As a lingua franca – a shared language of communication used between people whose main languages are different - Englsih has been used in numerous dialects throughout the world for the last five centuries. In the past, Greek and Latin served as lingua franca. During the course of colonialism Latin, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, German, Russian and English were lingua francas especially in their colonies’ territories. Our chief question here is how English became the most well known lingua franca.
There are two main factors that make English a lingua franca. They are its internal and external qualities.
Internal quality: Structure and lexicon
Manfred Görlach, a linguist from Germany, says that structure and lexicon are important items in a language. The simpler the structure the more people like to use the language. Compared to Latin, for instance, English is much simpler. Latin has accusative, dative, genitive, feminine, masculine, or neuter, but English does not have such features. Moreover, the more vocabulary a language has the better the language. It means that the language is flexible with any other language. English is one of the most flexible languages and an easy language to understand. As it is a mix of so many languages in the world, every English user – non native – will easily get accustomed to English as he might find some similarity to his language. Besides that English is an up to date language. It can convey and explain modern people`s lives. In 1980s, English had 450.000 words. In 2007 there were 2000 new words added in the 7th Edition of Oxford Dictionary.
External quality: number of users, geographical diffusion, Political and Economic Power, Religion, Media communication in science and diplomacy, and globalization.
Number of the users
It is amazing to see how steadily English has evolved from very small ethnic groups: Angles and Saxons in the 5th century to the largest area of speaking. It is slowly but surely spreading to the whole world wide. At the end of the 16th century, there were approximately between 5 and 7 million people who spoke English in the world. 350 years later, there were more than 50 time million. Meanwhile there were another 100 million learning English as a foreign language. At the beginning of the 21st century, there are more than 300 million people who speak English as their first language. There are between 400 million – 1 billion people who use English as a second language. The British linguist, David Graddol has found that 2 billion people across the world are learning English. It is safe to say that more than 1 billion, maybe even 2 billion people are using English around the world.
From the relatively small population of Angles and Saxons, English spread slowly but surely crossing Great Britain. A major step towards the lingua franca took place in 1607 when there was an establishment of the first permanent English-speaking colony in North America. Besides that the Acts of Union of 1707 had a great impact on expanding the English speaking area in Europe. The developing science and technology by the 19th century made British English more established than in the previous centuries. The well-established English was then brought to Africa, Asia and Oceania during colonialism.
In a very special way, in late 18 century, English was brought to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, some islands of the Caribbean, and the Anglophone population of Canada. In these areas English is the native language or mother tongue of most people. South Africa is regarded as a special case since English is used, in various dialects somehow, as its national language.
After colonialism all of the former British Empire formed a Commonwealth of countries. Most of the countries are in Africa. Some of the countries are in Asia like India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines This is one strategy that has nurtured English as lingua franca among ethnics and language groups in those countries.
Some other countries see English as an important language for local purposes. It`s a prominent omen happening among the younger generations in Indonesia and other non-English speaking countries, that often use English to convey their demands clearly. Unlike the old generation, today`s younger generations in Scandinavian, for example, are leaving the various mother tongues and choosing to use English.
Political and Economic Power
The rapid growth and spreading of English all over the world as we see now would be impossible without these two powers: politic and economic. Politics and the economy, somehow, are “one”; both link to each other so closely. A rich country tends to be politically powerful, and vice versa.
When England stepped out to invade and conquer other countries, it became richer and richer and more powerful politically. When it was at its most powerful, it forced the inhabitants of the conquered countries to speak the King/Queens language. Those who refused to speak it were usually murdered. Nevertheless, on the other hand, many people were interested in learning English. The King/Queen’s language gave them a special pride, like being called educated. They in turn then passed in down to their children. It goes on until now.
Since English came to America in 1700-1800s, America's status increased higher than other people and the language became more important too. As the immigrants come from all over the Europe, Africa and Asia, English becomes lingua franca. Soon it became the main language not only in everyday use, but as a language of commerce, aviation and shipping.
Religion and Education Center
History proved that missionaries from any Church played a very important role in spreading English. They came along with either colonists or traders. Besides being spiritual directors, they also taught English at education centers they built. For sure they taught proper English grammatically. Local people became more and more interested in English. English language became widely used. We should keep in mind that church was the very first place where the embryo of science was born, brought up, and spread out to the world.
Media communication for science and entertainment
Most science and entertainment nowadays is written or communicated in English, including in non-English speaking countries. In Finland, for example, the number of dissertation written in English increases from 7.1% (1930-1949) to 95% in 1990-1997. In Indonesia, all the abstraction of thesis and dissertation must be written in English.
In 1981, 85% articles of biology, chemistry and physics were written in English 69% articles in Mathematics were written in English, 73% of articles in medical were written in English. 86,5% of one billion documents in website in 1999 were written in English; only 2.4% in French.
One of the most important things to consider in the twentieth century is that entertainment ion radio, television, in film, and the internet is mostly broadcast in English. A small Indonesian boy warrants great appreciation if he sings an English song. A PBI student of Sanata Dharma warrants big applause if he speaks English fluently in a play.
Good relationships at an international level is a need. Either globally, continentally, or any other interests, countries come together to build the relationship in certain board. For example UN, ASEAN, NATO, European Union, Council of Europe, Commonwealth, IGGI, G8, and so on. The main language used as lingua franca in the boards is English. English is in 85% of 12.500 international boards. All t diplomats and whosoever is connected to diplomatic affairs must master English.
Science and technology has made this world a much smaller place in the past few decades. This is a sign of globalization. In the olden times a missionary or trader took years to cross Europe for Asia by the ship. Now a student from Indonesia just needs hours to reach Oxford University in the USA by plane. To be able to reach a new place one must have English as the lingua franca or he will find his life going nowhere. Travel becomes so much easier, any happenings far out in other countries are understood easily just because of one well known language: English. In short, globalization has shrunk this world under English.
Everybody, willingly or not, must accept that English has become the main lingua franca language in the world. It evolved from very small communities, Angles and Saxons, in the 5th century to a global area of speaking. It is because of its internal and external qualities that we hardly see in other languages.
I guess, one day, this world will have one language, no matter how many various dialects, English will remain as the single language in the world.