On the evolving nature of language and English as a lingua franca (for now??)

Reflecting on the discussion that arose in my English class the other day. English 323, Dialectal Variation, is the first English language course I’ve taken and with no background in linguistics, I thought I was in for some kind of ride. But this class is one of the better ones I’ve taken so far and surprisingly required no real knowledge of phonetic technicalities that a lit major would dread.
We have been covering the English language and comparing the contexts that they are used in: whether it be Canadian English or American English (didn’t think there was a difference, eh?) or ideas that language is a biological or social construct. .. I could go on, but should show off that knowledge for the final 😉

Recently, we have been discussing the notion that English is a lingua fraca- that is, the common language that two non- native English speakers use to communicate in. There has been a rise in English as a L2 language (people who learn to speak it- they aren’t native English speakers. They are fluent in another language, like Mandarin, for example)… To the point that most English spoken now isn’t necessarily spoken by native speakers. ( Take that, text book English standards!)
Our discussion shifted and someone raised that being able to speak English in our world today is seen as prestigious: it’s the language and communication means of some of the most powerful countries in the world. It’s historical significance leans to the influence of colonizer countries and their cosmopolitan characteristics.

Conversely, from my experience growing up in BC, those who can speak English are equipped just fine, but it seems that those who know a second or third other language have an extra edge to them.
In fact, I’m almost inclined to say that here in BC, while English is extremely useful the need for a second language is almost necessary. What’s more is that English is not the most spoken language in the world, Mandarin is.. which makes me wonder why more people aren’t trying to learn Mandarin, for example. Why are we still caught up with learning to speak English, still then? Maybe this is us upholding the traditional prestige that comes from the Queen’s English (British English)..?

It’s really interesting how in non-western countries, there still remains an imaginary halo surrounding the prestige in the English language, whereas in Western countries, those who can speak languages other than English are extremely lucrative. Just goes to show how different thinking can be based on which hemisphere you belong to. Also a great demonstration of how much  globalization is impacting out world, changing the way we perceive and respond to something so basic like language.

In my Canadian sociology class (310), I was assigned Henry Yu’s article “Global Migrants and the New Pacific Canada” which comments on the increase of Asian immigrants arriving in BC, particularly from Hong Kong or mainland China. Yu gives a brief history on Canada’s relationship with these Pacific Migrants, beginning with the arrival of those Chinese men who worked to construct Canada’s Pacific Railway. He concludes that there is a good amount of history behind the Chinese migrant’s relationship with Canada, often requiring the migrant’s skill set to assist Canadian society. In a more contemporary sense, Yu points to the transnational ties that these Hong Kong immigrants, are able to create and maintain to benefit Canada’s trade with Asian countries, simply because these migrants are equipped with the language of trade, that is- Chinese, and not necessarily English. Interestingly, Yu notes that with this shift in reliance on foreign language, the Canadian government does not necessarily support the instruction of third language curriculum and wonders why; there is proof that a language outside of the official ones is clearly benefiting Canadian society, reliant but not necessarily supporting this aspect of immigrant culture.

Still, you have to wonder if English is going to still be the most prevalent lingua franca in 100 years- or will it be Spanish or Hindi?  My point being at the end of this incredibly long post is that language is constantly in flux, as are the standards of English. Right now, it seems that English is still quite salient, but I am interested to see how government policy and even on a smaller scale, how parents will teach their children to speak: in just English, and/ or Korean, and/or  Russian?

 

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