“in a Globalized World, the Spread of English Has Adversely Affected Language Diversity and Cultural Identity.”

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“In a globalised world, the spread of English has adversely affected language diversity and cultural identity.”

Jamlong Saiyot
“If a child decides to abandon her or his language and customs and go around speaking only a foreign language, you can imagine that that child will turn out to be like a bird that just fliesaround and around [with nowhere to land], not understanding anything. That will be a child with confused thoughts” (Aika Rambai, 1997, quoted in Sheldon, 2003: 3).|

The eloquent quote above expresses a concern over the degeneration of languages caused by many factors such as globalization and political, economic, and social diversity. These factors are believed to have caused the extinction of some of the world’s languages. One of these factors is said to be the spread of English in the ‘globalised’ world. John Walsh says that “[the claim that] English, the ‘International Shark’ as one commentator has dramatically called it, is about to devour other state languages, ignores a far more diverse tapestry of linguistic diversity” (Walsh, 2001). However, the threat of English to linguistic diversity and other cultures is debatable. This paper will discuss three significant issues with a view to the clarification of this issue: globalisation; English as a world medium; and English as a new ‘cultural identity’ for Asia. ‘Globalisation’ is a word which is widely used and differently interpreted. The word first manifested itself in around the first half of the 20th Century. “It slipped into its current use during the 1960s; and the ‘globalisation of English’, English literature, law, money and values are the Cultural Revolution.” (McCrum, 2004:3). It emerged in the midst of political conflicts; the Great War and World War II brought significant consequences: the victory of ‘Democracy’ and the emergence of the military might of Britain and America. This greatly influenced the spread of English and globalisation. However, after the end of the Great War there emerged a new world superpower: The United States of America. By the first half of the 20th Century it had supplanted Britain in both political and trade power (McCrum, 2004:183). English, a significant part of its culture and a political symbol, had already become a global language. However, in the latter half of the century this became underpinned by more than just military might. “Other critical factors include: prosperity, commerce, industry, media, communication, the internet, the arts and popular music also makes English supreme” (Cunningham, 2006:192-198). Thus, English and globalisation seem to share the same destiny under the patronage of the world superpower. However, the planet is also the home of “linguistic diversity”: there are more than 6,000 languages spread across the globe (Cunningham, 2006: 196). However, “42 percent of the languages were reported in danger of disappearing” (Lauder, 2006:195). Research shows that the “world’s linguistic diversity is being seriously, perhaps disastrously, threatened in the 21st Century by the rising of economic and ‘cultural globalization” (Shaefer, 2002:1). It is claimed that English has caused this adverse affect. There is also the suggestion that “the biggest current threat to the linguistic wealth globally is probably English”, but it is not the only threat (Cunningham, 2006:197). Thus, this claim seems to be too pessimistic. Firstly, if “linguistic diversity” means “the enormous wealth of languages and cultures” (D.E Ingram, quoted in Cunningham, 2006:2), English is also to be considered a part of that wealth. For example, it has brought friendship, peace and harmony to people. For Centuries of an inhumane slave trade across the Atlantic, “in 1807 ‘a negro becomes a freeman the moment he sets his foot on British ground.’ For the world’s English, one vital consequence was the absorption of the language and rhetoric of the slaves into English culture” (McCrum, 2010:125). Similarly, the history of America,...
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