English as an International Language

By Abdul Muth’im

(Lecturer of English Department, FKIP Unlam Banjarmasin)

English is a widely distributed language originating in England that is currently the primary language of a number of countries. It is extensively used as a second language and as an official language in many other countries. English is the most widely taught and understood language in the world, and sometimes is described as a lingua franca[1]. Although Modern Standard Chinese has more mother-tongue speakers (approximately 700 million) English is used by more people as a second or foreign language, putting the total number of English-speakers worldwide at well over one billion.[citation needed]

About 354 million people speak English as their first language.[citation needed] Estimates about second language speakers of English vary greatly between 150 million and 1.5 billion. English is the dominant international language in communications, science, business, aviation, entertainment, diplomacy and the Internet. It has been one of the official languages of the United Nations since its founding in 1945. It is widely said that English is today’s universal language.

Although the language is named after England, the United States now has more first-language English speakers than the rest of the world combined. The United Kingdom comes second, with England indeed having as many English speakers as the rest of the world combined (aside from the USA). Canada is third, and Australia fourth, with those four comprising 95% of native English speakers. Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers (‘Indian English‘) and now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country. Following India are the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Germany and the United States (by way of immigrant communities and other enclaves in which English is necessary for communication with their English-speaking countrymen).

English is the most widely learned and used foreign language, and as such, some linguists believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural sign of ‘native English speakers’, but is rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow. Others believe there are limits to how well English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes. English is the language most often studied as a foreign language in the European Union (by 89% of schoolchildren), followed by French (32%), German (18%), and Spanish (8%). [2] It is also the most studied in the People’s Republic of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. English is also compulsory for most secondary school students in the PRC and Taiwan. See English as an additional language.

English is an Anglo-Frisian language brought to southeastern Great Britain in the 5th century AD by Germanic settlers from various parts of northwest Germany (Saxons, Angles) as well as Jutland (Jutes).

These Germanic invaders dominated the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants, whose languages survived in areas not under Germanic domination: Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland. The dialects spoken by the invaders dominated almost all of what is now called England and formed what is today called the Old English language, which resembled some coastal dialects in what are now northwest Germany and the Netherlands (i.e. Frisia). Later, it was influenced by the related North Germanic language Old Norse, spoken by the Vikings who settled mainly in the north and the east coast down to London, the area known as the Danelaw.

Then came the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. For about 300 years following, the Norman kings and the high nobility spoke only Anglo-Norman, which was very close to Old French. A large number of Norman words found their way into Old English, leaving a parallel vocabulary that persists into modern times. The Norman influence strongly affected the evolution of the language over the following centuries, resulting in what is now referred to as Middle English.

During the 15th century, Middle English was transformed by the Great Vowel Shift, the spread of a standardised London-based dialect in government and administration, and the standardising effect of printing. Early Modern English can be traced back to around the time of William Shakespeare.

[edit] Classification and related languages

The English language belongs to the western sub-branch of the Germanic branch, which is itself a branch of the Indo-European family of languages.

The question as to which is the nearest living relative of English is a matter of some discussion. Apart from such English-lexified creole languages such as Tok Pisin, Scots — which is spoken primarily in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland — is the Germanic variety most closely associated with English. Like English, Scots ultimately descends from Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon. The closest relative to English after Scots is Frisian, which is spoken in the Northern Netherlands and Northwest Germany. Other less closely related living West Germanic languages include German itself, Low German, Dutch and Afrikaans. The North Germanic languages of Scandinavia are less closely related to English than the West Germanic languages.

Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (though pronunciations are often quite different) because English absorbed a large vocabulary from French, via the Norman after the Norman Conquest and directly from French in further centuries. As a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional divergences in meaning.

[edit] English as a global language

Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a “global language“, the lingua franca of the modern era. While English is not an official language in many countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world. It is also, by international treaty, the official language for aircraft/airport and maritime communication, as well as being one of the official languages of both the European Union and the United Nations, and of most international athletic organizations, including the Olympic Committee. Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world. English is also the most commonly used language in the sciences. In 1997, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.

[edit] Vocabulary

Germanic words (which include all the basics such as pronouns and conjunctions) tend to be shorter than the Latinate words of English, and more common in ordinary speech. The longer Latinate words are regarded by many as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is considered by some to be either pretentious (as in the stereotypical policeman’s talk of “apprehending the suspect”) or an attempt to obfuscate an issue. George Orwell‘s essayPolitics and the English Language” gives a thorough treatment of this feature of English.

An English speaker is often able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: “come” or “arrive”; “sight” or “vision”; “freedom” or “liberty.” Often there is a choice between a Germanic word (oversee), a Latin word (supervise), and a French word derived from the same Latin word (survey). The richness of the language arises from the variety of different meanings and nuances such synonyms have from each other, enabling the speaker to express fine variations or shades of thought. Familiarity with the etymology of groups of synonyms can give English speakers greater control over their linguistic register. See: List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents.

An exception to this and a peculiarity perhaps unique to English is that the nouns for meats are commonly different from, and unrelated to, those for the animals from which they are produced, the animal commonly having a Germanic name and the meat having a French-derived one. Examples include: deer and venison; cow and beef; or swine/pig and pork. This is assumed to be a result of the aftermath of the Norman invasion, where a French-speaking elite were the consumers of the meat, produced by English-speaking lower classes.

In everyday speech, the majority of words will normally be Germanic. If a speaker wishes to make a forceful point in an argument in a very blunt way, Germanic words will usually be chosen. A majority of Latinate words (or at least a majority of content words) will normally be used in more formal speech and writing, such as a courtroom or an encyclopedia article. However, there are other Latinate words that are used normally in everyday speech and do not sound formal; these are mainly words for concepts that no longer have Germanic words, and are generally assimilated better and in many cases do not appear Latinate. For instance, the words mountain, valley, river, aunt, uncle, push and stay are all Latinate.

English is noted for the vast size of its active vocabulary and its fluidity. English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and imports new words and phrases that often come into common usage. Examples of this phenomenon include: cookie, Internet and URL (technical terms), as well as genre, über, lingua franca and amigo (imported words/phrases, from French, German, modern Latin, and Spanish, respectively). In addition, slang often provides new meanings for old words and phrases. In fact, this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage.

[edit] Number of words in English

As the General Explanations at the beginning of the Oxford English Dictionary state:

The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits… there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.

The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly vast, but assigning a specific number to its size is more a matter of definition than of calculation. Unlike other languages, there is no Academy to define officially accepted words. Neologisms are coined regularly in medicine, science and technology and other fields, and new slang is constantly developed. Some of these new words enter wide usage; others remain restricted to small circles. Foreign words used in immigrant communities often make their way into wider English usage. Archaic, dialectal, and regional words might or might not be widely considered as “English”.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (OED2) includes over 600,000 definitions, following a rather inclusive policy:

It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang (Supplement to the OED, 1933).

The difficulty of defining the number of words is compounded by the emergence of new versions of English, such as Indo-Pakistani English. The editors of Merriam Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (475,000 definitions) in their preface, estimate the number to be much higher.

[edit]Influences in English Vocabulary

Main article: Lists of English words of international origin

One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words which are Germanic (mostly Old English) and those which are “Latinate” (Latin-derived, either directly from Norman French or other Romance languages).

Numerous sets of statistics have been proposed to demonstrate the various origins of English vocabulary. None, as yet, are considered definitive by a majority of linguists.

A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd ed.) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973) that estimated the origin of English words as follows:

§ Langue d’oïl, including French and Old Norman: 28.3%

§ Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%

§ Other Germanic languages (including Old English, Old Norse, and Dutch): 25%

§ Greek: 5.32%

§ No etymology given: 4.03%

§ Derived from proper names: 3.28%

§ All other languages contributed less than 1%

A survey by Joseph M. Williams in Origins of the English Language of 10,000 words taken from several thousand business letters gave this set of statistics:

§ French (langue d’oïl), 41%

§ “Native” English, 33%

§ Latin, 15%

§ Danish, 2%

§ Dutch, 1%

§ Other, 10%

Other estimates that have been made:

§ French (langue d’oïl), 40%[3]

§ Greek, 13%[4]

§ Anglo-Saxon (Old English), 10%[5]

§ Danish, 2%[citation needed]

§ Dutch, 1% [citation needed]

§ And, as about 50% of English is derived from Latin — directly or otherwise (e.g. from French) — [6] another 10 to 15% can be attributed to direct borrowings from those languages.

Some researchers assert that as many as 83% of the 1,000 most common English words are Anglo-Saxon in origin.[citation needed]

§ Baugh, Albert C.; Thomas Cable (2002). A history of the English language, 5th ed., Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28099-0.

§ Bragg, Melvyn (2004). The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1-55970-710-0.

§ Emerson, Ralph Waldo (2006). The Classics of Style: The Fundamentals of Language Style from Our American Craftsmen, 1st ed., The American Academic Press. ISBN 0-9787282-0-3.

§ Crystal, David (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53032-6.

§ Crystal, David (2004). The Stories of English. Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-9752-4.

§ Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53033-4.

§ Halliday, MAK (1994). An introduction to functional grammar, 2nd ed., London: Edward Arnold. ISBN 0-340-55782-6.

§ Hayford, Harrison; Howard P. Vincent (1954). Reader and Writer. Houghton Mifflin Company. [7]

§ McArthur, T. (ed.) (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214183-X.

§ Robinson, Orrin (1992). Old English and Its Closest Relatives. Stanford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8047-2221-8.

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2 Responses to “English as an International Language”

  1. agus Wj Says:

    Hi,
    Interesting article!. Language is a lingua franca ( global language) or a home language (today). It seems to me that it is a dilemma for engineering English as a lingua franca.
    The first fact that makes me pondering is that why non- native speakers ( outer circle speakers), like Indonesian learners of English just want to sound like native speakers. It’s ironical, I think. If we think that English does belong to everybody in this world, why should we bother becoming native like?. (In that case, as non- native speakers, they should be proud of our having peculiar pronunciation etc.).
    The idea of English as lingua franca is great. Nevertheless, becoming lingua franca is not an easy task. As sociocultural aspects of ethnic groups are carried in every language, cross cultural communication in English could be troublesome. Language is not a matter language structure, vocabulary and pronunciation, the sociopragmatic aspects of communication is the greatest factor determining the success or failure of NNS and NS communication. Native speakers won’t be offended if non native speakers make grammatical/pronunciation errors in their communication, yet if they make pragmatic errors, it is likely that they will have communication break down. Native speakers perceive pragmatic errors more serious than grammatical errors. ( to emphasise)

  2. agus Wj Says:

    Hi,
    Interesting article!. Language is a lingua franca ( global language) or a home language (today). It seems to me that it is a dilemma for engineering English as a lingua franca.
    The first fact that makes me pondering is that why non- native speakers ( outer circle speakers), like Indonesian learners of English just want to sound like native speakers. It’s ironical, I think. If we think that English does belong to everybody in this world, why should we bother becoming native like?. (In that case, as non- native speakers, they should be proud of having peculiar pronunciation etc.).
    The idea of English as lingua franca is great. Nevertheless, becoming lingua franca is not an easy task. As sociocultural aspects of ethnic groups are carried in every language, cross cultural communication in English could be troublesome. Language is not a matter language structure, vocabulary and pronunciation, the sociopragmatic aspects of communication is the greatest factor determining the success or failure of NNS and NS communication. Native speakers won’t be offended if non native speakers make grammatical/pronunciation errors in their communication, yet if they make pragmatic errors, it is likely that they will have communication break down. Native speakers perceive pragmatic errors more serious than grammatical errors. ( to emphasise)


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