Should global English be for the people, not for profit? JOE HURST investigates

If Will Durant was correct in claiming that education is the transmission of Civilization, then we as speakers of English are in a truly favourable position. We may have returned many colonial territories since the height of the Empire, but in the conquering of a nation the most important territory for any colony is the mind. Through the echoes of a distant legacy and the omnipresent drip-feed of Western-centric ideologies, the vice like grip of English holds as tightly as ever on global mentality. Imperialism it seems is still alive and kicking.

The British Council currently holds the monopoly on the foreign education market, and its curious stance as a quango which receives only minimal Government funding (around 20% of its income), has led to some interesting developments in the distribution of English. The BC was originally established to aid the process of ‘internationalising education’ (British Council) and its position as a facilitator for overseas English tuition means the Council is required to be impartial in the promotion of services by third party providers.

However, since its cut in funding the Council has faced a series of accusations, the most serious of which being that the Council doesn’t aid the export of English, ‘it inhibits it’ (Elledge 2012). As noted by Neil Macintosh in an interview with Elledge (2012) the Council’s requirement to keep itself afloat by competing with the parties it is tasked with representing “is not a sustainable position”.

The result in many cases is not necessarily the best outcome for the learners. English proficiency nowadays is being pushed to the developing world as a vital commodity, but one that many can’t afford.  In Islamabad, for example, an IELTS English proficiency exam costs £125 sterling (IELTS) a price which for the fortunate may seem like a reasonable amount to pay. Bear in mind however, the average monthly salary in Pakistan equates to as little as £165 (International Labour organisation via BBC 2012), so few can afford to take the exam, let alone pay for the necessary private tutoring.

As a result the majority must rely on the substantially cheaper Government led institutions for English tuition. Hardly encouraging when considering that in a 2013 report, the British Council revealed that 94% of teachers “lack minimum standards for provision of quality English medium education” (McNicoll 2013). The same report also cited the quality of English in these schools “a cause for serious concern” (McNicoll 2013). It seems the effective teaching of English is the “preserve of the affluent” (Mustafa 2012).

As a result, in developing countries like Pakistan, English does not serve as a tool for development, it only works to further the hegemonic relations between those who can and can’t afford to learn it to an acceptable standard. The dichotomy of education standards is a movement fuelled by the lingering belief that English is not only beneficial, but vital for anyone wishing to be prosperous in life. Conceptions which don’t only devalue the native Urdu as reported by Haider (2014), but devalue the people who have no alternative but to speak it.

Many point to the culturally insensitive methods used for the teaching of English as being responsible for the ‘colonization’ (Tsuda 1996) of the Pakistani conscience. The glorification of LA-idols such as Beckham or Clooney propagates the desire felt in Pakistan to dissociate from native values in favour of more western-centric ideologies. The few who can afford private tuition from a native speaker are subject to cultural dissemination which glorifies the Hollywood capitalist system. The acceptance of these notions by the higher classes means that the rest of the population perceive western ideologies as indicative of success and strive to cohere to them also.

I will concede that English has at times been a tool for liberation, and truth be told, in principle I do not disagree with English as global language. What I find issue with is the way it is currently distributed and the poisonous ideologies it generates. Despite its limited availability in countries such as Pakistan, English proficiency has become a prerequisite to any kind of social mobility and as a result, people are becoming trapped in the lower echelons of society. Efficient English teaching needs to become a more accessible and more culturally aware service if we ever want to see any kind of social reform. It’s painfully evident that this is not just an issue for the linguists, but for the welfare of the people of Pakistan too.

JOE HURST, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

BBC. (2012) Where are you on the global pay scale?. [Accessed 4 Feb.2015]

Britishcouncil.org. (2015) Our Work In Education.[Accessed 4 Feb. 2015]

Elledge,J. (2012).The British Council: Friend Or Foe? [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

Haider, A. (2014). English Flourishing In Pakistan At The Expense Of Urdu? [Accessed 7 Feb. 2015]

Ielts.org.(2015) ‘IELTS | Test Takers – Results’. [Accessed 2 Feb 2015]

McNicoll, K.(2013) English Medium Education Improvement In Pakistan Supported.[Accessed: 3 Feb 2015].

Mustafa, Z. (2012) Pakistan Ruined By Language Myth‘. [Accessed 12 Jan.2015].

Tsuda, Y.(1994). The diffusion of English: Its impact on culture and communication. Keio Communication Review, (16). pp.48-61. K

SAM COPSON asks: ‘Is English in international business good for everyone?’

The English language is, far and away, the dominant language of international business. It is used in offices thousands of miles away from any native English speaker. It is heard in the German postal service, Finnish manufacturing companies, and the Chinese textile industry (Rogerson-Revell 2007: 104, Nickerson 2010: 511). The universality of English is undeniably useful, providing a communicative bridge between people who would never have a common language otherwise, and opening up new markets for businesses all over the world. It has been used to facilitate company mergers across international borders, such as Paper Giant and Scandi Bank in Sweden and Finland (Nickerson 2010: 514). But do all people benefit from this situation equally? And what price are they paying for their new lingua franca?

Rogerson-Revell (2007) investigated the status of English at the Groupe Consultatif Actuariel Europeen (GCAE), a multi-cultural group of financial risk assessors who provide legislative advice to the European Parliament. English is used for the majority of the Groupe’s meetings, despite native English speakers constituting a minority of its members. All non-native English speakers in the Groupe described difficulties communicating in English-language meetings, such as finding the right words, and translating their thoughts in time to participate in a conversation. (2007: 115-7). One participant described a time when they were thinking of the right English words to use to make a point, and the meeting moved on to another topic before they were able to speak (2007: 111). Another said it was often “easier to be quiet” than try to express their ideas in English. (2007: 116). Native English speakers in the Groupe were also aware that they held an “unfair advantage” over non-native English speakers (2007: 117).

In certain contexts, then, the use of English in International Business creates a hierarchy. Native English speakers find it much easier to express their opinions than non-native English speakers, which, to quote concerned members of the GCAE, results in “the dominance of Anglo Saxon ideas” (2007: 112). This suggests that, while non-native English speakers benefit from having a common language with a greater number of potential business partners, they suffer the consequences of having to compete in the boardroom with people who can use their mutual tool of communication with greater fluency than they ever will.

English does not only dominate business, it is a business. The British Council, one of the largest English teaching organisations in the world, made £705 million turnover in the financial year 2009-2010 (Gray 2012: 141). The high demand for English therefore has a direct financial benefit for British individuals and companies, and this demand exists in part due to English’s association with international business markets, an association which pervades as far as Japan and Thailand (Nickerson 2010: 515).

In 1996, President Kagame of Rwanda made English the new language of education in his nation, opening up a new market for the British Council’s services. There were a number of political factors affecting this decision, but not the least of them was Kagame’s desire to access the customs union of the Anglophone East African Community (Gray 2012: 144). However, as only a tiny minority of Rwandans spoke English at the time, the ability of teachers and students to teach and learn was hugely damaged, doing so as they were in a completely foreign language (Gray 2012: 145). So at the same time that new incomes and career opportunities were being created for the British, Rwandans were almost completely losing their access to even a basic education.

We can see then, that whatever the benefits of English as a lingua franca are, they do not apply to all people equally. Native English speakers are profiting a great deal from the increasing demand for English in business and education, and the same demand is drawing opportunity and wealth away from native speakers of other languages. So while English in international business may be considered ‘good’, it is certainly not equally good for everyone.

SAM COPSON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 

References

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163

Nickerson, C. (2010), The Englishes of business. In: A Kirkpartrick (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of World Englishes. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 506-519

Rogerson-Revell, p. (2007) Using English for international business: a European case study. English for Specific Purposes, 27, pp. 338-360

JAMES HEYES examines Rwanda’s English Education Policy: A Gateway to Employment and a Stronger Economy, or a Learning Barrier for its Citizens?

Rwanda presents a rare case of English being introduced as an official language in an economically developing country with no roots in the British Empire. Occupation by Belgium in 1916 (Freedman & Samuelson, 2010: 191-192) led to French being used as Rwanda’s second official language alongside the native Kinyarwanda throughout the 20th Century, with its usage continuing after Rwanda received independence in 1964. As a result, a French speaking education system was established, with 95% of schools in Rwanda teaching in French prior to 2009.

The Rwandan government’s decision to change to an English education system occurred after years of political tension with France, following allegations from the Rwandan prime minister that French officials were involved in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. In addition to becoming the new language of the education system, English became the third official language of the country. Diplomatic relations with Britain have strengthened since then. In 2009, the UK was Rwanda’s largest financial donor, providing nearly half of its foreign aid (The Guardian, 2009). Rwanda is also the first country without British colonial ties to join the Commonwealth.

For Rwanda’s government, English is seen as a tool for development. According to Yisa Claver (Director, Policy Planning at the Ministry of Education of Rwanda), the decision to switch to an English curriculum is motivated by a desire to be ‘equal’, to improve trade and commerce, and to “attract foreign investors” (Williams, 2011: 8).

However, the abruptness of the decision led to a number of issues in the policy’s adoption. As Rwanda has historically had little contact with English, only a very small minority of its citizens are fluent in the language. As of 2009, only 4,700 of 31,000 primary school teachers, and just 600 of 12,000 secondary school teachers had been trained in English. To try and minimise the impact of this, during the first year of the policy, thousands of teachers were placed on six week training programmes organised with the help of the British Council in order to improve their English (The Guardian, 2012).

English communication was also an issue for pupils. A report in 2004 (Williams, 2011: 5) found that only two out of 251 (0.77%) Year 6 students tested in five Rwandan primary schools were “capable of reading [in English] adequately” for their studies. In contrast, it found that when the same 251 students were tested in Kinyarwanda, over 90% of them were able to read independently.

One Rwandan teacher interviewed in UNESCO’s 2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report states that teaching in English is the “main barrier to basic education” in Rwanda, and argues that “the forced use of English as the medium of instruction” impedes learning for children, and restricts the amount of interaction that takes place in lessons, resulting in a “strict chalk-and-talk-structure” (UNESCO, 2014: 283).

Another issue for teachers is the availability of teaching resources – a new language means new textbooks. While Rwanda has increased spending on education, resources in the classroom have historically been limited. A 2007 study of two-thirds of Rwanda’s districts indicated that there were 143 Grade 1 pupils for every Kinyarwanda textbook, and 180 pupils for every mathematics textbook, in spite of the government having a target of one textbook for every two pupils (UNESCO, 2014: 83).

Despite the issues it has caused in the classroom, an English education system is likely to improve access to English fluency, which is considered a valuable skill by many Rwandan employers. According to one Euromonitor report, there is an estimated salary gap of 25-30% between English and Non-English speakers (2010: 65). For jobs in which communication plays a key role, such as receptionist work, English speakers appear to be capable of earning almost three times as much as those who speak only Kinyarwanda (Euromonitor International, 2010: 74).

Ultimately, I feel that Rwanda’s citizens will benefit from the ability to speak English, as it will open up more opportunities, and allow communication with the world outside Rwanda’s borders. While the shift to English has caused issues in the short term, the Rwandan government appears to be committed to improving the quality of education. UNESCO’s EFA report indicates that between 1999 and 2011, enrolment and completion rates in secondary schools have increased (2014: 64) while out of school population has decreased significantly (2014: 2), and predicts that Rwanda will see further improvements in the future.

JAMES HEYES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Clover, J. (2012) ‘Jury out on language-switch trend’. The Guardian. [Accessed 17th February, 2015].

Euromonitor International (2010) The Benefits of the English Language for Individuals and Societies: Quantitative Indicators from Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Pakistan. London: Euromonitor International. [Accessed 17th February, 2015]

McGreal, C. (2009) ‘Why Rwanda said adieu to French’. The Guardian. [Accessed 4th February, 2015].

Samuelson, B.L. & Freedman, S.W. (2010) ‘Language policy, multilingual education, and power in Rwanda’. Language Policy (2010) [online], 9(3), [Accessed 4th February, 2015], pp. 191-215.

UNESCO (2014) EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 – Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all. Paris: UNESCO. [Accessed 17th February, 2015].

Williams, E. (2011) Language policy, politics and development in Africa (paper 3). In H. Coleman (ed.) (2011) Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. London: British Council, Teaching English Series, pp. 2-18. [Accessed February 4th, 2015].

English as a Foreign Language: Cultural Imperialism, or Economic Resource? TOM O’REILLY investigates

The power of the English language globally is undeniable, with Coleman stating that “English undoubtedly plays a major role in various aspects of development” (2010: 16). As more countries such as Rwanda make English their official language, a debate continues to rage over a key issue surrounding the loss of native languages in the face of English; does the loss of a native language mean a loss of national and cultural identity?

Phillipson (1992) suggests that the current spread of English is a form of ‘linguistic imperialism’. He defines linguistic imperialism as “a primary component of cultural imperialism, though it must be remembered that cultural dissemination can also take non-linguistic forms […]. Linguistic imperialism is also central to social imperialism, which relates to the transmission of the norms and behaviour of a model social structure, and these are embedded in language” (1992: 54). This embedding of social and cultural ‘norms’ through language would suggest that when a language is imposed on a peoples, so are the customs, culture and societal expectations of the culture the language stems from.

This is quite a general analysis of the issue however. For an analysis with more context, Thiong’o (2009 [1986]) suggests that “[l]anguage, any language, has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture” (2009 [1986]: 195). Thiong’o grew up in Kenya in a time where the English language was promoted as a lingua franca, and essential for many higher educational programs and for professions with higher incomes. As a school child he was subjected to corporal punishment whenever he spoke his mother tongue at school.

Thiong’o’s view is that if a language is imposed upon people by a government then it is detrimental to that nation’s culture, with people being forced to embrace something that they didn’t necessarily want or need. In his words, “it is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues” (2006 [1986]: 198).

Despite these assertions, Park and Wee posit that for English to become a global language there has been “…a transformation in the relationship between language and identity; while in the past, language [was] supposed to be a reflection or marker of one’s social identity and therefore not something subject to exchange, under commodification, language loses this association, which opens up the possibility of treating language as an economic resource” (2012: 125).

This point of view is supported by Heller who believes in “…a shift from understanding language as being primarily a marker of ethnonational identity to understanding language as being a marketable commodity on its own, distinct from identity” (2003: 474).

With these later two distinctions in place, an issue arises. If language, in particular English language, is being stripped of identity (seen only as an economic resource with no association with social or ethnonational identity) then why should it have any effect on the cultural and social norms of the group it is introduced to? In the case of Thiong’o, it may have been that the method by which it was oppressively introduced into the school systems was the damaging factor in this case rather than simply the introduction of the English language itself. In more recent cases, Tembe and Norton note that contrary to the way Thiong’o was taught, “…it is clear that parents and communities need convincing evidence that instruction in local languages will not compromise desires for global citizenship” (2011: 131). If this is successful then there is hope that there will be a move towards multi-lingualism, reducing the chances of English ‘dominating’.

There is unfortunately no conclusive answer to this debate. However, as Coleman points out, in these times of English being a huge entity for speakers of all languages, “it is important that we should not exaggerate the importance of English nor should we undervalue the importance of other languages. We must temper our enthusiasm for English with a sense of responsibility towards those who do not have easy access to it” (2010: 16).

 TOM O’REILLY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Coleman, H. (2010) The English Language in Development. Online [accessed 03/02/15]

Heller, M. (2003) ‘Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, Volume 7,4. pp. 473-492 [accessed [02/02/15]

Park, J. and Wee, L. (2012) Markets of English: Linguistic Capital and Language Policy in a Globalizing World. Oxon: Routledge.

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tembe, J. & Norton, B. (2011) English Education, Local Languages and Community Perspectives in Uganda. In H. Coleman (ed.) Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. London: British Council, Teaching English Series. Pp. 114- 136.

Thiong’o, N. (2009 [1986]) The Language of African Literature. In Jenkins, J. World Englishes: A Resource Book for Students. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

 

 

Global English: ‘Vampire or provider’? asks OLIVIA STANYER

Crystal (2000: 19) estimates that one language dies every two weeks, but is this because of the spread of English? Yes, English is becoming a global language and up to a billion people in the world speak some form of it (depending how you define ‘English speaker’) but globalisation and the subsequent impact on language is seen as something that is unavoidable.   Ceramella (2012: 12) states that “[…] though all languages naturally continue to change, English, without taking into account the historic and economic reasons involved, is just seen as a ‘vampire language’, both for the way it feeds on other tongues and contaminates them in turn”. However, he feels that people should just accept that English is becoming the future language of the world.

According to Raine (2012), “[t]he fact that English now belongs to ‘everyone or to no one’ (Wardhaugh 1987) would seem to imply that English will maintain its position as the global dominant language throughout the 21st century and beyond”, thus, showing other languages are potentially threatened by English and because those who have power (e.g. politicians and the educated) are using English, individuals feel that they are having to use English to fit in.

When the question arises of why English has been made an official language, Crystal (2003: 110) claims that “one of the most important reasons is always education”, allowing individuals to further their career aspects. For example, an Egyptian trainee secretary can increase their pay by nearly ten times when they have finished learning English (Crystal 2010: 370).

On the other side of the debate, it is believed that English is not a killer but an influence on other languages. For example, Bryson (2009: 2) shows how English is influencing other languages and assisting in their development: “[…] French motorists going away for a weekend break pause for ‘les refuelling stops’, Poles watch ‘telewizja’ […] and the Japanese go on a ‘pikunikku’ ”. In addition, for the purpose of this debate, I interviewed my Welsh housemate and asked her views on this topic. She stated that she would not give up her mother tongue for the use of English as she is passionate about her own language and feels so strongly about it. She only uses English for the means of communicating with her friends she has in England, to watch TV and listen to music.

I personally feel that English is not killing other languages, it just so happens that it has become “the most global of languages, [and] the lingua franca of business, science, education, politics and pop music” (Bryson 2009: 2). It allows people to further their careers without forcing countries to stop using their mother tongue. However, I have only ever learnt English and have never needed nor been forced to learn another language fluently in order to communicate, so I suppose that this is one of those debates where most people sit on the fence.

If people really wanted to save their own languages and not let English become this ‘killer’ language it is portrayed to be, then surely they should do something about it? Alternatively, people choose to shift the blame onto the English language and use words such as ‘killer’ and ‘vampire language’, which I feel are a little too strong. We do not know in hundreds of years’ time what the language of the future will be, the possibilities are endless! As Crystal states, English is just “a language which has repeatedly found itself at the right place at the right time” (2003: 110). Perhaps instead of seeing the worst of this situation, we should surely be encouraging it?

OLIVIA STANYER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Bryson, B. (2009). Mother Tongue. United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Ceramella, N. (2012) Is English a Killer Language or an International Auxiliary? Its Use and Function in a  Globalised World. International Journal of Language, Translation and Intercultural Communication. [online], 1 (1) [Accessed 19th January 2015] pp. 9-23. 

Crystal, D. (2000) Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2003) English as a Global Language. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2010) The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.    

Raine, P. (2012) ‘Why is English the Dominant World Language?’ [Accessed 20 January 2015]. 

Wardhaugh, R. (1987) Languages in Competition: Dominance, Diversity and Decline.  Oxford: Blackwell.

 

 

 

 

Is English really a killer language, or is this panic a little dramatic? JESSICA METCALFE investigates

According to Crystal (2012) one language dies every two weeks, but is that really down to English?

Ceramella (2012: 12)  believes so, stating that English is a “vampire language both for the way it feeds on other tongues and contaminates them” This idea of contamination can be linked to the current concern of language loss causing culture collapse. It may be easy to accept the simplistic idea of English ‘just’ overpowering other languages, especially when the language that is disappearing is not your own. However, when English is believed to be a killer that preys on indigenous tongues like a fanged beast, causing a country’s culture and history to be slayed, the matter becomes a lot more serious.

The Kenyan writer, Thiong’o (1986) explains that “one of the most humiliating experiences was to be caught speaking Gikuyu” his mother tongue in the confinements of his school, as English was “the language and all the others had to bow down to it”. To feel disgraced when speaking the culture-holder of your beliefs and heritage is saddening. This argument proposes that English is more than just killing languages; to many, it’s a powerful force that has destroyed their whole existence. Thiong’o claims that language as communication and language as culture are interlinked, as “communication creates culture and culture is meant for communication” (1986) but if a mother tongue has deceased, how is communication regarding a certain culture meant to happen? Once a dominant and global language – like English – is established, members of indigenous countries are unable to communicate, due to future generations speaking the dominant language rather than their own mother tongue. So what happens when the last and only speaker of a mother tongue language dies? Does the country’s culture die too, as no one is able to translate history or speak of their heritage, as information is unable to be passed down to non-native speakers?  This is the growing concern for many linguists. If up to a billion people speak some form of English who is left speaking their native language? Trudgill reiterates this concern as he believes that “one of the greatest cultural tragedies ever to befall the human race is taking place before our eyes but no one is paying attention” (quoted in Jenkins 2009, 160).

But is this really one of the greatest ‘cultural tragedies’?  Some linguists believe the dominance of English is just a natural progression of language and society. For example, Schneider (2013: 217) discusses his friends having international business relations from Austria, Korea and America, with most of their conversations taken up by “trying to work out the others’ intended meanings”. However, he “hears no complaints – all of this is just considered natural, an unavoidable side effect, not the main point”. This shows that non-English speakers are able to communicate without the dominant language. So really, English is only a killer language if people choose to speak it. For three years I have lived with my bilingual housemate. Her mother tongue and first language is Welsh but she is fluent in English. On a number of occasions we have had casual conversations on her views of the dominance of English and she says that “it’s just a way of communicating”. My housemate will always be Welsh, she will always choose Welsh as her first language, but in order to communicate with people outside of her little village (where 95% of people speak Welsh) she has to talk English. Again, it’s simply a way of talking to people, not a killer language.

So, if you ask me, to say English is a killer language seems a little strong. A form of lingua franca between different language speakers may be the more balanced idea, but that may be since I only speak English. However, if my language was one of the “3,000 [languages] in the process of dying out” (Trudgill, quoted in Jenkins 2009, 160) I most certainly would have a very different opinion.

JESSICA METCALFE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Ceramella, N. (2012) Is English a Killer Language or an International Auxiliary? Its Use and Function in a Globalised World. International Journal of Language, Translation and Intercultural Communication. [online],

Crystal, D. (2012) English as a Global Language. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2009) World Englishes: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge.

Thiong’o, N W. (1994) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. reprint. Africa: East African Publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUCY ALLEN explores the impact of global English

The evolution of languages is inevitable due to the globalisation of language and the integration of different cultures and their languages. The need to find a common lingua franca is essential for people and countries in order for them to communicate. But do all of these necessarily mean that languages evolve so much that they eventually become extinct along with the culture attached to them?

Rymer (2012), in the National Geographic, states that “[o]ne language dies every 14 days.  By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear.” The extinction of a language, when all native speakers of that language have died, is evidentially common and a process is likely to happen to  the majority of the world’s lesser known languages. If a language does make it to a state where it is either endangered (when a language is unlikely to be spoken by children in the next 100 years) or moribund (where no more children are learning that language) it is likely to be at risk of becoming extinct in the long run.

Linguists in particular want to save languages, but due to globalisation they are being ditched in favour of the more dominant languages. According to Rymer (2012) “[p]arents in tribal villages often encourage their children to move away from the secular language of their forebears and toward languages that will permit greater education and success.”

The topic of language death is highly emotive. Some argue that language is the only way for a culture to last. On the other hand, many people argue that if a language is not used by a large number of people then extinction is inevitable. This being said, the majority of those people appear to speak one of the top world languages, English being the most prominent. BBC Today shared some public opinions on the loss of languages. One contributor believes “[t]he utility of a single global language, spoken by everyone as their mother tongue, would surely outweigh any loss of cultural heritage […] Let languages die their natural deaths -there are plenty left.” However, another states that “[e]very word has stories woven through it. When we lose a language, we lose so many words and stories. I’d like them to be remembered somehow.”

Languages are firmly rooted in the cultures of any society. When we lose a language as well as its speakers then don’t we lose a culture and a form of diversity? Let’s consider a language as a form of regional dialect. For example, from my part of the world (Staffordshire, UK) we use the word ‘sneep’ to mean to snub or emotional upset someone, I always think of the feeling when you’ve been told off as a child or the look of a child’s face when you’ve snatched a biscuit out of their hands. Although there are other ways of saying it, it doesn’t quite seem the same. Though this is only a minor example compared to an entire language that is on the verge of extinction, it is a way for people to appreciate, on some level, the effect of losing a language.

Svartvik and Leech (2006: 232) claim “English acts as a lingua franca in many different parts of the world, and is the nearest thing there ever has been to a global lingua franca”. Despite this, however, English is becoming codified in different ways due to the variety of speakers and will have to be learnt by native English speakers themselves .

The issue of language death is still an ongoing debate. The question is, does it matter if languages are heading towards extinction, or are we being too sentimental about keeping a language for the sole purpose of holding on to a certain culture when global lingua francas can take their place?

LUCY ALLEN, English undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 References

BBC Today (2009) [Accessed 5 January 2015].

Rymer, R. (2012) National Geographic.  [Accessed 13 January 2015].

Svartvik, J. Leech, G. (2006) English – One Tongue, Many Voices.  Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.