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Old 05-16-2010, 06:56 AM   #76
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Originally Posted by PKFFW View Post
I thought the reason English was chosen is because England imposed it on all the countries it invaded and conquered during its empire days and therefore many countries, to some extent, have it as a secondary language in common. That and the fact that the USA speaks English and for much of the 20th century have been the economic, military and political powerhouse of the world. Therefore any country wishing to do business with the biggest economic and political influence on the world found it advantageous to learn english.

I don't really think it has much to do with any inherent advantage or openess of the english language.

Cheers,
PKFFW
I think that that's pretty much spot on. The openness to outside influence did probably help as well though.
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Old 05-16-2010, 07:42 AM   #77
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It's the other way around. English is "open to influences" because it is spoken all around the world, and everyone makes his/her contribution.
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Old 05-16-2010, 01:17 PM   #78
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@Mike, I know. It's buried in one of my overly-long posts, but I mentioned that (and Sir Walter Scott's explanation in Ivanhoe) as the reason I became interested in languages.

I don't think the central control, or lack thereof, of a language really matters for its adoption and adaptation in any given place. Look at Haitian Creole, for instance, which is derived from -- but certainly not -- French. While I'm sure L'Académie française is horrified, there's nothing they can do.

I think the reason that English supplanted French, which in turn supplanted Latin, which very, very long ago supplanted Greek, as an international language is more than just the British Empire. We have all heard how English, with its irregularity, its non-phonetic spelling, and its reputed million-word vocabulary, is hard to learn. We forget, though, how easy basic English is to learn. English abandoned many of the more complicated aspects of its parent languages. English threw out gender, it threw out declension (except for plurals and some pronouns), it adopted a strict word-order syntax, etc. It lost the phonemes that caused pronunciation difficulties in its parent languages. It is, really, a language designed for non-English-speakers to use, because that's exactly what it started out as: a way for speakers of totally different Romance and Germanic languages to communicate.

Within a limited domain, such as air traffic control, or currency trading, a speaker of another language can rapidly acquire enough English to function, because they're generally not dealing with the weird stuff. They might not be able to discuss linguistics on MobleRead, but they don't need to; they just need to land their airplanes, complete their trades, or whatever else their specialty requires. And those specialized uses, in turn, drive more generalized uses. Just as people once learned French (or Latin, or Greek) just because it was a trans-national language -- it was a sign of an educated person -- even though they as individuals were unlikely to need it for that purpose, English has picked up the same cachet. In other words, people learn English because other people learn English.

Modern technology has influenced this, too. Just as the works of ancient scholars were in Greek, then the writings of the Church, and later of science, were in Latin, and then much great literature was in French, a lot of things people want to understand are in English today. First radio, then TV, and now the Net, have had enormous amounts of content in English. While each of them in turn changed, and the languages became more diverse, that front-loading with English helped further drive the popularization of English as an international second language.

As I understand it, the reason many countries adopted the languages of their former colonial masters as their official/government languages is a matter of simple practicality: Prior to the advent of modern transportation, and for that matter before any real need to go anywhere, since "there" was pretty much the same as "here", languages and dialects were very localized. New Guinea and its thousand languages is the usual example, but similar situations occur worldwide (including in England itself not all that many centuries ago). Choosing one of those languages as the country's official language would have caused political trouble among those whose languages were not chosen, aside from all the practical issues. The colonial language (usually English, French, or Spanish) was relatively neutral, or at least everyone disliked the colonizers equally, and those people most likely to make up the new government and bureaucracy after independence had often been a part of the colonial government, so it was the natural choice for a national language in linguistically fragmented countries.

Of course, some of those former-colonial forms of English have continued the language's tradition of adopting new words, even new structure. This upsets some people who think that "English" is something that can be pinned on a board and put in a display case, unchanging and unchangeable. However, the English of India or Singapore or anywhere else is as legitimate (or illegitimate) as the English of England. They all come from the same roots, and they'd all horrify Geoffrey Chaucer equally.

P.S. Note that the latter does not excuse sloppiness, laziness, or ignorance on the part of people who don't know "flaunt" from "flout", or "comprise" from "consist". That's ignorance, not linguistic change.

Last edited by Worldwalker; 05-16-2010 at 02:48 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 05-16-2010, 01:39 PM   #79
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P.S. Note that the latter does not excuse sloppiness, laziness, or ignorance on the part of people who don't now "flaunt" from "flout", or "comprise" from "consist". That's ignorance, not linguistic change.
Or "know" from "now"?
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Old 05-16-2010, 02:48 PM   #80
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Or "know" from "now"?
Fixed. Caffeine deficiency also fixed.
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Old 05-16-2010, 08:19 PM   #81
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@Mike, I know. It's buried in one of my overly-long posts, but I mentioned that (and Sir Walter Scott's explanation in Ivanhoe) as the reason I became interested in languages.

I don't think the central control, or lack thereof, of a language really matters for its adoption and adaptation in any given place. Look at Haitian Creole, for instance, which is derived from -- but certainly not -- French. While I'm sure L'Académie française is horrified, there's nothing they can do.

I think the reason that English supplanted French, which in turn supplanted Latin, which very, very long ago supplanted Greek, as an international language is more than just the British Empire. We have all heard how English, with its irregularity, its non-phonetic spelling, and its reputed million-word vocabulary, is hard to learn. We forget, though, how easy basic English is to learn. English abandoned many of the more complicated aspects of its parent languages. English threw out gender, it threw out declension (except for plurals and some pronouns), it adopted a strict word-order syntax, etc. It lost the phonemes that caused pronunciation difficulties in its parent languages. It is, really, a language designed for non-English-speakers to use, because that's exactly what it started out as: a way for speakers of totally different Romance and Germanic languages to communicate.

Within a limited domain, such as air traffic control, or currency trading, a speaker of another language can rapidly acquire enough English to function, because they're generally not dealing with the weird stuff. They might not be able to discuss linguistics on MobleRead, but they don't need to; they just need to land their airplanes, complete their trades, or whatever else their specialty requires. And those specialized uses, in turn, drive more generalized uses. Just as people once learned French (or Latin, or Greek) just because it was a trans-national language -- it was a sign of an educated person -- even though they as individuals were unlikely to need it for that purpose, English has picked up the same cachet. In other words, people learn English because other people learn English.

Modern technology has influenced this, too. Just as the works of ancient scholars were in Greek, then the writings of the Church, and later of science, were in Latin, and then much great literature was in French, a lot of things people want to understand are in English today. First radio, then TV, and now the Net, have had enormous amounts of content in English. While each of them in turn changed, and the languages became more diverse, that front-loading with English helped further drive the popularization of English as an international second language.

As I understand it, the reason many countries adopted the languages of their former colonial masters as their official/government languages is a matter of simple practicality: Prior to the advent of modern transportation, and for that matter before any real need to go anywhere, since "there" was pretty much the same as "here", languages and dialects were very localized. New Guinea and its thousand languages is the usual example, but similar situations occur worldwide (including in England itself not all that many centuries ago). Choosing one of those languages as the country's official language would have caused political trouble among those whose languages were not chosen, aside from all the practical issues. The colonial language (usually English, French, or Spanish) was relatively neutral, or at least everyone disliked the colonizers equally, and those people most likely to make up the new government and bureaucracy after independence had often been a part of the colonial government, so it was the natural choice for a national language in linguistically fragmented countries.

Of course, some of those former-colonial forms of English have continued the language's tradition of adopting new words, even new structure. This upsets some people who think that "English" is something that can be pinned on a board and put in a display case, unchanging and unchangeable. However, the English of India or Singapore or anywhere else is as legitimate (or illegitimate) as the English of England. They all come from the same roots, and they'd all horrify Geoffrey Chaucer equally.

P.S. Note that the latter does not excuse sloppiness, laziness, or ignorance on the part of people who don't know "flaunt" from "flout", or "comprise" from "consist". That's ignorance, not linguistic change.
Be that as it may, no matter how easy basic english is to learn it would not be the default international language if England had not set out to conquer and control the world. Former colonial countries would not have adopted english as their national language and the USA certainly would not speak english today as its official language if England had never colonised those places. Science and technology writings would not be primarily in english if english was not already the default standard just as they would not have been written in latin or greek years ago if those had not be the default international standards for the written word at those times.

What it all comes down to is whoever can force the most people to speak their language, that language becomes the default standard. We now live in a world where the idea of one country colonising every other country and forcing them to adopt their conquerers language is looked upon as bad form and as such is unlikely to happen again, at least anytime soon. As England was the last country to attempt this, english has the advantage of having the most people forced to use it. Hence it is the now the default international standard.

Had France been a bit better at war than they were at eating, womanising and running away then French would very likely now be the standard.

Cheers,
PKFFW
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Old 05-17-2010, 08:18 AM   #82
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As England was the last country to attempt this, english has the advantage of having the most people forced to use it. Hence it is the now the default international standard.
The last country to attempt this? I believe we pretty much stopped after WWII while America seems to be currently in full swing. The aim though is no longer to plant flags but to ensure commercial or political gain. Even where there aren't wars you'll find army bases in foreign countries ensuring interests are upheld.

Anyway, surely there are more people speaking Chinese than English. Wouldn't the international spread of hip English speaking TV be more likely to convert young folks to English than any past, or current, warmongering.
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Old 05-17-2010, 08:50 AM   #83
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The last country to attempt this? I believe we pretty much stopped after WWII while America seems to be currently in full swing. The aim though is no longer to plant flags but to ensure commercial or political gain. Even where there aren't wars you'll find army bases in foreign countries ensuring interests are upheld.
The USA are not attempting to force said nations to speak their language and even if it were that language would be english and thus the point stands.

If it makes you feel better though I will re-phrase to "since english speaking countries were the last to attempt to conquer the world and force the conquered to speak their language......etc etc"
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Anyway, surely there are more people speaking Chinese than English. Wouldn't the international spread of hip English speaking TV be more likely to convert young folks to English than any past, or current, warmongering.
Good point. However, the majority of those speakers all live in the one country, that being China. Whereas english speakers are spread over the entire world to a much greater degree than Chinese speakers. Further to that, many countries have adopted english as their official language because they used to be a colony of England. Far fewer countries have done the same with Chinese.

As for tv being likely to convert young folks to english, that is doubtful. Most tv shows are simply dubbed or subtitled. What makes young people want to learn english is the fact that english is the defacto international language of choice and hence their employment, political, economic and even cultural prospects are enhanced by learning it. That and also the fact that many countries, particularly asian ones, have english as a compulsory second language component of their primary school curriculum.

All that is not really my point though. I was merely pointing out why english has become the defacto international language.

Cheers,
PKFFW
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Old 05-17-2010, 10:21 AM   #84
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I was only a little sensitive about the suggestion that England, through invasion, had forced English on all our colonies. In India English was chosen (along with Hindi) as the official language simply because it was a common currency across a nation that spoke nearly 30 languages - this was also done after we left. I don't believe there is even an official language in America now - there was a rumour that they nearly voted in German at one point but I'm not sure this is true.
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Old 05-17-2010, 06:43 PM   #85
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Perhaps I should have typed 'had to use English' rather than 'chose'.

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Old 05-17-2010, 08:14 PM   #86
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I was only a little sensitive about the suggestion that England, through invasion, had forced English on all our colonies. In India English was chosen (along with Hindi) as the official language simply because it was a common currency across a nation that spoke nearly 30 languages - this was also done after we left. I don't believe there is even an official language in America now - there was a rumour that they nearly voted in German at one point but I'm not sure this is true.
Well the business of the colony was done in english so effectively english was forced upon. at the very least, those that governed the populace.

As for choosing english as an official language, regardless of its common currency amongst the populace, would it have ever been chosen had England not invaded? I would suggest not as it would not have been a common language across the country to begin with.

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Old 05-17-2010, 11:44 PM   #87
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English was spread around the world due to colonization, no doubt about that. But the reason it remained the de facto language in many countries is that there is less emotional baggage in using English as a standard tongue (since it was already in use in adminstration and transportation) instead of making one region's or one tribe's language the primary one, which tends to foster resentment and feelings of superiority/inferiority at a time when former colonies/states are/were emerging as sovereign countries in their own right.

English, I think, just happened to be the first language to really reach critical mass world-wide, as a result of a perfect storm of political, economic and social factors. It's ability to incorporate vocabulary quickly from other languages means that every culture has a stake in it. I don't see that changing, especially with countries making English a mandatory course in school. In China, English language lessons begin in the third year of primary school.
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Old 05-18-2010, 06:16 AM   #88
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@Xanthe - totally agree

@PKFFW - in the UK our language has changed dramatically over the years following each new invasion (Anglo Saxon, Viking, French) and these changes have added to the colour of our language. Certainly no-one in the UK complains about being forced to use Norman words and the language is still changing on a daily basis - last Saturday I was having dinner alongside the guy who created the word "simples" (used in some advertising campaign) and he was inordinately proud that his word might make it into the OED.

The huge influence of China in business means that children in my son's school are learning languages like Chinese. I don't resent this and instead hope it will get them better jobs in future. The global nature of commerce just means that people will veer towards more widely spoken languages. Things might change in the future if oil shortages make travel (and global shipping) untenable and then perhaps regional languages might start to spread again.

Which language would you propose as the lingua franca for India? would everyone there be happy with your choice?
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Old 05-18-2010, 06:49 AM   #89
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Just out if interest, some stats from the web, although all current sources seem to be about 10 years old now (1999) but I'm guessing a comparison of the figures to day would be similar.

These figures include secondary speakers (i.e. native speakers plus second language speakers). This helps significantly boost the French and Spanish figures, whilst adding a little to the English and marginally increasing the Mandarin Chinese. Figures are from various sources/studies: Comrie (1998), Weber (1997), and the Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) 1999 Ethnologue Survey:

Chinese, Mandarin: 1.12 billion
English: 480 million
Spanish: 320 million)
Russian: 285 million
French: 265 million
Hindi/Urdu: 250 million
Arabic: 221 million
Portuguese: 188 million
Bengali: 185 million
Japanese: 133 million
German: 109 million

Of course, number of countries against language has English way out in front at 115, and inverts the Chinese dominance in pure numbers:

English (115)
French (35)
Arabic (24)
Spanish (20)
Russian (16)
German (9)
Mandarin (5)
Portuguese (5)
Hindi/Urdu (2)
Bengali (1)
Japanese (1)

There was an interesting Sci-Fi show a few years ago that only lasted a season, called Firefly, and that had humans of some unspecified future being (prophetically?) bilingual in English and Chinese...

As to the question of US imperialist ambitions, it's too big an issue for this simple forum. Comparing the modern methods of imperialist oversight to those of colonial England, France, Spain or Holland is a rather fallacious attempt at denial of reality. No longer the colonial legions marching in to dominate a region or engage in open warfare, the modern toolbox of conquest uses much more subtle and insidious means to control economic resources and influence governments, and when necessary implement 'regime change' to secure the national interest. A somewhat smiling assassin doctrine - 'we come in peace; shoot to kill.'
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Old 05-18-2010, 07:08 AM   #90
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Originally Posted by orwell2k View Post
There was an interesting Sci-Fi show a few years ago that only lasted a season, called Firefly, and that had humans of some unspecified future being (prophetically?) bilingual in English and Chinese...
Remember "Blade Runner"? It takes place in a "chinese-fied" LA in 2019
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