The World Language

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1 India has about a billion people and a dozen major languages of its own. One language, and only one, is understood-by an elite-across the country: that of the foreigners who ruled it for less than 200 years and left 52 years ago. After 1947, English had to share its official status with north India's Hindi and was due to lose it in 1965. It did not happen: Southern India said no. 2 Today, India. Tomorrow, unofficially, the world. [fhe spread of English] is well under way; at first, because the British not only built a global empire but settled America, and now because the world (and notably America) has acquired its first truly global-and interactive-medium, the Internet. 3 David Crystal, a British expert, estimates that some 350 million people speak English as their first language. Maybe 250-350 million do or can use it as a second language; in ex-colonial countries, notably, or in English-majority ones, like 30 million recent immigrants to the United States or Canada's 6 million francophone Quebeckers. And elsewhere? That is a heroic guess: 100 million to 1 billion is Mr. Crystal's, depending how you define "can." Let us be bold: In all, 20-25 percent of Earth's 6 billion people can use English; not the English of England, let alone of Dr. Johnson, but English. 4 That number is soaring as each year brings new pupils to school and carries off monolingual oldies-and now as the Internet spreads. And the process is self-reinforcing. As business spreads across frontiers, the company that wants to move its executives around and to promote the best of them, regardless of nationality, encourages the use of English. So the executive who wants to be in the frame or to move to another employer learns to use it. English has long dominated learned journals: German, Russian or French (depending on the field) may be useful to their expert readers, but English is essential. So, if you want your own work published-and widely read by your peers-then English is the language of...
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