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10.a Crystal Eng as a global lang

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arose were capable of threatening the status of
English; consequently, there was no need for rulings.
However, as the twentieth century progressed, situations arose
where repeatedly the status of English (and other ex-colonial lan-
guages) was called into question. The typical scenario was one
where speakers of a language felt their language needed protection
because its existence was being threatened by a more dominant
language. In such cases, the dominant power would sometimes
take measures to preserve it (usually, after forceful pressure from
the members of the minority community) by giving it special
recognition. This has happened occasionally, and especially in re-
cent decades, among the countries of the inner circle: for exam-
ple, some degree of official status has now been given to Welsh
in Wales, Irish Gaelic in Ireland, French in Quebec, and Maori
in New Zealand. And in each case, it has proved necessary to pay
attention to the corresponding official role of English, in these
Why English? The cultural foundation
territories, also as a protective measure. Here, the issue is one of
Among the countries of the outer circle, where English is used
as a second language, the decision to give English official status
has usually been made in order to avoid the problem of having to
choose between competing local languages. English is perceived
to be a ‘neutral’ language, in this respect. Examples where this
has happened include Ghana and Nigeria. Not everyone believes
English to be neutral, of course, as we shall see in chapter 5, in
relation to such cases as Kenya. But the decision, when it is made,
is based on political expediency.
In a country where 95 per cent or so of the population speak
English, as in Britain and the USA, it might be thought that a
problem could not arise. But even small changes in the social bal-
ance of a population can have serious linguistic consequences.
When large social changes take place, such as have happened
through immigration during the past century, the potential ef-
fects on language policy and planning can be far-reaching, as we
shall see later in relation to the current debate over the role of
English in the USA.
But, in 1900, there was no prospect of any such debate. English
had become the dominant language of global politics and econ-
omy, and all the signs were that it would remain so. Its status was
not in question, and the role of the USA in its future was clear. A
notable observation was that of Bismarck, who in 1898 was asked
by a journalist what he considered to be the decisive factor inmod-
ern history; he replied, ‘The fact that the North Americans speak
English’.16 To maintain the standing of the language, all that was
needed was a period of consolidation and expansion, and this, as
the next chapter amply demonstrates, was soon forthcoming.
16 Reported in Nunberg (2000).
Why English? The cultural legacy
The first steps in the political consolidation of English were taken
during the decision-making which followed the First World War,
in 1919. The mandates system introduced by the League of
Nations transferred former German colonies in Africa, theMiddle
East, Asia, and the Pacific to the supervision of the victors, and
English language influence grew immensely in the areas which
came to be mediated directly by Britain (such as in Palestine,
Cameroon and Tanganyika) or by other English-speaking nations:
examples include Australia (in Papua New Guinea), New Zealand
(in Samoa) and South Africa (in South-West Africa – present-day
But the growth of linguistic influence through political expan-
sion was already on the wane. Far more important for the English
language, in the post-war world, was the way in which the cul-
tural legacies of the colonial era and the technological revolution
were being felt on an international scale. English was now emerg-
ing as a medium of communication in growth areas which would
gradually shape the character of twentieth-century domestic and
professional life.
International relations
The League of Nations was the first of many modern international
alliances to allocate a special place to English in its proceedings:
Why English? The cultural legacy
English was one of the two official languages (the other was
French), and all documents were printed in both. The League
was created as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, and at
the time of its First Assembly, it had forty-two members, several
from outside Europe. The importance of a lingua franca, with
such an extended membership, was obvious. The League was re-
placed in 1945 by theUnitedNations, where the role of the lingua
franca became even more critical. The UN now consists of over
fifty distinct organs, programmes, and specialized agencies, as well
as many regional and functional commissions, standing commit-
tees, expert bodies, and other organizations. English is one of the
official languages within all of these structures.
The language plays an official or working role in the proceed-
ings of most other major international political gatherings, in all
parts of the world. Examples include the Association of South-
East Asian Nations, the Commonwealth, the Council of Europe,
the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organiza-
tion. English is the only official language of the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries, for example, and the only work-
ing language of the European Free Trade Association. Unless a
body has a highly restricted membership (such as one consisting
only of Arabic-speaking states or only of Spanish-speaking states),
the choice of a lingua franca has to be made, and English is the
first choice of most. However, even the restricted-membership
meetings recognize the value of English: although their proceed-
ings may not be expressed in English, the reports they issue for
the wider public at the end of their meeting, and the statements
which their officials make to the world media, usually are.
The extent to which English is used in this way is often not
appreciated. In 1995–6, there were about 12,500 international
organizations in the world.1 About a third list the languages they
use in an official or working capacity. A sample of 500 of these
(taken from the beginning of the alphabet) showed that 85 per
cent (424) made official use of English – far more than any other
language. Frenchwas the only other language to showup strongly,
with 49 per cent (245) using it officially. Thirty other languages
1 Union of International Associations (1996).
also attracted occasional official status, but only Arabic, Spanish,
and German achieved over 10 per cent recognition.
Of particular significance is the number of organizations in this
sample which use only English to carry on their affairs: 169 –
a third. This reliance is especially noticeable in Asia and the
Pacific, where about 90 per cent of international bodies carry on
their proceedings entirely in English. Many scientific organiza-
tions (such as the African Association of Science Editors, the
Cairo Demographic Centre and Baltic Marine Biologists) are also
English-only. By contrast, only a small number of international
bodies (13 per cent) make no official use of English at all: most of
these are French organizations, dealing chiefly with francophone
The reliance on English is by no means restricted to science,
however. Several international sporting organizations work only
in English, such as the AfricanHockey Federation, the Asian Ama-
teur Athletic Association and the Association of Oceania National
Olympic Committees; and when these organizations hold inter-
national competitions, the language automatically becomes the
lingua franca of the gathering. English is used as the sole official
language in relation to a wide range of topics, as