How the global spread of English has both benefited and harmed the language. Thesis One







The purpose of this paper is to justify how the global spread of English has both benefitted and harmed the language. This paper focuses on what has made English a global language and outline the (positive and negative) effects of globalization on the English language. Nowadays, the world is enchanted with what new information technology has made possible to the point that the world has become digitally controlled. This digital revolution has spread throughout the world and into many private homes and businesses. What we call it globalization is a result of this information technology which I consider now the basic of our daily activities. This technology has affected other sides of our life and interacted with our cultures and traditions through moving and merging some habits, customs, cultures or values of different societies into each other to create the concept of globalization. Among the things that have been affected by global spread of English is the English language itself. That is, with the rapid pace of globalization, there has been a major change in the field of English language.




A language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country.  No language has ever been spoken by a mother tongue majority in more than a few countries, cannot give a language global status. To achieve such a status, a language has to be taken up by other countries around the world. They must decide to give it a special place within their communities, even though they may have few (or no) mother-tongue speakers. There are many ways in which this can be done. A language can be made the official language of a country, to be used as a medium of communication in such domains as government, the law courts, the media, and the educational system. To get on in these societies, it is essential to master the official language as early in life as possible. Such a language is often described as a ‘second language’, because it is seen as a complement to a person’s mother tongue, or ‘first language’. The role of an official language is today best illustrated by English, which now has some kind of special status in over seventy countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, India, Singapore and Vanuatu. English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language – in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil – and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools, often displacing another language in the process. In 1996, for example, English replaced French as the chief foreign language in schools in Algeria.

English is a global language. We hear it on television spoken by politicians from all over the world. Wherever we travel, we see English signs and advertisements. Whenever we enter a hotel or restaurant in a foreign city, there will be an English menu.  Television programmes and series, too, addressed the issue, and achieved world-wide audiences. The first significant step in the progress of English towards its status as a global language did not take place for another 300 years, towards the end of the sixteenth century. At that time, the number of mother-tongue English speakers in the world is thought to have been between 5 and 7 million, almost all of them living in the British Isles. Between the end of the reign of Elizabeth I (1603) and the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II (1952), this figure increased almost fiftyfold, to some 250 million, the vast majority living outside the British Isles.


English has become a world-wide language for several reasons. England started discovering new territories in the 16th century, established its first colonies in North America in the 17th century, claimed land on the Australian continent in the 18th century, and occupied the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. The use of English grew rapidly when colonies were conquered all over Africa and Asia on behalf of the British Empire in the 19th century. In the end, the language was present all over the globe; only South America remained nearly untouched. Nevertheless, the most important factor for today’s situation is probably the military and economic dominance of the United States of America in the 20th century.

In continental Europe English became significant when the USA entered World War II and intervened in international politics. It was the military power of the British Empire and the USA that established English as an International Language, but the economic power of the USA managed to maintain its status and even expanded the use of English.

Factors that contributed to the spread of English included the global success of American music and movies, as well as the development of computer technologies and the Internet, which are based on programming languages derived from English. It is especially the factors of mass media, global trade and popular culture which are connected with the USA.

Graddol (1997: 11) speaks of “75 or so countries in which English has special status”, Ethnologue lists 106 countries and territories where English is spoken. McArthur (2002: 3) is in-between with his statement that “English is used in over 70 countries as an official or semi-official language and has a significant role in over 20 more”. Moreover, it is difficult to define what may be considered to be ‘English’, as some languages are called varieties of English, others are recognised as pidgins and creoles,

Phillipson states that “the number of native speakers of English now remains constant at about 315 million, whereas Crystal (1997a: 54) estimates the number between 320 and 380 million, whereas Crystal (2003: 109), somewhat surprisingly, counts 329,058,300 native speakers. If the number of speakers of English as a Native Language (ENL) is uncertain, then the estimates for speakers of English as a Second Language (ESL) are even more so. Crystal (1985: 7, referred to in Phillipson, 1992: 24) approximates the number of ESL speakers at 300 million, whereas Graddol (1997: 10) states a total number of 375 million. Crystal (2003: 109) counts 422,682,300 ESL speakers. The number has risen from 300 million to nearly 423 million within 18 years.

It is impossible to count the speakers of English, but the estimated numbers give an impression of the relevance of the language in today’s world. With the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Political restructuring of the former Eastern Bloc, Which also led to an opening of other communist regimes, especially China, the demand for English as a foreign Language has grown immensely.

English has a special role in Europe for three reasons: it is an official language in three countries, it is the European lingua Franca and it is the global lingua franca. The linguistic diversity of Europe is difficult to administer, especially in an organisation like the European Union (EU), where all member states and citizens are  officially  granted linguistic equality. This means that almost all languages spoken in these member states have official status, except for minority languages like Sorbian, a Slavic language spoken in Germany by approximately 50,000 people, which have no official status in their countries.
With the expansion of the European Union in May 2004, the number of official languages has grown to 20, and all documents and contributions to sessions of the European Parliament have to be translated into all languages. However, each institution of the EU usually has two or three working languages, these always included English, usually French, and often German.






Negative effects of global spread of English

The spread of English has therefore an ambivalent character; it is a lingua franca necessary for international communication, and it is a vehicle for the spread of a culture influenced by the USA and, to a lesser extent, Western Europe. Dovring (1997: x) has researched into the “problems in understanding double talk in political English around the world” by analysing the massive impact of electronic media on the spread of English as a global lingua franca. English is not only seen as a threat to other languages, but also to the cultures connected with these languages. When English is taught, it is seldom ever entirely separated from its cultural background, which is generally American and British. Non-native users of English may fear an ‘anglification’ of their own culture, or they may feel communicatively disadvantaged, because native speakers of English can use their native language. On the other hand, native speakers may fear that through the increasing use of English as a lingua franca, non-native speakers may have considerable impact on the English language and “take possession” of it.

Chew (1999) reports on the linguistic development of Singapore, where the English language has been established as an official language, not as a result of natural development or because of historical reasons, but by law. The use of English has been enforced by the government and therefore it has become a dominant language, which has enabled the country to take part in the global economy and profit from globalisation. At the same time, English is seen as serving as “the courier of many cultures and sub-cultures” (Chew, 1999: 42) and the population of Singapore “views the adoption of English not so much as a threat to their own languages but as the key to a share of the world’s symbolic power” (Chew, 1999: 43).In the time of research I found some important parts of negative effect. These are:

  1. The loss of ownership
  2. Linguistic change
  3. Changes in grammar
  4. Many distinctive forms of English
  5. English is a Killer Language

These negative features of Global spread of English have been discussed below:

  1. The loss of ownership

Salman Rushdie comments, in an essay called ‘Commonwealth literature does not exist’, that ‘the English language ceased to be the sole possession of the English some time ago’. Indeed, when even the largest English-speaking nation, the USA, turns out to have only about 20 per cent of the world’s English speakers, it is plain that no one can now claim sole ownership. This is probably the best way of defining a genuinely global language, in fact: that its usage is not restricted by countries or (as in the case of some artificial languages) by governing bodies. The loss of ownership is of course uncomfortable to those, especially in Britain, who feel that the language is theirs by historical right; but they have no alternative. There is no way in which any kind of regional social movement, such as the purist societies which try to prevent language change or restore a past period of imagined linguistic excellence, can influence the global outcome. In the end, it comes down to population growth. In the list of English-speaking territories, the number of first-language (L1) speakers in the inner-circle countries is currently about the same as the number of second-language (L2) English speakers in the outer-circle countries – some 400 million. The countries of the outer circle have combined a much greater growth rate than those of the inner circle: in 2002, an average of 2.4 per cent compared with 0.88 per cent. So, if current population and learning trends continue, the balance of speakers will change dramatically. There are probably already more L2 speakers than L1 speakers. Within fifty years, there could be up to 50 per cent more. By that time, the only possible concept of ownership will be a global one.

  1. Linguistic change

Another negative effect of spread of English that the language will become open to the winds of linguistic change in totally unpredictable ways. The spread of English around the world has already demonstrated this, in the emergence of new varieties of English in the different territories where the language has taken root. The change has become a major talking point only since the 1960s, hence the term by which these varieties are often known: ‘new Englishes’. The different dialects of British and American English provide the most familiar example. These two varieties diverged almost as soon as the first settlers arrived in America. By the time Noah Webster was writing his dictionaries, there were hundreds of words which were known in the USA but not in Britain, pronunciation had begun to diverge quite markedly, and spellings were in the process of change. Today, there are thousands of differences between British and American English – two countries, as George Bernard Shaw once put it, ‘divided by a common language’.

  1. Changes in grammar

The national and international use of English has been in the hands of people who are not just literate, but for whom literacy is a significant part of their professional identity. ‘Educated usage’ (which usually meant ‘well-educated usage’) has been a long-standing criterion of what counts as English. The influence of the grammar of the written language has thus been pervasive, fuelled by a strongly prescriptive tradition in schools and an adult reliance on usage manuals which privileged writing above speech. Grammars totally devoted to speech are rare, and self-avowedly exploratory. But as English becomes increasingly global, we must expect far more attention to be paid to speech. Although there is no suggestion anywhere that standard written English will diminish in importance, and literacy remains a dominant target.

  1. Many distinctive forms of English

Many distinctive forms also identify the Englishes of the other countries of the inner circle: Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Caribbean English, and, within Britain, Irish, Scots, and Welsh English. Among the countries of the outer circle, several varieties have also grown in distinctiveness in recent decades. There is one group in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, often collectively called South Asian English. There is another group in the former British colonies in West Africa, and a further group in the former British colonies in East Africa. Other emerging varieties have been noted in the Caribbean and in parts of south-east Asia, such as Singapore. These new Englishes are somewhat like the dialects within our own country. Instead of affecting mere thousands of speakers, they apply to millions. They are an inevitable consequence of the spread of English on a world scale. Dialects emerge because they give identity to the groups which own them. A speaker from country A is using English, there is an intelligibility bond with an English speaker of country B – and this is reinforced by the existence of a common written language. On the other hand, because speaker A is not using exactly the same way of speaking as speaker B, both parties retain their identities.

  1. English is a Killer Language

From time to time English is discussed as the only official language for the EU, although many Europeans fear that other languages may ‘lose’ and eventually disappear due to the widespread use of English. They see English as a ‘killer language’ which destroys weaker languages. Lesser-used languages are seen to be particularly threatened by English. Of course, the cultural identity of smaller communities is strongly connected to the respective language, so a loss of the language would have a considerable impact on the culture, all of which does not seem desirable. If a language loses importance and eventually dies out, speakers would rather adopt other regional languages as their primary language and not English.

So if for instance Lithuanian should die out, speakers will probably adopt Latvian as their first language rather than English or Russian, the language of the former oppressor. On the other hand, if Maltese should face extinction, the speakers will probably turn to English, as it is their second official language. With regard to other countries that once adopted English as their official language and kept their own culture “The fear that the possible adoption of English as a lingua franca in the EU, or as only a working language of the EU institution, will seriously threaten the diversity of languages and cultures appears to be completely without foundation. Nevertheless, English is the dominant language in the educational sector in Europe, where learners prefer to have English taught as the first foreign language. The spread of other European languages outside their native speaker- territory could in this way be ‘threatened’ by English.

The varieties of English taught at European schools are usually British English with Received or BBC Pronunciation or American English with a General American accent. Features of these varieties are often mixed by many Europeans, not only due to differences in classroom practice, but also because of music, movies and TV. The result may be called Mid-Atlantic English (MAE). In the context of English as a Lingua Franca in Europe, scholars argue  if there will ever be a European standard of (sometimes called ‘Euro-English’). So far, there is no convincing evidence for a European variety which includes features of all European languages, but it has been proposed to establish a European variety of English to signal national identities in international contexts.




Benefits of Global Spread of English

  1. The global spread of English enriches vocabulary

Most adaptation in a New English relates to vocabulary, in the form of new words (borrowings – from several hundred language sources, in such areas as Nigeria), word-formations, word meanings, collocations and idiomatic phrases. There are many cultural domains likely to motivate new words, as speakers find themselves adapting the language to meet fresh communicative needs. A country’s bio-geographical uniqueness will generate potentially large numbers of words for animals, fish, birds, insects, plants, trees, rocks, rivers and so on – as well as all the issues to do with land management and interpretation, which is an especially important feature of the lifestyle of many indigenous peoples. There will be words for foodstuffs, drinks, medicines, drugs, and the practices associated with eating, health-care, disease and death. The country’s mythology and religion, and practices in astronomy and astrology, will bring forth new names for personalities, beliefs and rituals. The country’s oral and perhaps also written literature will give rise to distinctive names in sagas, poems, oratory and folktales. There will be a body of local laws and customs, with their own terminology. The culture will have its technology with its own terms – such as for vehicles, house-building, weapons, clothing, ornaments and musical instruments. The whole world of leisure and the arts will have a linguistic dimension – names of dances, musical styles, games, sports – as will distinctiveness in body appearance (such as hair styles, tattoos, decoration). Virtually any aspect of social structure can generate complex naming systems – local government, family relationships, clubs and societies, and so on. A culture is community-specific in this way; but it must be a very significant amount. So, when a community adopts a new language, and starts to use it in relation to all areas of life, there is inevitably going to be a great deal of lexical creation.


As a result of globalisation the function of English as an international tool for communication needs rethinking in the English language classroom. This does not only include linguistic skills to understand various kinds of accents and to be understood by others, but it also includes knowledge of other cultures which provides the learners with the ability to respond adequately to problems arising from cultural differences between the participants in international communication, Since English is the only truly world-wide or global language, its importance, especially in education, is still increasing; this development positively influences the learners’ abilities to participate in international communication, but it can also have a negative effect on other languages that are taught. Although other languages are vital in understanding other cultures, their importance seems to be decreasing, especially in the eyes of students and their parents. Since English is the language of international trade and economy, it regarded to be an  indispensable prerequisite for taking part in future economic developments. As a result, the foreign language to be learned at school will very often be chosen by parents and pupils according to its value for future employment, regardless of pedagogical, social or political aspects. The teaching of English at all educational levels is therefore also promoted by many governments.




Native English speakers may have mixed feelings about the way English is spreading around the world. They may feel pride, that their language is the one which has been so successful; but their pride may be tinged with concern, when they realize that people in other countries may not want to use the language in the same way that they do, and are changing it to suit themselves. We are all sensitive to the way other people use (it is often said, abuse) ‘our’ language. Deeply held feelings of ownership begin to be questioned. Indeed, if there is one predictable consequence of a language becoming a global language, it is that nobody owns it any more. Or rather, everyone who has learned it now owns it – ‘has a share in it’ might be more accurate – and has the right to use it in the way they want. This fact alone makes many people feel uncomfortable, even vaguely resentful. ‘Look what the Americans have done to English’ is a not uncommon comment found in the letter-columns of the British press. But similar comments can be heard in the USA when people encounter the sometimes striking variations in English which are emerging all over the world. And non-native English speakers may still have mixed feelings about it. They may be strongly motivated to learn it, because they know it will put them in touch with more people than any other language; but at the same time they know it will take a great deal of effort to master it, and they may be grudge that effort. Having made progress, they will feel pride in their achievement, and savour the communicative power they have at their disposal, but may none the less feel that mother-tongue speakers of English have an unfair advantage over them. And if we live in a country where the survival of our own language is threatened by the success of English, we may feel envious, resentful, or angry. We may strongly object to the naivety of the populist account, with its simplistic and often suggestively triumphalism tone. These feelings are natural, and would arise whichever language emerged as a global language. They are feelings which give rise to fears, whether real or imaginary, and fears lead to conflict. Language marches, language hunger-strikes, language rioting and language deaths are a fact, in several countries. Political differences over language economics, education, laws and rights are a daily encounter for millions. Language is always in the news, and the nearer a language moves to becoming a global language, the more newsworthy it is.





Crystal, D. 1997 English as a global language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gnutzmann, C., Intemann, F. 2008 The Globalisation of English and the English Language Classroom (Second Edition)

Rubdy, R. Saraceni, M. An Interview with Suresh Canagarajah.



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