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The Language Taking Over the World: English as a Lingua Franca

Emma Burnett

Friday, 26 January 2024

As the English language clings onto its lingua franca status, what does this mean for the rest of the world? Is English a threat to other languages? Or is its growth an inevitable effect of globalisation? Emma Burnett discusses.

Imagine a world where everybody speaks English — a world where there would be no linguistic variety, any language other than English would be extinct, and where our linguistic identities would cease to exist.

As English continues to be more and more widely used across planet Earth, this could potentially become our reality.

The English Language has been considered a lingua franca since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due to its use within British colonies. Since then, it has held onto its lingua franca status, and is continuing to rapidly grow in popularity. Nowadays, English is the official language of 86 countries globally, making it the most widely spoken language in the world.

So, what makes a language a lingua franca? It is simply a shared foreign language used by two parties that speak other different languages. Primarily, this is about international communication. English being so widely spoken facilitates transnational correspondence and relations – it is the unofficial language of science, technology and business. Having an international common language can eliminate any language barriers between people involved in international relations, which allows for more effective communication.

The downside of this, however, is the exclusion of non-English speakers. The expansion of the English language could isolate those who don’t speak it. A strong command of English is now essential for accessing the more prestigious higher education institutions, such as the University of Oxford, Stanford University and Harvard University.

What’s more, is that as English grows, other languages go extinct in its wake. A language dies every two weeks. At this rate, it is no wonder that English’s rapid growth is a cause for concern. As languages die, so do identities. Language is intrinsically linked with a person’s heritage and culture; these risk being erased when the English language supersedes the native language of another country.

However, there are certain situations in which cultural identities can pre-exist with the global adoption of the English language. ‘Singlish’, or Singaporean English, is a variety of English spoken in Singapore which allows its speakers to hold onto their cultural identity and heritage by adapting features of English. Some features of Singlish include repeating an adjective to indicate intensity (e.g., ‘hot hot’) or simplifying a verb phrase: ‘I have already eaten’ becomes ‘eat already’.

English varieties like Singlish prove that global identities can still flourish even whilst speaking a lingua franca. Singlish is unique to Singapore and continues to reflect Singaporean culture. Of course, there are other significant aspects of cultural identity aside from language, such as tradition, cuisine and values. In this case, Singapore is still rich in culture and heritage, regardless of its adoption of the English language.

Nonetheless, it is important to hold on to our cultural identities and prevent all our world’s beautiful and unique languages from being engulfed by English. There is so much value in living in a world so rich and diverse in languages, cultures, and identities, and this is something which should be treasured.


About the Author

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Language and Linguistics



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Barbara Dawson

average rating is 3 out of 5

Lovely tasty dish. Try it you won’t be disappointed.

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Aunty Liz

average rating is 3 out of 5

Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Such an interesting article!

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