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Why English became a Lingua Franca

Written by Alina Graur

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People have always found value in a common language for specific purposes. English as a lingua franca is a concept that has only arisen in the past years. The meaning is simple: English is the preferred language used by people with different mother tongues and cultures which may or may not include a native speaker (Firth, 1996).

According to Crystal (2003), a language that has international reputation enhances effective communication and leads to global exchanges and benefits. Indeed, English is often seen nowadays as a tool for success in education and work environments (Curran & Chern, 2017).

This is because English is, at this point in time, the language of science, technology and media (Crystal, 2003) as well as the official language of international diplomacy and many international organizations.

At least 75 countries give English a special or official status (British Council, 2013). It has a remarkable reputation all over the world and it is used by countries in different contexts even when it is not the official language.

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English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of the 21st century. It represents a way to gain economic and social advancement and, in many cases and by many people, is seen as a neutral language. Therefore, it is perceived as being free from any ideology.

Those who speak English nowadays have the ability to acquire and share knowledge in different domains such as in politics, medicine, media and so on. In 2002, 80 percent of movies were made in English, for example.

Not to mention that it is the official language of air traffic control and of hotels, only to name a few (Galloway & Rose, 2015).

Surely, a global language has advantages and disadvantages, winners and losers. And as The Economist (2017) says, English is very likely to keep the status it already has because societies are very unlikely to change the language they value as important.

Although some influential politicians would prefer a shift in the lingua franca, their wishes will, fortunately or unfortunately, not become reality in the next years (The Economist, 2017) and English will stay the language chosen to communicate across cultures.

But why English?

What helped English to become today’s lingua franca can be traced back to two main historical factors (FutureLearn, 2014). The first one is linked to the British Empire which includes slavery, trade with the exploitation of colonies (Galloway & Rose, 2005) and the big migration in the 17th century from the UK and Ireland to North America, Australia and New Zealand (FutureLearn, 2014).

As a consequence, the English language changed slightly to become American English and Australian English with a few differences in spelling and pronunciation.

In the 18th and 19th century the British Empire was the one who had the most colonies followed by France. It controlled different countries in Africa and Asia. The exposure to English of those countries created a new version of English: the New Englishes. An example could be the Indian English (FutureLearn, 2014).

The second factor refers to globalization which can be explained as “the growth in international exchange and interdependence” (Diaz & Zirkel, 2012, p.440) where employees from one company trade and negotiate with employees who have a completely different culture or language (Galloway & Rose, 2005).

In particular, we talk about the United States of America that has emerged as a world economic power since the previous century. In fact, Crystal (2003) emphasizes the importance of the economy and not just military power in order for a language to gain a high status.

A door to success for everyone?

One of the concerns scholars have addressed is that not everyone has the same access to education and language acquisition. Not to mention the fact that many universities demand English proficiency as well as many companies and world-reputed journals (Galloway & Rose, 2015).

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This is one of the reasons why Sanako is offering a one-year free license to developing countries to enhance their language abilities in different languages including English.

Take a look at our social media channels to find out more about Sanako’s project to help language teachers in developing countries!

References

British Council. (2013). How to teach English as a lingua franca (ELF). Retrieved from https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-teach-english-lingua-franca-elf

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

Curran, J. E., & Chern, C. L. (2017). Pre-service English teachers’ attitudes towards English as a lingua franca. Teaching and Teacher Education, 66, 137-146.

Diaz, J., & Zirkel, S. (2012). Globalization, Psychology, and Social Issues Research: An Introduction and Conceptual Framework. Journal of Social Issues, 68, 439-453.

Firth, A. (1996). The discursive accomplishment of normality: On ‘lingua franca’ English and conversation analysis. Journal of pragmatics, 26(2), 237-259.

FutureLearn (2014). Why has English developed as a world language? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg8jS-AMyMo

Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. London and New York: Routledge

The Economist. (2017). Britain is leaving the EU, but its language will stay. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/europe/2017/05/13/britain-is-leaving-the-eu-but-its-language-will-stay


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