Why is English the dominant world language

How did English become the most widely spoken language in the world?

Five hundred years ago, about five to seven million people spoke English, and almost all of them lived in the British Isles. Today nearly 1.8 billion people speak English around the world.

How did that happen?

The rise of English has nothing to do with the structure of the language or any properties inherent in it. But with politics and history.

The British Empire

After developing in the British Isles for nearly a thousand years, the English language was carried around the world by sailors, soldiers, pilgrims, traders and missionaries of the British Empire. By the time something similar to a language policy was introduced, English had already spread to all parts of the world.

The English-speaking Puritans were by no means the only Europeans arriving in North America: Spanish, French, Dutch, and German were already widely spoken. Over the centuries that followed, all of these languages ​​were solidified by waves of immigration from Europe.

In the course of the establishment of the “United States”, the founders of the United States were aware of the importance of a language as a national identity. English was the language spoken by the majority and therefore had to be promoted. As late as the beginning of the 20th century, several US states banned the teaching of foreign languages ​​in private schools and at home. It wasn't until 1923 that the American federal court lifted restrictions on private language tuition.

Even today, surprisingly, English is not the official language of the USA, but it is without a doubt the dominant language in everyday life.

It wasn't just America that taught the English language "Hello“Said. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the British Empire expanded to almost a quarter of the earth's surface, not including the United States. As the saying goes, “the sun never set in the British Empire”.

Today the sun sets in the Empire, but English remains an important language in all of the former colonies.

Don't forget the past

In most of the British Empire, trade and the exchange of goods were fundamental. As a result, few Britons actually settled anywhere. That explains the fact that English never dominated the colonies in Asia and Africa. Here it was the business, official and training language, but not the language of the people.

To this day, English has played a key role in the administrative apparatus of these former colonies. For a long time, access to English also meant access to training, for example in missionary schools in Africa or at the first universities in India. This created an English-speaking elite in some of the most densely populated countries in the world - and elites have been shown to be strong at self-preservation.

After independence, many countries became officially multilingual for the first time, but the different groups needed a language to communicate with each other and with other countries. That was English again. The English language is now the dominant or official language in 75 states - a direct legacy of the British Empire.

In countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, where larger colonies had formed, indigenous languages ​​and cultures were almost extinct by the ubiquitous English.

English was not the first language of European colonialism; Portuguese and Dutch left the continent earlier. And in the 19th century, English was not the global lingua franca, but French, which dominated international communication as linguistic number one. So something must have happened later that gave the English language its international status.

Without the boom in the USA in the 20th century, the global language landscape would look different today.

Two world wars and the upswing in the USA

While Europe was rebuilding in the years after 1945, the United States was doing well. American businessmen did what they didBritish East India Company left behind centuries ago and carried English as the language of business all over the world. The influence of American business, coupled with the tradition of English as a global language left by the British Empire, make English the most important language in international business in the 21st century. All of the world's top business schools now teach in English.

English is now the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 of the 25 EU Member States where it is not an official language. The 6 countries where English is not number one also show the importance of language policy: Russian is the most widely spoken foreign language in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; Croatian is spoken as the first foreign language in Slovenia and Czech is the most widely used language in Slovakia.

The cultural heritage of the post-war period has also proven to be very important for the development of the English language into a world language.

In addition to money transfers across the Atlantic, the United States also provided the soundtrack with rock ‘n roll, jazz and later disco and hip hop. Hollywood films caused a global sensation and American television series became cultural references. American culture exuded trust and a sense of achievement around the world - and that was exactly what the world needed after the devastation of World War II.

But it wasn't just American music that brought English to discos and homes around the world. British bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, Police or Led Zeppelin ensured that Britain prevailed at least on the radio waves - if no longer on the waves of the sea.

The hippie movement came from San Francisco and London. Music festivals like the Isle of Wight and Woodstock have become a cult for a generation - English-speaking or not.

This "soft power”Is still relevant today ...

English is cool"

Copywriters pride themselves on helping to shape the cultural zeitgeist by triggering needs in consumers through the sexy presentation of the products. One of the ways to do this is to use English words. See German examples on Der Spiegel, Spanish examples on La Razon’s, French examples on Slate.fr and Italian on La Repubblica.

Numerous examples of English as a promotional language come from multinational companies who want to reach all of their markets with uniform messages. Other examples, however, concern local companies that sometimes incorporate indefinable glamor elements that are only effective in English. Of course, this also happens in the English language:Haute couture andEau de toilette doesn't sound much more attractive when translated.

Musicians publish their works in English in order to reach as many viewers as possible, and so do filmmakers. This invisible pressure to bring one's creative works to market in English affects not only the cultural element but also the language that was developed in the second half of the twentieth century.

The style-conscious language of extreme sports is English: snowboarders speak ofOllieFakieandrodeo whether they are Canadian, Swiss or Japanese.

The word “cool” - a program in itself - has been included in numerous languages.

Science & technology

The global power of the United States began with the advent of home computers. English is the language of the technological revolution and English dominates the Internet. Take a look at a keyboard, for example: it was designed for the Latin script. For Asian languages ​​in particular, more complicated techniques are necessary to be able to enter the words.

What goes on inside the devices is also determined by English. The USA remains the most innovative technology nation and, due to the language policy of the nation's founders, English is the dominant language in this area as well.

Influence, not influence

In addition to the efforts of early settlers a few hundred years ago, the success of the English language is based more on an unstoppable, ever-increasing influence than on the forcible implementation of a strategy. The people in the British colonies who wanted an education received it in English. Artists who want to reach the largest possible audience with their work must do so in English. If you want to trade internationally, you must speak English. Certainly, command of the English language is not essential for a successful career - but it would certainly help.

Will English Remain Number One?

Some people think that English has become ubiquitous because it is "easy to learn" or particularly flexible. However, a look back shows that this is not the case. Despite a diabolically complex case system, Latin was Europe's most influential language for over a thousand years (and its descendants continue to do very well). People learned Latin for the same reason they learned English today: to get ahead in life and to have access to knowledge. Today Latin is only mastered by priests and scientists.

Languages ​​and borders change over time, but English is very likely to remain the number one language around the world for the rest of our lives.

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