World English: Past, Present, Future
University of Wales, Bangor, UK
Paper to the ASKO Europa-Stiftung Symposium,ll-13
English is now a global language, but how did it get there, and what are the consequences of this
newfound status for the future development of the language? The paper reviews ten historical
reasons for the present position of English, in the domains of politics, economics, the press,
advertising, broadcasting, motion pictures, popular music, travel and safety, communication
systems, and education. The consequences of being a global language are also addressed, notably
the trends which are already affecting English world-wide, in the form of 'new Englishes'.
Reasons for rejecting any scenario of fragmentation are given. Reference is also made to the role
of international lingua franc as and the position of other (especially minority and endangered)
Any conference dealing with the theme of globalization must at some point address the question
of language; and these days, the language which must be chiefly considered is English. I say
'these days', because only a relatively short time ago the p+rospect of Engl ish becoming a
genuinely global language was uncertain. I never gave talks on English as a world language in
the 1960s or 1970s. Indeed, it is only in the 1990s that the issue has come to the fore, with
surveys, books, and conferences trying to explain how it is that a language can become truly
global, what the consequences are when it happens, and why English has become the prime
candidate. But, in order to speculate about the future of English - or, as I shall say later,
Englishes - we must first understand what has happened in the past.
I begin with some definition. When does a language become a world language? A
language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in
every country. This role will be most obvious in countries...