 6) As English owes its existence to the fact that it absorbs, not rejects new linguistic and cultural inuences, its inherently hybridized nature makes it all the easier for English to assimilate characteristics of other cultures and languages, instead
 
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Page 3 of 6
of reject them or demand they conform to some sort of rigid structure. As the rules of English are a bit fast and loose,English is well-suited to evolve on the y.There are avariety of challenges facing both those who wish to learn English as a secondlanguage and those who wish toteach it. Some of these challenges arecultural, some are practical, but the utilization of English by non-nativespeakers innon-ENL nations is never as simple a matter as it might seem.Culturallyspeaking, some aspiring English speakers may feel pressure from the moretraditional and/or conservativemembers of their own cultures to resist whatthey may label as American cultural imperialism, the decadent inuenceofconsumer capitalist values from the West that are transmitted through theEnglish language. To embrace these values at the expense of one’s own languageand culture is frowned upon in many conservative cultures, for example,particularlyin fundamentalist Muslim cultures which have suffered from seriously strainedrelations with the UnitedStates in the past six to ten years.Often, prociency in one or more indigenous or native tongues will co-exist, mingle, and/or exist in hierarchal formsof usage with English. The acquisition of English skills does not necessarily lead to the supplanting or replacementof the native tongue with English; the choice of which language to speak is often context- and audience-dependent.For example, in some cases speakers will employ ‘code-switching,’ in which two participants in a conversation, whoknow both English and a local vernacular language, will switch back and forth between the two tongues as a means of negotiating and navigating their relationship, in some cases even alternating back and forth between languages withinthe same sentence.Graddol (2000) outlines some fascinating examples, including a situation in which a young job seeker enters an ofcein Nairobi, Kenya, seeking employment. The vernacular language in question is Swahili; the young man commenceshis job inquiry with the owner of the establishment by speaking in English. The Kenyan manager of the ofce, however,insists on using Swahili, ‘thus denying the young man’s negotiation of the higher status associated with English. (Myers-Scotton, 1989, p. 339) Their conversation goes as follows: Young Man: MrMuchuki has sent me to you about the job you put in the paper.Manager: Uitumabarua ya application? [Did you send a letter of application?] Young Man: Yes,I did. But he asked me to come to see you today.Manager: Ikiwaulituma barua, nenda ungojee majibu. Tutakuita uke kwa interviewsiku itakapoka. [If you’ve writtena letter, then go and wait for a response.We will call you for an interview when the letter arrives.](pause)Leo sina lasuma kuliko hayo. [Today I haven’t anything elseto say.] Young man: Asante.Nitangoja majibu. [Thank you. I will wait for the response.]

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