Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who owns the English language?

It is obvious that English has its origin in Britain. It started out as one of low-profile European languages. As the British Empire prospered, English also spread across the world. It has been spoken as one of the official languages in the former British colonies since then. After Britain had lost its power, the United States overtook the dominance over the world. Even though there's signs of American power decreasing, US is still the world's most influential nation in terms of technology and international regulations.

Historically speaking, British people used to be Caucasian people with their distinct culture. However, the characteristic has got blurred because of the large scale introduction of immigrants from the rest of the world. US began its history as British colonies. Even after its independence, US was a country where white people are dominant for many years. But now Caucasians are increasingly becoming a minority - its population has been largely replaced by people other than Caucasians such as Hispanics, Asians and Africans.

Therefore, we have to be aware of the fact that, even though Britain and US are still the leading countries in the English speaking world, many members consisting of them are no longer traditional "white" people. English is becoming a global language, which is now spoken by many different people with different backgrounds.

Usually a language is spoken in a certain cultural context. English is not an exception. English is still strongly associated with the cultures of Britain and US. As a Japanese person, I find some difficulty in accepting certain aspects of the British or American culture. Probably, if English wishes to be a truly global language, it should be more culturally neutral. Or it should be tailored to the situations of each region where it is spoken. For example, English should be customized to accommodate the needs of Japanese people when it is spoken in Japan. New vocabulary and expressions should be added to English depending on the English users' demand.

It's important for us to have a recognition that English is not "theirs" but "ours". Although I am not a native English speaker, I am still entitled to use it to convey my ideas to the people across the world. In order to keep it possible to communicate with many different people, I should use a standard English. However, the standard English itself should be determined by the needs of all the people in the world, but not by only those of the people in the English speaking countries.

6 comments:

Bill Chapman said...

You wrote "I am not a native English speaker, but am still entitled to use it to convey my ideas to the people across the world. In order to keep it possible to communicate with many different people, I should use a standard English" You deserve praise for your clear English - but I am not convinced that English in any form should become an international language.

Have you ever learned Esperanto? I would be very happy to communicate with you in that language.I'd like to see it more widely used.

Feliĉan Novjaron! Happy New Year!

Eiji Sakai a.k.a. elm200 said...

Bill Chapman said...

>Have you ever learned Esperanto? I would be very happy to communicate with you in that language.I'd like to see it more widely used.

Hmm... In my opinion, Esperanto is heavily influenced by European languages in terms of vocabulary and grammar. As a native speaker of a non-European language, learning Esperanto is no easy task. Sometimes I fantasize that Indonesian would be a global lingua franca because it is written in only alphabets(without any accent marks) and grammar and pronunciation are really simple and easy to learn.

Have you ever learned Indonesian?

Ei "Ray" Murakami said...

New Zealanders speak quite different kind of English - they admit themselves - and I had difficulties in adjusting my American English to Kiwi English.

It is amazing that however differ they are, they all are still English. I think we are too afraid of creating our own version of English. If we all speak English in some certain way - it would be Japanese English - it surely would be a major variation of English which boasts one of the biggest speaking population. Definitely more than Kiwi English ;-)

Alf Riley said...

By stating "If English wishes to be a truly global language" you are completely missing the point. English is intended for those in the UK and those former colonies who,of their own volition, continue to have English as their native language. It has become a global language because, despite the apparent weaknesses identified by people like you, many non UK countries have popularised it so it must have something going for it. If you Japanese want to speak English then invent your own....as the Americans have done!!

Some English Teacher said...

This language will always belong to the people who use it. It will accommodate the needs of the culture if you create a reason for it to be necessary. The language only has enough words for the ideas that are available. When a new idea arises, new words and phrases are created. If say, Mandarin speakers (the most prominent language by population) used English or created a hybrid by expanding the English vocabulary to suit the ideas of the people, and that spread, chances are high that a new world language would be created.

Rachell Phillips said...

Great article! English language is known as popular language in all over the world. The knowledge of English language is very important in this era of competition. For further information click here.