I started another debate yesterday after saying that English is the global language.
It is not the largest spoken language – that’s Mandarin Chinese – but it is the largest global language spoken across borders thanks to the internet.
English is spoken as a second or foreign language by an estimated 950 million people worldwide, whilst another 427 million are native speakers of English.
That’s 1.4 billion people, most of whom are talking across borders as they use the international language of English.
Source: the Financial Times
I always remember Nicholas Negroponte of MIT saying that Chinese would replace English as the dominant global language by 2008:
“In the same way, English will continue to be the air traffic control language of the Net 10 years from now”, Nicholas Negroponte, Wired Magazine, November 1997
This was picked up in various adverts by Arthur Anderson, now Accenture, and was widely believed to be true back then.
In 2012, the fact is that he was wrong.
English is the global language.
But it’s not necessarily English.
In China, it’s Chinglish; in Germany, it’s Ginglish; in Poland, it’s Pinglish; and in France, it’s French (excuses à tous mes amis en France).
The thing about English is that it has spread like fury across borders thanks to this internet age.
This has led to it becoming the language used to speak across nations. As the Financial Times reported a few years ago: “It is not just that Microsoft, Google and Vodafone conduct their business in English it is the language in which Chinese speak to Brazilians and Germans to Indonesians.”
So everyone is speaking English to break down borders.
This is how English had its origins.
I always remember reading a book when we celebrated the dawn of this millennia called The Year 1000: An Englishman's Year.
The book talks about life in Britain 1,000 years ago, and has many interesting illuminations.
For example, people were as tall then as we are today, if not taller.
We always think of historical ancestors as being smaller than us, but that was only during the Medieval period when diets got shot to pieces.
1,000 years ago, people ate very healthily – fresh meats and vegetables, freshly cooked – and so they were tall.
In the book, the bit I remember best is how English came around.
Apparently, England was inhabited by many nations 1,000 years ago. The Vikings had invaded much of the Northern region, the French the south, and we had Dutch and Germans across much of the country.
A truly multiracial country (not much changed there then!).
The issue was that none of the guys could talk to each other so they created a new language, English, to enable multiracial communication.
The language created very basic words of one or two syllables to describe things and, for this reason, it is why we often have multiple ways to refer to an object.
Apparently, at the time, there were no complex words. These all came into our language over time from France.
So if you find words of three syllables or more – sophistication, complexity, anamorphosis – then it typical comes from France.
Equally, no-one swore at each other back then. You could only swear by or on something, but not at anything.
All the swear words came from the Dutch.
Thanks, my Netherlands friends.
Obviously, the stem of all these language variations came from the origins of the global language base – Greek and Latin – but English made the language simple for cross-border communication a thousand years ago.
It is the reason why basic English should be easy to learn and also why basic English delivers the most powerful speeches.
“I have a dream” and “we shall fight them on the beaches” all use the most basic forms of English – one or two syllable words – and convey their meaning far more powerfully as a result as they appeal to the most base human emotion and communication.
English then became the base of today’s global language thanks to Empire building.
If the British had not had battles and won, if they had not colonised and grown globally as a dominant Imperial power, then English would not be the global language.
It would be French or Spanish.
But English has become the global language base thanks to those historic events.
But it is not English, as mentioned, but variations of English that French businessman, Jean-Paul Nerriere, calls Globish.
Globish – not a nice word, merci Jean-Paul – is Global English.
Global English is a stripped down version of English using the base, root words, and enables acts as a common language, a lingua franca, between non-native speakers.
A French designer might communicate with his Japanese client in global English, for example.
Will this remain the case in the future, particularly when China becomes the largest global economic power?
Yes, according to Manoj Vohra, Asia director at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
He says that it is unlikely that Mandarin will rival English as even companies in China, who prefer to operate in Chinese, are looking for managers who speak both Mandarin and English if they want to expand abroad.
Vohra believes the future of English is not a question of whether it will be overtaken by Mandarin, but whether it will co-exist with Chinese, and believes bilingualism will triumph.
So, if you want to be truly capable of dealing with global business in the future, you better learn some Chinglish.