The future of English as a global language
A recent article in the Financial Times discussed the nuances of American vs. British English and the friction that can arise from the different application of phrasing, grammar and frequent sports-related references. Whereas the correct pronunciation of “aluminium” can spark a heated debate between native English speakers from either side of the Atlantic, the beauty of English is that it remains the most popular choice for non-English speakers, both socially and professionally.
Why is this and what can this country’s business people learn from the adaptability of the language they speak?
Over the first decade of this century, use of English online increased by 281%. As impressive as that sounds, the increases for Chinese (1,277%) and Arabic (2,501%) put it into perspective. Today, only 21.6% of global online community have English as their dominant language.
But English remains a commercial go-to language, and the vast majority of companies who localise their websites include it as a language option. In Dubai, where in excess of 70% of the population is non-Emirati, English is the lingua franca of an international community made up largely of European and Asian expats and most communications are adapted to address Arabic as well as English speakers.
With 23 official languages across the 28 member states in the EU, English has also become the ‘casual’ communication language in Brussels and the rest of Europe, taking preference over French which was originally the official language of the EU.
Unlike French, which is centrally regulated by the Académie française, English has no official standard version. The variations spoken in Brisbane, Brooklyn and Brixton are all equally valid, and perhaps this “melting pot” quality is what keeps the language vibrant and relevant. It’s evolving still further with speakers in Singapore and Korea for example merging aspects of English with their own native tongues and communicating in Singlish and Konglish. By lending their own regional colours to the canvas, they are giving fresh impetus to an old language and culture. Some English purists may have their reservations about such changes, but if we see language as a living thing then it makes sense to accept its evolution.
Recent census results have shown that one in eight UK residents was born overseas. Opening our physical borders has enriched and revitalised the country’s culture. The internet has opened our linguistic borders even wider, and the result is a language that is maintaining its status.
If the English language benefits from being receptive and outward-looking, we could say the same for British business. Building bridges to emerging markets is a key economic driver, with an increasing focus on MINT and BRIC targets, as recently discussed by our Managing Director, Ben Taylor in his article “Turkey – a MINT economy”. Research by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Tsedal Neeley, studying the complications of language across multi-cultural teams, further emphasises the importance of English as the lingua franca in businesses across the world. It also highlights the importance of accommodating other nationalities when conducting business in English. It pays to be respectful of your partners.
English has been a global lingua franca for three centuries. It’s poised to remain one because it adapts, evolves and stays fresh. This regenerative quality is something that also distinguishes many of the UK’s most successful businesses. Want to engage with a new demographic? Revamp your product? Want to double your online audience? Translate your website.
If British business continues to take a cue from its mother tongue and refresh itself for the challenges ahead, then our contribution to the 21st century commerce and culture could be very positive indeed.
Language Connect can assist you in all your translation and localisation needs, across any number of languages. Please contact David Brett [email protected] to discuss how we can help you.