A Contemporary Analysis of the English Language

Introduction

English is the primary and dominant language in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. It is also the official language in many sub-Saharan countries, in India, Singapore, Philippines and other former colonies of the United Kingdom (Sharifian, 2017, p 1). According to recent estimates, there are about 1.5 billion English speakers in the world with English as the first language for about 360 million people (Sharifian, 2017, p 2). Historically, the English language was sub-divided into old English, middle, Early modern English and Modern English. Consistent change constantly occurs in the English language, and new words are being coined every time. As the English language keeps evolving, it is expected that the Language will have many new vocabularies by the year 2035. Some of the major factors that influence the English language are global and trans-cultural flows, translation, innovation and technology. There are many varieties of the English language such as the American, Australian, South African and British English (Seidlhofer, 2013). However, British English is the benchmark used to represent standardized English (Milroy, 2012). English is actively being taught in many schools around the world. Therefore, by analyzing the different factors that influence English in the contemporary world, the future and implications of the English language are going to be determined.

History of English as a global language

The origins of the English language can be traced to the Anglo-Saxon times whereby Proto-Indo European languages were spoken by the nomads about 5000 years ago. Old English as an English division was introduced in the English isles by the Germanic people through the translation of Latin texts to the dialect of the West Saxon. Majority of the vocabularies in Old English were adapted from Scandinavian dialects (Siqueira, 2015, p 239). Middle English was influenced by the Norman French dialect and was characterized by loss of gender nouns and inflections. Conversely, the period of Modern English begins from the renaissance era. Modern English is characterized by Great Vowel Shift. In the contemporary world, the English language has adopted new vocabularies from many other languages with three-quarters of the words originating from Latin and Greek languages (Siqueira, 2015, p 239). Therefore, English can be termed as a lingua franca, and British colonization was responsible for the spread of the language throughout the world (Jenkins 2013).

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British colonialism was the main driving force behind the dominance of the English language in today’s world. The dramatic expansion of the British Empire led to the spread of British English throughout the colonies (Hunt and Sands 2013, p 39). English was used as a reflection of power during colonial times since the British controlled more than 25% of the world. Post-colonialism, many countries still use English for official purposes, and it has also become a neutral language for countries with complex ethnic and linguistic compositions (Seidlhofer, 2013). Another reason why English became so popular in the globe is its grammatical simplicity. Varieties of English throughout the world include British, American, South African English, African American vernacular English, Canadian, Chinese, standard British English, standard English, euro-English, Caribbean, Chicano, Zimbabwean, Irish, Indian, Hinglish, Scottish English, Pakistani, non-standard English, Nigerian, Singapore and standard American English.

Factors affecting the English language

In today’s world, one of the factors that influence the English language is trans-cultural flows. This is evident through interlanguages whereby, countries using English as a second language fuse the English language with native dialects. Additionally, new vocabularies are being adopted from other languages and incorporated into the English language. Despite the efforts of the Singapore and European governments to promote standardized British English, the use of mixed languages like Singlish, Patois, Slang, Pidgin still remain prevalent in the US, Jamaica, Nigeria, and other countries (Sharifian, 2017, p.3). Also, with cultural interactions around the globe, standardized British English spellings are being replaced. For instance, the British spelling of the word ‘disc’ is being replaced by ‘disk’. With the popularity of American pop culture, American English is slowly becoming the reference point for English learners from countries like Japan.

Translation influences the English language through the development of software that automatically translates languages, one of them being, Google Translate. Through translation software, there is a reduction in web content written in the English language, and this is likely to affect the world's preference of the English language (Crystal 2013, p 170). Another factor affecting the English language is the use of social media. In the online world, the rules of the English language are more relaxed, and unlike in standardized English, variant spellings and omitted punctuations are generally acceptable. In today’s world, the internet has changed the English language through the use of emojis to convey emotions instead of using words (Sayer 2015, p 260). Social media plays a role in the coining and spreading of new words. For instance, words like ‘awesomesauce’ are recent dictionary additives. Emoticons like ‘Lol’ and ‘smh’ and the use of hashtags are also a result of social media.

The future of English as a global language

The future of English as an international language is dependent on cross-cultural interactions, and linguistics scholars have predicted that new forms of the English language are likely to evolve in the future (Bauer, 2014). As people travel across the world new vocabularies will be picked from different cultures and incorporated into the English language (Sharifian 2013, p 7). Technology is also expected to play a pivotal role in the evolution of the English language in the coming years. Evolution of the English language will also mean that vocabularies and phrases used today will become obsolete in the future and just like in the past, people had no idea of current English vocabularies like ‘selfie’, and many others. Therefore, technology and innovation have altered people’s habits, and the English language is likely to evolve at a faster rate compared to previous years. For instance, recent research indicates that 86% of British parents consider English spoken by their adolescent children to be completely different.

The invention of software like Google Translator will also replace English as the preferred mode of communication used in the boardrooms of international corporations and government agencies. There is a likelihood that translation software will also make it unnecessary for people to learn English as a second language in the coming years (Crystal, 2013, p 171). Also with the evolution of the English language, the number of vocabularies will also increase, and the number of English speakers in the world will also increase. By 2035, it is expected that the number of non-native English speakers will rise to about 3 billion hence outnumbering the number of native English speakers globally. It is also anticipated that the Vowel Shift which occurred in the past centuries will continue occurring in the future (Bauer, 2014). It is also very likely that written formal English will dwindle and be replaced with simpler and less formal types of English. The popularity of emojis may make the English language redundant hence diminishing its role in connecting the world. However, connecting with global cultures is and will remain an integral part of learning English as a second language.

According to some scholars, the future of the English language could be tough since many people who speak English as a second language will try to protect their ethnic languages from extinction hence affecting the dominance of English in the coming years (Algeo and Butcher 2013, p 2). From a political perspective, the protectionist and nationalist world could also threaten the dominance of the English language in the future. Other languages like Spanish and French which are linked to powerful religious and national entities could grow thus affecting the dominance of English as a global language.

Implications of English within Britain

In Britain, English is the official, and main language and 98% of the British population speaks English as the first language (Pennycook, 2017). The English language plays a role in shaping British culture, literature, religion, and politics. From a political perspective, the English language has played a major role in the drafting of the British constitution and laws. Britain's political institutions like the parliament, the army, and the kingdom use English to establish authority. English is one of the main indicators of British national identity since it represents the cultural values, symbols, and tradition of the British people (Lillis and Curry 2013). Despite Britain being a multicultural society, English has become a unifying factor for all of its citizens.

Throughout Britain’s history, the English language has impacted on arts and literature with William Shakespeare being one of the most renowned authors (Lillis and Curry 2013). Literature has been used in Britain to depict the everyday life of the British society, and as the English language developed, varieties of literature were written. English also played a role in the publication of the King James Bible version which was an infusion of religious literature and imagery. In Britain, religious ceremonies are conducted in the English language. English is also the main language used in schools, government institutions, and media and in social events.

Implications of English as a global medium of communication

Globalization of the English language has led to an increase in the number of second language speakers around the world (Sharifian, 2013, p 7). Hence, the majority of English language speakers are those who speak English as a second language. In the global business world, English has become the language of contact, and it enables a person to communicate with individuals of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds (Sharifian, 2017, p 4). Furthermore, almost all national education ministries are working on teaching English to certain competence levels, and in a competitive world economy, it is a prerequisite for workers in numerous sectors to understand the English language (Sayer 2015, P. 270). The media industry also uses English to reach audiences across the world and for a globalized industry; the youth are usually the target. Also, the information in most of the world's computers is in English, and most of the internet-connected computers are located in English speaking countries. Through English, people are able to associate with people of diverse backgrounds and appreciate global cultural diversity. Therefore, English plays a unifying role in the world.

However, one of the negative implications of the English language is the exclusion of the English culture for non-native speakers. People who learn English as a second language do it only for communication purposes excluding the need to understand its culture (Pennycook, 2017). For instance, in a multicultural business environment, native and non-native English speakers may communicate in English but with the difference in accents, assumptions and perspectives hence causing misunderstandings and loss of valuable knowledge. Additionally, despite English being used as a main communication tool in the business world, there may be differences in interpretation due to cultural differences. People also perceive accents in different ways. For instance, others may perceive English speakers with certain accents as unintelligent (Danladi, 2013, p 17). Differences in culture also cause differences in perceiving certain body languages. Even if two speakers are conversing in English, the body language is mostly used to channel the message, and certain body languages may be perceived differently by each speaker.

In conclusion, the English language plays a unifying role in the world, and it has both positive and negative implications. For a long time, British English has been used as a benchmark to represent standardized English globally. However, the future of the English language will be marked by changes in vocabularies and new forms of English are likely to appear.

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Bibliography

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