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
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.