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Riding the crest of globalization and technology, English dominates the world as no language ever has, and some linguists are now saying it may never be dethroned as the king of languages.

Others see pitfalls, but the fac­tors they cite only underscore the grip English has on the world: cata­clysms like nuclear war or climate change or the eventual perfection of a translation machine that would make a common language unnecessary.

Some insist that linguistic evolu­tion will continue to take its course over the centuries and that English could eventually die as a common language as Latin did or Sanskrit be­fore it.

That skepticism seems to be a minority view. Experts on the English language, like David Crystal, author of “English as a Global Language,” say the world has changed so dra­matically that history is no longer a guide. He considers English to be a first language spoken genuinely glob­ally by every country in the world.

It is the common language in almost every sphere, from science to air traffic control, from the radio where pop music carries the sounds of English to almost every corner of the world to the global Internet where English is the means of communica­tion.

There may be more native speakers of Chinese, Spanish or Hindi, but it is English they speak when they talk across cultures, and English they teach their children to help them become citizens of a very complicated world. People all over the world understand that to be edu­cated means to know English.

In some places English has in­vaded the workplace along with the global economy. Some Swedish companies, for example, use English within the workplace, even though they are in Sweden, because so much of their business is done, through the Internet and other communications, with the outside world.

As English continues to spread, the linguists say, it is fragmenting, as Latin did, into a family of dialects — known as Englishes.

The pidgin of Papua New Guinea already has its own literature and translations of Shakespeare. “Don Quixote” has already been translated into Spanglish, the hybrid of English and Spanish that is spoken along the borders of Mexico and the United States. The Singlish is spoken in Singapore and the Taglish is spo­ken in the Philippines.

But unlike Latin and other for­mer common languages, most schol­ars say English seems to be too wide­spread to die out. Instead, it is likely to survive in some simplified interna­tional form — sometimes called Globish or World Standard Spoken English — side by side with its off­spring.

Jean-Paul Nerriere, a retired vice president of IBM USA has pro­posed his own version of Globish that would have just 15,000 simple words for use by normative speak­ers.

As a simplified form of global English emerges, the diverging forms spoken in Britain and America could become no more than local dialects and a native speaker of English might need to become bilingual in his own language to converse with other speakers of global English.

Mark Warschauer, a professor of education and informatics at the University of California, says that English and globalization have spread hand in hand through the World. The process started with the dominance of two successive English-speaking empires, British and American, and continues today with the new virtual empire of the Inter­net.

Although Chinese and other languages are rapidly increasing their share of Internet traffic, English is likely to remain the common lan­guage, experts say.

The teaching of English has be­come a multibillion-dollar industry, and according to David Graddol, a linguist and researcher, nearly one- third of the world’s population will soon be studying English.

By the most common esti­mates, 400 million people speak English as a first language, another 300 million to 500 million as a flu­ent second language and perhaps 750 million as a foreign language. Thus the English language no longer “belongs” to its native speakers but to the world, just as organized soc­cer is an international sport that is no longer associated with its British origins.

Even if English were somehow to collapse as the language of its birthplace, England, Crystal said, it would continue its worldwide domi­nance untroubled. A recent study found that the Queen’s English — the language as spoken by the queen of England — has changed over the past 50 years, becoming slightly more proletarian. The future evolu­tion of the language, scholars say, is more likely to belong to the broken- English speakers of far-off lands.

But in the end, Nicholas Ostler, the author of a language history “Empires of the Word” said the ad­vance of technology that helped push English into its commanding position could pull it down again.

Though it still sounds like sci­ence fiction, it seems likely that some time, many decades from now, a machine will be perfected that can produce Urdu when it hears some­one speaking German. “With pro­gress, the problem of machine trans­lation and automatic interpreting is going to be solved,” Ostler said, “and the need for a common lan­guage is going to be technically re­placed.”

Adaptedfrom Seth Mydans, International Herald Tribune


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