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Some insights about English as the access code to the global elite

A recent article from the Guardian draws the following conclusion : no language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. English dominates everywhere and has grown to vast size and astonishing influence. Almost 400m people speak it as their first language, a billion more know it as a secondary tongue. It is an official language in at least 59 countries, the unofficial lingua franca of dozens more. No language in history has spanned a greater portion of the globe and as the world grew more connected, English became a net exporter of words. Yet the influence of English goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the IULM University in Milan have noticed that, in the past 50 years, Italian syntax has shifted towards patterns that mimic English models. German is also increasingly adopting English grammatical forms, while in Swedish its influence has been changing the rules governing word formation and phonology. In the field of education, English is seen as the access code to the global elite and the children better have English in their toolkit. The rise of English as the hypercentral language that holds the entire world system together has also dramatic backdraws, especially in east Asia. An increasing number of parents in South Korea have their children undergo a form of surgery that snips off a thin band of tissue under the tongue. Most parents believe the surgery supposedly enables the child to pronounce the English retroflex consonant with ease, a sound that is considered to be particularly difficult for Koreans. But the article reports other findings. Considering the fact that language structures thought but also different social, spatial and emotional « landscapes », the conquest of English should not overshadow an other harsh reality: the world loses a language every two weeks and 50-90% of languages will go extinct in the coming century.  In some ways, the worst threat may come from an idea: that a single language should suit every purpose, and that being monolingual is therefore somehow “normal”. This is something that’s often assumed reflexively by those of us who live most of our lives in English, but historically speaking, monolingualism is something of an aberration.

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