BETHAN JONES considers the question: ‘Is English to die for?

Is our language, a language used by almost a quarter of the world’s population (Crystal, 2003:5), taking over as a global language and killing other languages on its journey?  According to Crystal  (2003:5) there is ‘great variation in the reasons for choosing a particular language’ as a global language, including ‘historical tradition, political expediency, and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact.’ English may have just been in the right place at the right time. Does this mean that English is being blamed, when it just happens that English is becoming the global language?

Crystal explains that there are three main risks that arise as side effects to a global language. The first of these is ‘linguistic power’(2003:16) which means that those who speak the global language as their mother tongue would automatically be in a position of power in comparison to those who don’t speak it as their mother-tongue. Crystal claims that this linguistic power will retain the gap between the rich and the poor. Following this, ‘linguistic complacency’ (2003:17) is when a global language threatens to potentially ‘eliminate the motivation for adults to learn other languages’.  The third, ‘linguistic death’ (2003:20), is the possibility of wide spread death of other languages, in particular minority languages. It is possible to show a correlation between the rise of English as a global language and the demise of minority languages, (2003:23). People have a need for identity and without their native tongue; they lose a part of it. A language shows where we belong.  There are implications that only third world countries are under pressure to learn a global language due to minority languages dying out but this is not the case; first world countries are also under pressure to learn a global language.

On the other hand, might we benefit from a global language? A global language offers mutual intelligibility; a simple way to communicate between all countries and cultures. English can be used in specific functions such as trading and business (Crystal, 2003:24). Schneider (2011) claims that English is the language of business and trade and it offers an easier way of communication. Crystal (2003:12) states that there has ‘never has there been a more urgent need for a global language’ as there has ‘never been a time when so many nations [have needed] to talk to each other so much’.

Brutt-Griffler (2002) cited by Schneider (2011:214) has shown that the idea that English being pushed and imposed onto speakers is a mistake; it is recognised as a ‘powerful tool, an instrument of learning and self-empowerment’. Chinua Achebe cited by Jenkins (2009) believes that English gave people a language to communicate with. It has created African Unity as they are able to communicate using English as a lingua franca; ‘a language [that] is accepted from outside the community … because of the political, economic, or religious influence of a foreign power’ (Crystal, 2003:11).

Crystal (2003:22) suggests that bilingualism is the answer for mutual intelligibility plus an identity, whilst Chinua Achebe, cited by Jenkins (2009:194), believes that a new English which is ‘still in communion with ancestral home which is altered to suit its new … surroundings’ would be a suitable solution for those for or against a global language.

It is very unlikely that a global language can be stopped, but do we really want it to?

BETHAN JONES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK




Crystal, D. (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schneider, E. (2011) English Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2009) World Englishes. Oxon: Routledge.


3 thoughts on “BETHAN JONES considers the question: ‘Is English to die for?

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    Hello, Bethan

    Have you considered the wider use of Esperanto as a secomd language for us all?

  2. green2011 says:

    Your question is a thought provoking one, and I agree with the statement that “it is very unlikely that a Global Language can be stopped”. However I also believe that although it is very unlikely, the time it takes for this Global Language to completely take hold of the world linguistically, is immeasurable. As you pointed out, to this point, “English may have just been in the right place at the right time”, and up to this point it has been, however in this modern day, and the ever growing influence of countries such as China, what’s to say that Mandarin will not be the global language of the future? If this is the case, will English really be linguistically forced out of existence by a challenger for this linguistic dominance?

    However I do agree with the sad truth that “it is possible to show a correlation between the rise of English as a global language and the demise of minority languages”. I completely agree with your statement that “people have a need for identity and without their native tongue; they lose a part of it”. The sacrificial nature of the language titan that is Global English, has already caused a multitude of linguistic casualties, some of which are hundreds and thousands of years old, and the debate as to whether or not the need and desire for a “mutual intelligibility” or the preservation of a linguistic history and identity, maintained and created by our ancestors, is more important? In my opinion, is a solution that requires a compromise?

    So in answer to your question of “do we really want it to?” I personally feel that a Global Language would be hugely beneficial to the world, economically, politically, and scientifically, but culturally it is not. The history of and use of identity providing languages, I believe, must strive to be maintained, and this should be the compromise, a global lingua franca, co-existing with the languages of old. Whether or not this compromise is possible, is another matter.

  3. Mike Jones says:

    The title of your post is highly ironic, in that you seem to be unaware that English is a dead language. Its obituary was published in The Washington Post, on Sunday, September 19, 2010. The obit starts off, “The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness.”

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