The English is Coming

Leslie Dounton-Downer

The English is Coming

“Today English is at least the official language of more than fifty nations; of international air traffic; of major bodies like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization; not to mention of private companies, institutions of higher learning, research laboratories, nonprofit outfits, nongovernmental organizations, media empires, and other entities based around the world and populated by speakers for whom English is not a native language.”

This passage comes from a most intriguing recently-published book, one titled The English is Coming! Written by Leslie Dunton-Downer, it's a fascinating look at, as the subtitle indicates, How One Language Is Sweeping the World. Dunton-Downer illustrates this phenomenon by exploring thirty English words used and understood in nearly all corners of the globe. They include such disparate terms as shampoo and robot, parking and penthouse, safari and bank; using them, the author explores their origins and the ways their meanings evolved across time and culture. The passage continues:

“While this staggering internationalization of English emerged from British developments, true globalization of the language has been overwhelmingly America's work. The process weaves through the central domains of global life that have been introduced or changed by British and American cultures. The first major English-speaking spheres were trade and militarized colonial expansion, but the impetus has been increasingly commercial, and increasingly sparked by made-in-the-USA technology. We see evidence of these realms of activity at work in clusters of words, largely exported to the world from America, that form today's most-used Global English vocabulary.”

Worldwide, non-native speakers of English now outnumber natives three to one, and, in China alone, more people use English than in the United States – a remarkable feat for a language that got its start as a mongrel tongue on a small, rainy island at the edges of the then-known world some fifteen hundred years ago. If you'd like to know more, be sure to read all about it!

Copyright 2012, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.