A word of comfort to those of you who are unhappy about an important and so far unique and unprecedented linguistic development underway in the world and the present shift in English identity to a world property or world identity.
The rise of global English doesn’t mean the loss of a geographical identity. People in Britain remain British, those in the US stay American. A model is Switzerland. You can be German, French or Italian but you are ultimately Swiss. Even now the term Spanish is misleading because it doesn’t consider the Catalans and others.
Although I still believe the loss of a linguistic identity has far more advantages than drawbacks, other languages in the world won’t be spared. A much more disastrous fate is awaiting them. It will also free us from the shackles of nationalism and arrogance. We will save time and energy which we still put into translation. A global English might overrun and replace lots of languages (compare French and la grande nation). So everybody in the world will acquire a new linguistic identity. I wonder, what’s wrong with that. After all languages come and go. This is a rule of nature. Just think of what happened to Latin. It gave birth before it died to a number of daughters Like: Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese….
On the other hand a lot of people are worried that the English invasion will bring with it American and English culture. They believe it’s a kind of cultural colonialism. The whole world will be Anglo-Saxonized or Americanized. Even in China people have already started eating MacDonald’s hamburgers (symbolic). There is no reason to worry that Chinese (Mandarin) one day will be a more powerful language than English. Chinese sounds are more difficult to the people of the world. In addition its writing system is cumbersome and not suitable for international communication. Human beings have always lamented the demise of the present. Shelly’s “West Wind” makes way for a new life.
Language is the basis for all human interactions. No thinking is possible without language. It is indeed surprising why linguistics and language have not got the attention and focus they deserve till now. After all, human knowledge and science is only possible through the medium of language. Acquiring a new language opens new perspectives on life and broadens our minds. Our identity is still based on language. However, in case of English and because of its international role the idea of identity might get lost or is in deed on its way to be lost (it is becoming a world or a human identity). Yet, English culture and literature can only be seen in English. That’s why although translation is a brilliant discipline it cannot overcome its deficiencies. Just imagine translating Shakespeare or Coleridge into Dutch.In short, language is superior to all other disciplines and is always first in sequence. It is knowledge, pleasure, emotions (mind and body or body and soul in one). After all we are not only heads but bodies too.
Density and Speed
One question which doesn’t leave my mind is: Can the human language we know cope with the information density and the speed we are experiencing. As you know, information is growing and coding or packing information into language is necessary. Informal language uses more verbs. It is verbal or verbose (i.e. information density is low). Academic language tries to avoid verbs as much as possible apart from some basic ones like: be, have and a couple of other high frequency ones. So nominalization is a feature of Academic English because of the problem of information density. You can do more operations on nouns than on verbs. For example you can count nouns; use adjectives with them (describe them) etc… But nominalization means using nouns and as you knows most of them, at least the academic ones, are of Romance origin i.e. very long words (multi-syllabic). What will be if this information density grows to such an extent that the present human language is no more capable of packing information. On the other hand human language is slow for communicating messages. You need more time to pronounce long Romance words. Will there be a new communication medium to cope with the problems of density and speed.
Ambiguity, Density, Identity and Speed
Now I would like to extend the ideas of density and speed which I touched upon to two additional important phenomena which are part and parcel of human language.
Some people complain about the imprecise use of language. If human language won’t suffice to code information in the future due to information density and speed and of course due to misunderstandings (ambiguity) then the analogue language we have now might make way for a digital language Nowadays, everything is becoming digital. Why not human language? Once human language is digitized or replaced by a digital (computer) language (whether prescribed or agreed on), not only ambiguity ends but also beauty and mysticism and culture of human heritage. This means there will definitely be advantages of density, speed and clarity but a lot of disadvantages as I already mentioned will ensue foremost among those is reduction. Digital data is compressed or zipped. Compression means losing part of the information which is beyond human perception. Thus! , Digitalization means reducing human language to two modes, there is current or no current, a duality of yes and no like vending machines or computers. It is always a win/lose situation. This is an economic principle. We have to make a decision and set priorities.
Another problem of human language is identity. Identity doesn’t only help us to belong to a nation and provide a profile but also create big human conflicts. Just take nationalism which is not only based on skin colour and facial features but also on language.