Should the World Rely on English as a Lingua Franca?

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Should the world RELY on English as a lingua franca?

Pierre Frath CIRLEP, Department of English, Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne (France) pierre.frath@univ-reims.fr

ABSTRACT

English has become a global lingua franca, a unique linguistic situation in world history. As there is no discernible coercion, it seems the world has freely chosen English and yet if for example we look at European linguistic policies, the hegemony of one particular language has never been an objective. So what has happened? Is such hegemony a good thing? If not, what credible alternative could be suggested?

Keywords: English as a lingua franca, linguistic policy, multilingualism

Introduction

Europe and the world at large seem to have agreed that English should become their lingua franca. There have been linguae francae before in history but this is the first time that one language has become global, worldwide and across all social classes in most societies. The question we will discuss here is straightforward yet hardly ever touched upon: is such a global hegemony a good thing or a bad one? We shall first examine the situation of other linguae francae in the past and at the present time: Greek, Latin, French, Swahili, and the situation during the colonial era. We shall compare our findings with the contemporary situation and see that the hegemony of English presents both positive and negative aspects. A very positive aspect is the actual existence of a worldwide lingua franca; as for the English language itself, its relative simplicity at the beginner’s level is certainly an advantage; another is that is provides learners with a direct access to probably the richest culture of the present time. The most important disadvantage is the risk of cultural and political domination. We shall suggest that, even though the achievements of English-speaking cultures are impressive, the world needs alternative perspectives. We shall argue that this can only be achieved by introducing multilingual educational policies worldwide.

Comparison between a few linguae francae

The use of a lingua franca seems to be a very common phenomenon, most probably an anthropological feature of mankind, something that we do quite naturally to communicate in certain situations. “Lingua franca” is a Latinised Italian expression meaning “Frankish language”, the language of the Franks. The meaning of “franca” was probably influenced by the Arabic word “faranji”, meaning “European”, coined from the Germanic-French word “franc” by the Arabs at the time of the Crusades. The Lingua Franca[1] was largely Italian in structure, lexicon and pronunciation, with vocabulary taken from Turkish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. It was used for communication by merchants and sailors all around the Mediterranean. It appeared in the Middle-Ages, reached its highpoint in the 17th century and faded away in the 19th century. The Lingua Franca was a pidgin and never became a mother tongue. It was learned outside educational institutions for purely practical reasons. As it was not the language of a prestigious country or social class, it did not become a major source of lexical additions to other languages. There have been many linguae francae in history but we shall only examine a few, enough to make our point. Koine Greek, or κοινή διάλεκτος (common language), was the lingua franca of Antiquity. It was the language of the Delos League, a confederation of Greek cities allied against Persia in 478 B.C. It later became the language of Alexander the Great’s armies, which conquered a huge empire in the 4th century B.C., and was subsequently used in the Mediterranean for many centuries. It was first considered a decayed and over-simplified language by native speakers of Greek, but Greek culture was so prestigious that the “common language” was soon considered the...
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