The question whether the expansion of the English language is going to wipe out the other languages of the world in the near future is a serious one indeed. While Britannia may no more rule the world, its language seems to do so. Everybody is keen to use it. The number of learners and users has been rising by the day. It had acquired serious political tones in the past and continues to do so even now. What is the reason for it?
The scientific and technological developments of the past 2 centuries have been rendered in the English language. That compels people to read them in their original writing rather than translation. Documents originally prepared in other languages have been adapted in English very fast because of a vast readership. The English language spread during the colonial rule of the British, which covered the greater part of the globe. It happened to be the language of the Americans, who contributed enormously to science, technology, medicine, surgery, management, philosophy, literature, linguistics,anthropology, law etc. It was found more convenient to read the books and papers in the English version rather than translation. Other world languages were not equipped to undertake simultaneous translation of these treatises. That contributed to the sudden popularity of the English language. America was the hot spot and joining in the knowledge explosion could not be stopped for considerations of language. Even if one didn’t know the language, there was all the need to learn it fast, acquire proficiency and achieve fluency in spoken as well as written English. That would have been the case with any other language had the advantage of spurring growth in scientific treatises and developing at the same time to meet the challenges of new vocabulary and expressions according to the expanding horizons of knowledge inspired them towards it. The English language would not have made such fast but very rich development had it been left only to the British or the Americans. It goes to its credit that the English language succeeded to obtain valuable contributions from speakers of all world languages, who participated in the knowledge revolution. As all achievements of all the branches of modern knowledge are not the achievements of the British or the Americans alone, so is the case with the English language.
The use of the English language is so vast that even the British English has to be translated in to American English and vice versa. There are as many English languages as the countries or specific geographic locations. For example we have several versions of the English language in India itself, such as Hinglish(Hindi+English), Tinglish (Tamil+Eng), Binglish (Bangala+Eng) etc. Elsewhere in the world we have Singlish for Singaporean English and Chinglish for Chinese English. The European parliament might come up with something like Euro-English like their currency. The English might neither be proud for it nor said about what is being done to their language, as it is a kind of a new version for global commercial language, which is vastly different from the King’s English. It is now the global property! The problem lies in understanding the right meaning of the word, phrase, usage, idiom, expression or the local coinage, for it makes huge difference in commercial and all other transactions. But the world has arrived at its own language for doing daily business. The computer has sealed this deal. Computers have compelled people to learn the language. Its flexibility and adapting nature has expanded its lexicon enormously. The perceived threat emanates from this empire of the English language and the inability of any other language of the world to match it.
Once overwhelmed by the status of the English language, the first reaction is about loss of culture, national identity and pride. But It is a bit far fetched argument. The language does not colonize other cultures. Culture remains, moves and gains in stature according to its people. All cultures are different. There can be no threat to either culture or language because of the English language. Any language can be developed to the level of the best language anywhere in the world. The essential condition is that sincere efforts are made to develop it. The text of the 16th or 17th century English authors look so different from the English we use today. But it has developed. It has progressed. While many other world languages have made astounding progress, most have remained content to derive all the benefits from the labour of others. It is easier and cheaper to read in English than develop one’s own mother tongue or father tongue, whatever it might be. The more than 6000 world languages have no threats from the English language. The threat is real in business transactions only and computers are to blame for it. Out of use in daily business, languages might suffer temporary loss, but computer linguists will come up with better versions of the Unicode kind of solutions to facilitate transactions in most world languages as hitherto.
Language is a kind of bar code put on human beings. As the postal packages are bar-coded for convenience of checking their movements, geography specific languages are kind of a bar code. How else our prayers, said in more than 6000 languages, are answered almost immediately? There can be no translation arrangement for so many world languages. The European Union is struggling to provide translation of their documents to member countries in their language, which is very costly even in the beginning. The budget was in excess of Euro 900 million when I read about it some years ago. That brings us to the core issue.
Language has two significant aspects: National Language & Official Language. Political battles have been fought in the name of the national language and the official language. The national language of a country is its most prized possession and a matter of national pride. No country would ever compromise on this issue. The national language is vastly spoken in the nation’s territorial jurisdiction and becomes the vehicle of all kinds of transactions among the people. The English language does not pose any serious threat to the national language of any country. In fact, history provides the proof of mutual gain by languages when they interact with each other. The English language and its scholars have contributed greatly to the development of hundreds of languages and helped in reviving many lost languages by deciphering their scripts. Similarly the English language has gained and enriched from its interaction with other world languages and scholars. The problem arises for those who suffer from some complex of their language being superior to others or English, or English being superior to others. The whole supremacy of language argument is fallacious. Languages are beautiful, melodious, sonorous. They transcribe the sounds reverberating in the universe. The scripts are different. The concepts encapsuled in words live for ever. Neither the letter nor the word ever dies. It is forever. The literature or musical compositions stay much longer than the familiar script of the language. Like the many reasons for loss of culture, there are any number of reasons for loss of a language. The political storms built around “official language” have, however, ended in strengthening the demands for continuing the use of the English language as the official language of the country. India has more than 3500 languages and dialects. Of these, 116 have been considered as “Major Languages”. All languages with more than 20000 speakers are eligible for this tag. Of these some 24 have been included in one of the schedules to the Indian Constitution for consideration and use as official languages by the federating states of the Union. There is no National Language of India. In fact, there is no National Official Language of India, in spite of devoting the whole Part XVII of the Constitution of India to Official Language(Articles 343 to 351). The multiplicity of languages has created similar difficulties for the States, who have either declared more than one official language or continued with English. South Africa has 9 Official Languages perhaps and the European Union more than 25. In such a vast ocean of languages for official purposes, if one single language offers to shoulder the onerous responsibilities of the Official Language of the globalised village, there can hardly be any objection. Within the territorial jurisdiction of the countries their own official languages will work as their official language, but for global transactions English will discharge this function.
New frontiers of knowledge will tend to overwhelm initially. English being the second language, many cultural groups will find it difficult to adopt it for business purposes in the global village market. There is no bar on them to develop their language to the level where it can perform all functions efficiently. If translation can be easily rendered from their language to the English language or other world languages, and they can similarly translate material from English or other world languages, it is going to be fine. There is no law on the subject. It has come into practice. It is the use of a particular language at this juncture. Next it might be another language. At least, all ancient languages iterate this postulate.