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The hegemony and threats of English

By LIM MUN FAH
Translated by Soong Phui Jee
Sin Chew Daily

The United Kingdom occupied other countries with warships and bombs and became a world power in the 19th century. Through trading, racial assimilation, immigration and colonial policies, English was widely spread around the world.

Later, the UK was replaced by the United States. Since the US is still an English-based country, the strong international status of the language has been consolidated and further developed.

After it has risen as a new global hegemony with its military and economic forces, the US has also expanded its ideology and values to the world through the enormous influence of technology, movie and TV programmes. At the same time, it has also fostered the growth of the power of English and eventually established the hegemonic status of the language.

According to statistics, a total of 57 countries worldwide with about 337 million of population are using English as their first language and 67 countries with about 235 million of population are using English as the second language. Meanwhile, in some populous countries like China, Japan, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil, 1.2 – 1.5 billion of people are using English as their foreign language.

In addition, 75% of mails are written in English, 80% of Internet information and publications are published in English and 100% of software source codes are in English. Among the 925,000 scientific papers published in 1997, 95% were written in English.

All the figures show the hegemonic status of English in today's world. Clearly, some people do not feel good about it. However, since history always inevitably leaves something frustrating, perhaps we should view it from a wider perspective and accept that English is the global language.

Like a double-edged sword, the globalisation of English has promoted intercultural dialogue and communication but at the same time, threatened the survival and development of other minority languages.

The 2001 Unesco Report shows that only 4% of people are still using 95% of the world's existing languages and among the world's remaining 6,000 languages, 80% of them might disappear in this century.

In his book "English as a Global Language", British linguist, academic and author David Crystal wrote: "A language has traditionally become an international language for one chief reason: the power of its people – especially their political and military power...But international language dominance is not solely the result of military might. It may take a militarily powerful nation to establish a language, but it takes an economically powerful one to maintain and expand it."

He also wrote in the same book: "When a language dies, so much is lost...language is the repository of the history of a people. It is their identity."

Amidst the ignited controversy over whether to teach and learn Science and Mathematics in English or Bahasa Malaysia, aren't Crystal's remarks worthy of our deep reflection?

 

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