Is English a Killer Language?
One of the most prominent manifestations of the increased globalization is the spread of languages from one part of the world to another. The proliferation of smart technological devices coupled with increased Internet penetration and liberalization of markets have enhanced the spread of international languages such as the French, English, Arabic, and Spanish among others. The consequent linguistic expansionism has been blamed for the demise of other languages, especially the exotic, native ones around the world. Some people, influenced by the effects of interconnectivity, are increasingly shunning their local languages, instead preferring to use these global languages. The English language has especially been singled out as the principal killer language because it has extensively spread even to areas where it was not predominantly used as the first language. This paper interrogates whether this unprecedented spread of the English language has, effectively, made it a killer language. Analysis affirms that English is a killer language since its spread has caused the demise of hundreds of native languages across the globe.
The primary evidence that English should be regarded as a killer language is that its unprecedented spread has led to the replacement of other languages in the world, in effect “killing” them. The spread of the English language has effectively caused other languages, especially the exotic ones, to be disregarded or otherwise less spoken. As time goes by, fewer individuals use these neglected languages and, ultimately, they die. The phenomenon is especially apparent in countries where English is predominantly spoken as the first language such as in the U.S. and the U.K. In these regions, English has the linguistic monopoly. Research studies conducted on the influence of the English language on other languages indicate that English has already caused the abandonment of 53 native languages in the U.S. alone from the turn of the 20th century. It has also caused the death of Celt in the U.K. and many Aboriginal languages in Australia and New Zealand. Since the majority of the people already speak the English language in these regions, it becomes easier for the native speakers of the other languages to abandon theirs for English. Whether it is prompted by the need to streamline communication and interaction or simply to fit in, the spread of English ultimately undermines the use of other, rival languages.
Furthermore, the spread of English as a global language has made it the most popular lingua franca in the world. One of the core implications of this development is that it has relegated the various regional and local languages to auxiliary roles, ultimately contributing to their demise. The spread of English has, for instance, made it the lingua franca in the Asia-pacific region. In countries like Hong Kong, Philippines, and Sri Lanka, English is being used as the bridge language to facilitate communication between people with linguistically-diverse backgrounds. Before the extensive spread of the English language and the subsequent institutionalization as the lingua franca, these regions had their bridge languages. English replaced them. As the world increasingly becomes globalized and interconnected, more regions will disregard their regional languages to use English as their lingua franca. The deepening of commercial, religious, social, and technological ties suggest that the appropriation of the English language as a bridge language will only increase.
A further manifestation of the killing effect of its spread is its exceptional endorsement as the national and official language in non-English speaking countries. Ordinarily, English is spoken in the U.K. and the countries that were previously British colonies such as the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and recently Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria among others. It is acceptable and indeed expected, to find English appropriated in these countries as the national and or official language. However, English has established itself as a primary language even in regions and countries that have no previous engagement with the Britons. For instance, English is an official language in countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. It is also increasingly being used as an alternative language in China and France even though these countries have their respective national languages which are of a similar stature to English. Choosing English as the national or official language in these areas that had no previous history with Englishmen shows just how much the spread of English suppresses the continued use of native, local languages.
The primary argument advanced by the proponents of the viewpoint that English is not a killer language is that English, just like most world languages, has the tendency to spread along class lines. This is especially the case in regions where English is not used predominantly as the first language. As such, English is acquired only by a certain class of people in the society, in most instances the high and upper-middle classes. In these regions, English is considered an elitist language, spoken only by individuals who are at the topmost end of the social ladder and have been exposed to the rest of the world. The rest of the population, which comprises the majority, still retain the use of their regional and local languages for communication and other interaction needs. Given that only the elites, a small percentage of the populace, are influenced by the spread of the English language, it is imprudent to conclude that the spread of English kills the other, native languages. More often than not, its effects on a community language are negligible both in the short and long run.
Furthermore, the proponents of the viewpoint that English is not a killer language opine that the very globalization that enables the spread of English also enables the spread of other languages, including native ones. The implication is that nearly all the other languages also experience an expansion. Their spread as a consequence of interconnectivity may be less than proportionate as compared with English, but they do spread too nevertheless. It is evident that globalization and increased interconnectedness are the key facilitators of the spread of languages. These factors do not select the languages they support; instead, they provide an opportunity for everyone to interact with anyone. To presume that globalization only facilitates a one-way influence is misleading. Just like it enables the spread of the English language, globalization also enables the spread of other languages which are now being used in areas where English is predominantly spoken as the first language. For instance, there is a large percentage of Americans who now speak Spanish, French, and even Chinese as a result of this interaction. It is, therefore, erroneous to conclude that English is a killer language simply because it is being spoken in other regions since there is also an opposite flow of other languages into English-speaking regions.
The last major argument advanced by the proponents of the viewpoint that English is not a killer language is that many countries are increasingly putting in place measures to safeguard their local languages, cultures, and heritage. The English as a killer language narrative has only served to prompt natives to revive their local languages to hedge against demise. As people increasingly view English as a disruptive language, pockets of anxious localization have been formed, starting a rebellion against what is perceived as a subtle form of neo-colonialism. Governments in countries such as France, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Estonia, and Qatar are actively designing interventions to revive their local languages, in effect countering the spread of English in the respective countries. The implication is that in the end, the spread of English does not kill other languages but rather strengthens them. The fear of abandoning a language prompts the locals to reject English as a foreign language, or merely accept it as a secondary language. Instead of killing a local language, English ends up galvanizing the support and use of that other language.
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Responding to the Counter-arguments
The argument that English cannot be regarded as a killer language since it is only acquired by the elite in the regions where English is not the predominant first language is fundamentally flawed. First, the presupposition that languages spread along class lines does not hold anymore. That is an argument that could have been made two centuries ago; today, it does not hold true. In fact, today, language spreads along age groups. The younger people are now first to acquire languages which then spread to the rest of the age groups across the different demographics. The class lines have ceased to define who are the influencers and thought leaders in a society in so far as languages are concerned. Today, the lot that is more exposed to the world, in most instances the younger, tech-savvy section of the population, are the ones who spread a language, and they cut across the class lines. The implication is that all people have the chance to learn a foreign language, provided they are tech-savvy and exposed. The era where only the elite had the wherewithal to learn, and opportunities to use a foreign language are long gone. As the world increasingly becomes interconnected its spread will intensify, in effect killing other languages that were initially preferred.
Furthermore, the argument that the spread of languages is multi-directional is also fundamentally flawed. The proponents of this argument posit that globalization provides an equal opportunity for all the languages to spread. While this may be true, it is imprudent to assume that the spread is equal and multidirectional. If one is objective, one would realize that the extent and speed of the spread of world languages such as English, French, and Italian by far outpaces that of other, lesser languages. For instance, it will not be prudent to conclude that the spread of the Swahili language of East Africa into Europe is of the same proportion as the spread of English language into East Africa. Also, the spread of English into the UAE cannot be compared with the spread of Arabic into the United States. Therefore, in as much as globalization and interconnectivity facilitates diverse and multi-directional movement of languages, it is not a zero-sum phenomenon. Still, the famous, world languages spread more than the other languages, and this disproportionate spread eventually causes the demise of the lesser languages.
Lastly, the argument that the unprecedented spread of the English language has prompted a kind of a revolt from the communities that feel their languages are threatened is at the very least plausible. However, if one is objective enough, one will assert that these efforts are merely reactionary and barely effective. The fact that these efforts to protect exotic languages and cultural heritage are prompted by the perceived spread of English is a testament to the adverse effects the spread has already caused. Additionally, research studies continue to indicate that exotic languages are on the decline despite the efforts by governmental and non-governmental agencies. As global interconnectivity intensifies, English will continue to spread, in effect prompting the abandonment of other native languages.
It is evident that English is a killer language. English has gradually established itself as one of the most popular languages in the world in the process limiting the use of other languages. As it gets spoken or otherwise used across the world, it prompts the abandonment of other languages, ultimately causing their demise. The killing effect has especially been apparent in regions where English is the predominant first language; it is progressively attaining monopoly. In regions where it is not the first language, its spread is manifested by the increased appropriation as the national and official languages and even the lingua franca. Unless the revival interventions strengthen, their current level of effectiveness cannot match the verve and gusto with which the English language spreads. As globalization intensifies and people become increasingly interconnected, English will only spread further, in effect “killing” even more exotic languages.