February 2015

Tidbits on the English Language - No. 1: English as Lingua Franca

Starting with this issue, we will introduce from different perspectives a variety of facts on the English language.

English: a Language Used Throughout the World

There is no room for doubt: English presently assumes the position of lingua franca. When in a place with people from various countries and unsure of which language they speak, most consider first trying to talk in English to be the safest bet. Be it for leisure or for work, the number of travelers who use English as a means of communication easily exceeds a billion every day.

Numerous examples prove that English is the standard language worldwide, so let's present a few.

Even during the Cold War, the Soviet Union adopted a lot of English vocabulary as borrowed words.

rock music -> рок-музыка
disk jockey -> диск-жокей
hooligan -> хулиган

Despite the world being divided into two blocks (Western and Eastern), English knew no boarders: no other language since the dawn of history has ever had such an influence on other languages.

In the aviation industry, pilots and controllers exclusively use English, the universal language of air-traffic control, to communicate. And there are no exceptions, so even when a Japanese pilot follows the instructions of a Japanese air-traffic controller to take off/land at a Japanese airport, they do so in English.

Over 10,000 types of newspapers are issued in the world's industrialized countries. Roughly half of them are in English, of which over 4,000 are published in India. English newspapers can be found anywhere, even in places where English isn't the official language.
Furthermore, from a global point of view, there is an overwhelming amount of TV news programs broadcast in English. This is why even in the Middle East or in Asia, we can often see people marching and waiving English placards when there is a demonstration. They are used in order to appear on television and for the media to give more visibility to their claims across the planet.

The Abundant Vocabulary of English

Concurrently with spreading throughout the world, English is also influenced by every language, which also explains why English possesses a vast vocabulary, unrivaled by any other national tongue. The Oxford English Dictionary compiles approximately 500,000 entries.

This figure alone might not be a good indicator, so let's compare this figure to the number of words counted in the main languages spoken in the United Kingdom's direct vicinity: 185,000 for German and 100,000 for French. In this light, it is obvious that English has an extremely large vocabulary.

English as an International Language

English is the mother tongue to approximately 4 hundred million people. This may not match the Chinese-speaking population (all dialects included), but consider that Chinese speakers are mainly concentrated in China, as opposed to English users who are dispersed in every part of the world.

Moreover, English is greatly used by people to whom it isn't a mother tongue, accounting for another 3 to 4 hundred million speakers. English is the second language in multiethnic countries such as Nigeria, Singapore and India, and it is indispensable in administration, broadcasting and education. In addition, only a small minority of countries don't teach English as a foreign language.

In this manner, be it as a mother tongue, a foreign language, or a second language, English holds a firm position as an international language. It is meaningful to think about "what Standard English actually is", but considering the amount of non-native English speakers who also use this language, it is equally significant to recognize the existence of the varieties of English.

Be all as it may, we won't go into details but I find it quite fascinating that in the United Kingdom, the homeland of the English language, there are regions where English isn't the first language. In northern Scotland, there is a region where Gaelic is used and holds the top position over English. In Gaelic, like in other European languages, nouns have gender and declensions, yet the typical sentence pattern starts with a verb.

Example: VSO (Verb + Subject + Object) in Gaelic
SVO (Subject + Verb + Object) in English