English is to international communication what VHS is to video, Microsoft to software and Pentium to the microchip. It is, for better or worse, the 'industry standard'. And those who don't speak at least a little risk losing business to the increasing number who do, A quarter of the planet currently speaks English. That's one and a half billion people, two-thirds of whom speak it as a foreign language.
In a recent survey*, 69% of Europeans said they thought t0 everyone should speak English, More than half of them already do. For most, 'it's not a question of choice but of necessity as English has rapidly become the first language of business, science and popular culture. Three-quarters of the world's mail is in English, So are four out of five e-mails and most of what you find on the Internet However; not everyone welcomes this linguistic monopoly ,The French Ministry of Finance, for instance, recently surprised the international business community by banning English terms like e-mail and Internet In fact seven teams of language experts have been employed to come up with French alternatives. Le Web is not acceptable. La toils is. And when the French President himself referred to start-up companies as fes start-upistes in a televised speech, he was strongly criticised for failing to defend France against 25 the advance of the English language, The French have a point. Twenty languages disappear every year because nobody speaks them anymore.
At that rate, by the end of the 2 1 st century almost a third of the world's six and a half thousand languages will be dead. Even in Germany, where Denglish is fashionable, and phrases like Jointventure, Powerpartner and Fitness-training are common, the leader of the Free Democrats has expressed concern about the 'flood of anglicisms descending on us from the media advertising, product descriptions and technology’.
Some go so far as to call it a form of violence’. Maybe it is. and big business certainly accelerates the process. As Professor David Crystal, author of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, puts 'wave dollar bills in front of someone, and they will learn complicated spellings and grammar"
But what about people who learn foreign languages just for fun? A 37-year-old American, Gregg Cox, has taken this simple pleasure to extremes. He holds the world record for speaking the most foreign languages - sixty-four at the last count! He would undoubtedly be an asset to any company doing international business. But for those of us who are less gifted linguistically the power of the American dollar means there may soon be only one foreign language we need to learn, and that language will be English.
The number of native speakers of the world's top ten languages
1 Chinese 726m
2 English 427m
3 Spanish 266m
4 Hindi 182m
5 Arabic 1 81m
6 Portuguese 165m
7 Bengal 162m
8 Russian 156m
9 Japanese 124m
10 German 121m
2 Discuss the following questions.
a Do you think the article overstates the importance of English?
b What other languages might eventually take over from English as the international language of business?
c Do you agree that big business accelerates the advance of the English language?