Predicting challenges to English as a global language in the 21st century
The worldwide dominance of English is such that only catastrophic upheaval could seemingly threaten it in the near future. In the longer term, an emerging power (eg, China) may come to challenge American supremacy and with it the dominant position of English. However, even in the event of such a realignment, the language of that emerging power (eg, Chinese) may not succeed in arresting the advantage English already derives from critical mass. To have any chance of global spread, a challenger would need to possess structural characteristics — namely, minimal inflectional morphology, non-tonal phonology, and a non-logographic script — that would facilitate its acquisition by individuals with largely utilitarian motivations. Alternatively, to evolve these characteristics, a challenger would need to be subjected to minimal standardization and be allowed the freedom to accommodate user-driven change, including indigenization. Finally, it would need to be perceived as a vehicle for modernizing values. While hypothetical challengers (eg, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, or Esperanto) all exhibit some of these characteristics, only English exhibits all of them at present and for the foreseeable future. For these reasons, the worldwide dominance of English is likely to survive even a hypothetical passing of the American Era.
Published online: 08 August 2002
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