Archive for April, 2018


April 30, 2018

backpagedavidcrystalA few days ago I posted a British Council video featuring David Crystal’s views on the role of the English language in the modern world and on its development. David Crystal is a well-known linguist making his ideas popular even amongst those who have never been involved in the science of language. David Crystal’s son Ben has also co-authored several books with his father.

I. Since I have two fundamental books by David Crystal in my home library, as well as quite a number of downloads of the father and son’s writings and interviews, I think it would be interesting for professionals to have a more or less systematic presentation of how David Crystal sees the English language and its future. Here’s a précis of the video I mentioned, with some more summaries to follow later.During his meeting with Serbian students of English, David Crystal was asked about the future of English as he saw it. We can speak only about a short-time future, the scholar said. To say something about a longer perspective would be “madness-like.” Who would have predicted one thousand years ago that Latin would be spoken by hardly anybody? Yes, there are people who use Latin on certain levels, but it wouldn’t be normal education to be “fluent in Latin.” Asking about the future of language, you should ask about the future of society. A language can be global for one reason only – because of the power of the people who use it. There is no other reason for people to speak a language other than to improve their quality of life or influence others in some way. The English language became global due to:

  1. the power of the British Empire,
  2. the power of American imperialism,
  3. the power of the industrial revolution,
  4. the 19th century power of money (international banking was concentrated in the UK and the USA, which were the most productive nations at the time),
  5. the 20th century cultural and technological influence (pop songs, advertising, air-traffic control, the development of radio and television, the Internet.

English will remain a global language as long as Britain and America retain that kind of power, and also until other nations want to be like them and want to interact with them.

We can imagine another scenario when Spanish (the fastest growing language in the world) is in the forefront (for one, Spanish is becoming more and more widely used in the USA) Another scenario is that Arabic becomes global – for reasons perfectly obvious to anybody who looks at the world.


However, at the moment, there are no signs of diminution in the prestige of English. The figures are going up and up every year, with two billion people speaking English all over the world. There has never been such a number of people speaking one language before, and there is no slackening off in that progress. So, for the long-term future of English: no idea, for the short-term: no change.

II.What kind of English will there be in the future? It looks like American English will dominate all other varieties. We see this impact in British English already – for example, in spelling. What was before “encyclopaedia” (with “ae” in the middle of the word, British English) is now “encyclopedia” (“e” in the middle, which was ONLY American English before). Incidentally, American English spelling, grammar and vocabulary became “legal” after the USA gained independence from Britain in the 18th century. Noah Webster, amongst others, said, “We need American English for the American identity.” What had happened to English in America, happened later (and is happening now) to the whole English-language world. You can be American, if you like, but we, in India (400,000 speaker of English) want to have Indian English. The official status is also given to Australian English, Canadian English, South African English, and the number of such “Englishes” is growing (My observation: though it may be too early to speak about Ukrainian English, but the words like “maidan”, “Rada,” ‘titushki,” etc. are widely used to describe the events in Ukraine). Can English of the future be a sort of amalgam with bits of Australian, British, Indian English? Who knows. Every nation can put something into the melting pot of English. The channels are business meetings, international conferences, the Internet, tourism, etc. English can become a “lingua franca English,” which is culturally not identifiable with any one place because it’s a mixture of everything. Probably, that’s the way it’s going to go, says David Crystal.

%d bloggers like this: