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.
Today, India. Tomorrow, unofficially, the world. That 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.
On the estimates of David Crystal, a British expert, some 350m people speak English as their first language. Maybe 250m-350m do or can use it as a second language; in ex-colonial countries, notably, or in English-majority ones, like 30m recent immigrants to the United States, or Canada’s 6m francophone Quebeckers. And elsewhere? That is a heroic guess: 100m-1 billion is Mr Crystal’s, depending how you define “can”. Let us be bold: in all, 20-25% of earth’s 6 billion people can use English; not the English of England, let alone of Dr Johnson, but English.
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 choice.
The growth of the cinema, and still more so of television, has spread the dominant language. Foreign movies or sitcoms may be dubbed into major languages, but for smaller audiences they are usually subtitled. Result: a Dutch or Danish or even Arab family has an audio-visual learning aid in its living-room, and usually the language spoken on-screen is English.
The birth of the computer and its American operating systems gave English a nudge ahead; that of the Internet has given it a huge push. Any web-linked household today has a library of information available at the click of a mouse. And, unlike the books on its own shelves or in the public library, maybe four-fifths is written in English. That proportion may lessen, as more non-English sites spring up. But English will surely dominate.
The web of course works both ways. An American has far better access today than ever before to texts in German or Polish or Gaelic. But the average American has no great incentive to profit from it. That is not true the other way round. The web may even save some mini-languages. But the big winner will be English.
2010-02-04 21:42 编辑：kuaileyingyu
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