- There are 350 million native English speakers living in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
- There are 700 million non-native English speakers in the following countries: Bangladesh, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zambia.
- English is widely taught in the following countries: China, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, the former Soviet Union, Taiwan and Zimbabwe.
SOURCE: English 2000 Facts and Figures by the British Council
Approximately 300 of the world's 6,000 languages enjoy the protection conferred by some kind of legal status. They are often the ones that least need it, such as English, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic--all languages that have official status in several countries and are spoken by millions of people.
The rest of the world's languages are in varying degrees of trouble. Some have been actively legislated against, some have lost ground to officially sanctioned languages and some have been victims of development. In the United States, for example, an official policy of suppressing native languages succeeded in driving into extinction over three-quarters of those existing before Christopher Columbus landed . Today, the Native American Languages Act encourages the use of the 38 that are still alive.
In the early 1980s he coined the term and philosophy for which he is most famous: "world Englishes," which describes the dispersion of English across the globe. "The term was controversial in the beginning," says Marguerite Courtright, a Kachru student and teaching associate in the Department of English as an International Language. "There were purists who believed that there should be only one standard English—British English. The rest, they said, were deviant. The concept of world Englishes allows for varieties in English usage; it allows for diverse Englishes."
Kachru postulated that "there were many varieties of English molded by the influences of the different native languages. World Englishes follow different rules from the Standard British English ," Courtright explains. In India, as in most post-colonial nations, speakers "weave both English and the native language into their conversations without consciously realizing which language they are using," says Kachru.
As the Language Takes Root Around the Globe, the World Is on the Verge of Having a Common Tongue
Earlier this month, the House passed the English Language Empowerment Act in a bid to make English the official language of government. The bill now awaits Senate action. But, as this article makes clear, English doesn't need much protection.
For the first time in the history of civilization, we appear to be on the verge of having a genuine world language.
“ No matter whose statistics one believes, it is clear the English now has more non-native speakers than native ones . Some estimates put the ratio at four to one in favor of the non-native speaker. It is a trend that often sparks debate--a debate fraught with emotions, political views and economic interests so intense that they have clouded recognition of what's truly going on out there in the linguistic world .”
“ What's happening is that English indeed is becoming the international language--except that now it's "Englishes ," says Kachru, editor of a series of books titled English in the Global Context. In a number of countries English has become virtually a local language. It often becomes a tool for different language factions within a nation to communicate effectively among themselves .”
To Kachru, the use of English in Asian, African and Caribbean literatures offers proof that the language is taking root and becoming a vehicle for the expression of local culture rather than just a convenient tongue for international communication.
Malaysia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya and the Philippines are among a host of other nations often mentioned as having their own forms of English operating within the country. Hence the expressions "Malaysian English," "Nigerian English," and so on. In other countries--Japan, for example, and most of Latin America --English is widely taught for its usefulness as a window to the outside world but is not used as much internally.
Whatever the form English takes in each country, it all adds up to lots of English--according to some estimates more than $10 billion a year in worldwide business, including classes, textbooks and other learning aids.
The English language, unlike French, Spanish and Italian, for example, has never had an official academy to determine what's acceptable in the language and what isn't. Attempts to form one have never been successful.
Kachru says one of the big fallacies in language thinking is the idea that native speakers somehow control their language. "Who owns English? If you can use it, you own it," he says, intentionally employing the word "use" rather than "speak."
Another fallacy is believing that people learn English in order to talk to native speakers, or to somehow be part of a Western culture. Many English users, it appears, don't even think of English as a Western language anymore. "English is less and less regarded as a European language, and its development is less and less determined by the usage of its native speakers," wrote Stanford University's Charles A. Ferguson more than 15 years ago.
A very big part of the world's English-speaking activity takes place completely within the realm of non-native speakers. The late Peter Strevens, a professor at Cambridge University in the UK who wrote about the rise of world Englishes, predicted this development: "English will be taught mostly by non-native speakers of the language, to non-native speakers, in order to communicate mainly with non-native speakers."
Some language authorities argue that the whole concept of the native speaker is no longer meaningful. Kachru tends to think in terms of multilingual societies where most citizens speak several languages, English being a key one.
The colonial history of English, of course, is to a great extent responsible for the language getting planted around the world, but authorities say its growth in more recent times stems from its use in technology and science, advertising, pop music, international business in general and various cooperative efforts among countries such as air-traffic control and the work of the United Nations and its agencies.
Still, the use of English is often condemned by politicians in many countries. Kachru dismisses such attacks out of hand: "We shouldn't take it too seriously when an Indian politician says to throw English into the sea. It means nothing. He still puts his children in an English-language school."
Kachru, although saying he is a student rather than a promoter of the unique phenomenon of English as a world language, clearly sees benefits of English taking root in different countries. It becomes a medium, he says, for expressing local culture in a way that others can understand. "English has become a repository of multiculturalism," he says. "It is an immense resource that has not been explored and taken advantage of."
Larry E. Smith of Honolulu's East-West Center agrees.
"The spread of English is not a homogenizing factor which causes cultural differences to disappear," he writes, "but the use of English offers a medium to express and explain these differences."