English is likely to remain the world’s lingua-franca…but in what form? 2


               English, like all languages ever spoken throughout human history, has evolved over the centuries and millennia, gradually accumulating vocabulary from other languages. If any language spoken on the planet today may be classified as truly hybrid in nature, few should be ranked ahead of English. The language we know today as the earth's predominant lingua-franca, spoken as a native language by approximately 375 million worldwide and by roughly one and a half billion people as either a second language or a foreign language1, emerged in its Early Modern form at the beginning of the 16th century.

                Have you ever wondered why the range of vocabulary in English is so extensive and why so many synonyms exist for a large proportion of words in this language? The coexistence of Anglo-Saxon and Franco-Norman tribes within England which began in 1066, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, began this trend of linguistic diversity. It is interesting to note that the names for animals in English are largely of Germanic origin (e.g. cow, pig, ox, hen, etc.) while many words for meat dishes such as beef, mutton and veal have Franco-Norman roots.  This is due to the fact that the land-labourers of medieval England were largely Anglo-Saxons, while the wealthier class (who could afford to prepare lavish banquets) were of Norman stock.

                In this short example alone we have proof that language usage and social history are intimately connected. Indeed, this phenomenon will never be confined to the history books. It is also highly relevant to modern debates centred around the merging of languages and cultures. Spoken language has never been and never truly can be static since the cultural influences that leave their mark on it are continually shifting. The British Council highlights the plurality of 'Englishes' that exist in the 21st century, and the fact that these remain in a state of evolution2

                Nigeria is the most populous African nation and was a British colony until 1960. For the majority of Nigerians, English functions as a lingua franca for the speakers of the 500+ local languages that exist within this complex developing country3. Sociolinguistic experts are currently grappling with the question of whether there is such a thing as a 'Nigerian English'. The fact that the varieties of English spoken in Nigeria differ significantly in terms of vocabulary, as well as on an idiomatic level, from 'mainstream' English has never been in doubt. However, numerous obstacles present themselves when attempting to place any kind of definitive structure on 'Nigerian English',  stemming mainly from the fact that this remains a dialect undergoing formation. Major local languages such as Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba have all left their footprint on this new breed of English, with vocabulary rooted in local customs being constantly added to it, as well as direct translations from such local languages4.

                Similarly in India, where English functions as the lingua-franca of the upper classes, debate is ongoing regarding the growth and influence of Hinglish (a potential new lingua-franca that combines a mixture of Hindi and English elements) within this vast subcontinent. This appears to be due to the fact that consistent access to high-level English is not a reality for many of India's poorest citizens5. This new hybrid language that is Hinglish has now appeared on the scene, aiming to fill the linguistic void that prevails and enabling communication between native and non-native speakers of Hindi, for example.

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                For current learners of English (and indeed native English speakers also), surely the concept of the partial fusion of dialects is worth taking on board. Consulting textbooks and other materials used for exam purposes (such as when studying for IELTS or TOEFL) is of course fine, but be advised that the process of language learning does not stop with the successful passing of a test. The vocabulary contained within such materials could be described as trying to capture a snapshot of language usage at a particular moment in time and placing it before the eyes of newcomers to the language. This works in a similar way to the concept of taking photos during a special family occasion, for instance. It may be said that the aim of taking a photo is to preserve an image of what life was like at a very specific moment in time for the individuals whose faces appear within its frame, for the purpose of reflection in later years. As in the case of recalling scenes featuring in photographs after time has moved on and circumstances have changed, some of the elements of language promoted as being current and correct by established institutions (such as exam-regulating bodies) may lose their currency some years later and need to be revised. Rather than sitting a language test again later in life (once is surely enough), it is advisable to keep up to date with language trends and shifts in linguistic usage now and again!   

                Immigrants from the poorer nations of the world naturally tend to favour host nations where the main language spoken is familiar to them in some shape or form. The case may be that it is not their mother tongue but their second or third language. This largely explains why countries such as Britain and America are such common destinations of choice for migrant workers, while Japan and Korea (although just as much part of the developed world) are not. As an English language learner, if you take the factor of immigration and intercultural mixing into account and add to the equation the quintessentially modern elements of social media, online blogs and globalisation broadly speaking, you will become convinced of the fact that the field of linguistics is more dynamic than ever.

                If you are someone who runs a business and are interested in developing it on a more global scale, you could do a great deal worse than recognising the fluid nature of English as a global lingua-franca when doing business with individuals or organisations in various parts of the world. If you have mastered 'mainstream' English as your foreign language to a sufficient degree, your business prospects may potentially be very good if you can keep abreast of some of the terminology relating to local customs in countries where English is spoken as a lingua-franca (such as Nigeria or, to a degree, India). This demonstrates to businesspeople who reside  in these countries that you, as a person, are culturally aware and are open to their means of expression. This may vary from highly direct (i.e. forthright with one's thoughts and ideas), to highly indirect (where ideas are put forth implicitly in business negotiations). It is so often said of our modern world that speaking English well is key to an individual's financial success. However, if you can take your learning a step further than most when operating in today's interconnected world, you could find yourself with many helpful replacement keys if ever the first one should grow rusty over time and no longer be capable of picking the lock.         

 

References:

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/

2 https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/whats-future-english

3 https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/whats-future-english

4 http://www.scientificjournals.org/journals2007/articles/1084.htm

5 http://europe.newsweek.com/will-hinglish-replace-english-india-lingua-franca-426174?rm=eu


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