Sunday, 3 July 2016

Ingrid Piller, Language on the Move*: Have we just seen the beginning of the end of English?



One way of looking at the outcome of the British referendum is to understand it as an act of self-sabotage:

Of course, this spectacular act of self-harming is more like a murder-suicide in that the damage done will not be contained to Britain and affect the rest of the world in ways that we cannot yet know but that look distinctly unpleasant for Europe and “the West”:

If Britain is self-destructing, what will happen to English as a global language? Have we just witnessed the beginning of the end of the global hegemony of English? Some have already started to question the role of English in the EU after the British will no longer be part of the union.
Let’s examine how other global languages have lost influence.

To begin with, for a language to rise to importance as a transnational language, it seems inevitable that its native speakers successfully pursue imperial expansion. That is how English spread and that is how other lingua francas acquired their status. However, history also shows that a transnational language does not necessarily go into decline with the decline of the empire that spread the language.
Indeed, English has shown no signs of decline since the end of the British Empire in the mid 20th-century; on the contrary, global English language learning has gone from strength to strength since then.
When an empire dies, the language of the empire may simply cease to serve as a transnational language but may still serve as the native language of the group who used to be dominant. Obviously, English will continue to be used as mother tongue in England etc. even after its speakers have shot their own political and economic influence in the foot. What is interesting is whether speakers of other languages will continue to embrace English as enthusiastically as they have to date.
(.....)
What does this mean for transnational English after Brexit? English has already been repurposed as the transnational language of multinational corporations and international business. So, we have not seen the beginning of the end of English as a transnational language and it may well thrive for a long time to come.
What we have seen is another nail in the coffin of native speaker supremacy. Native speakers have just chosen to make themselves even more irrelevant to the story of English.
Reference
Ostler, N. (2010). The Last Lingua Franca: English until the Return of Babel. London: Penguin.
Link to the full article HERE: Language on the Move 
*Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’sresearch expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.