The Role of English in the 21st Century:
Melvia A. Hasman
The world is in various stages of social, economic, and demographic transition. Economically and politically, the world has changed more rapidly in the past few years than at any time since 1945. The emerging global economy is both competitive and interdependent. It reflects the availability of modern communications and production technologies in most parts of the world. So, do we need to be concerned about the future of the English language in the 21st century? According to The Economist (1996), English continues to be the world standard language, and there is no major threat to the language or to its global popularity. But, changes are coming.
An international economy
Two factors drive this global marketplace. First, many manufactured products have one or more foreign components. Ford cars and IBM computers are just two examples of this. Second, more than half of all imports and exports, which governments label foreign trade, are transacted between domestic companies and their foreign affiliates.
The increasing globalization of the marketplace is forcing companies to pay more attention to international developments. Domestic firms are adjusting their structures and methods of operation to fit a broader and rapidly changing economic environment. They are increasing their geographic outreach because more of their suppliers and customers are located on various continents. For example, last year Johnson and Johnson sold more products outside the United States than in the United States. Hewlett Packard, like many companies, lost money when the Asian economy collapsed.
Joint ventures are no longer just theoretical possibilities. Mergers and acquisitions, like Chrysler/Daimler Benz and MCI and British Telecom, increasingly cross national boundaries. This trend is expected to con-tinue into the next millennium.
This internationalization is illustrated in three ways. First, companies change their basic goals to conform to a global marketplace. Second, they adapt their products to local markets. But most importantly, they do not set up international bureaucracies; instead, they hire foreign nationals who understand the local markets.
Why discuss economics with the English language? Because the English language is closely associated with this economic modernization and industrial development.
Information is sent and received at increasing speed. The competitive demands of governments, industries, and corporations, both national and multinational, for technological progress require an understanding of the language of that technology—English.
Spread of English
The global spread of English over the last 40 years is remarkable. It is unprecedented in several ways: by the increasing number of users of the language; by its depth of penetration into societies; by its range of functions.
Worldwide over 1.4 billion people live in countries where English has official status. One out of five of the world’s population speaks English with some degree of competence. And by 2000 one in five—over one billion people—will also be learning English. Over 70% of the world’s scientists read English. About 85% of the world’s mail is written in English. And 90% of all information in the world’s electronic retrieval systems is stored in English. By 2010, the number of people who speak English as a second or foreign language will exceed the number of native speakers. This trend will certainly affect the language.
English is used for more purposes than ever before. Vocabularies, grammatical forms, and ways of speaking and writing have emerged influenced by technological and scientific developments, economics and management, literature and entertainment genres. What began some 1,500 years ago as a rude language, originally spoken by obscure Germanic...
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