Picking of the polyglot
Just in case we are concerned that English might not continue to dominate the world in the future, we can assure ourselves with the numbers. Yes, English is still counted as the third most common native language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. It is still the official language of the European Union, ASEAN and the United Nations. It’s historically considered to be the first global lingua franca, the premier language of colonial powers and the so-called required language of communications, science and information technology.
Maybe it’s one infographic designed by Nextweb in 2010 that got people so anxious. “Chinese will be the dominant language on the Internet,” it claimed. People raised doubts about the statistics, the relevancy and the accuracy, but it is the raw and unedited threads on message boards that show how many Anglophones react without critical consideration. In the end, they reveal the reason why Mandarin Chinese might very well dominate the world in the future.
A common reaction found on the boards shows a belief in the permanence of the status quo. “English is the international business and government language. Has been that way for a few hundred years and will probably remain so for the next few hundred.” Categorically resisting the idea of change, this argument is not convincing to climatologists, hedge fund managers, fashion designers and Buddhists as well as everyone else who knows that change is here to stay.
Then there are comments about how difficult the language is to learn. “So… would you rather learn a language with over 6,000 letters and different phonetics or opt for the 26 letter alphabet???” The problem is that we usually don’t have a choice. It’s not the individual that decides a lingua franca as if one were choosing the easier elective among school courses. It’s the critical mass or the power of politics, economics and the military that determine what we have to speak.
Then, there are comments that reveal linguistic xenophobia. “Written Chinese is so backward even ancient Egyptian was superior.” And the opposite of fear is superiority. “I have read that with China slowly becoming the dominant economic force that those in the west should learn Chinese. That is 100% folly, it is the other way around.” It is folly to think it’s simply an either/or matter. Yes, the Chinese are already learning English at a fast pace, not because they’ll drop their only language, but because they know it’s in the their best interest to know both.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore’s economic success is often attributed to the ease of doing international business in English, but having forecast the future, Singapore’s language policy has already succeeded in streamlining the use of regional dialects into a unified Mandarin Chinese by inaugurating the Speak Mandarin Campaign as far back as 1979. It is now the second most commonly spoken language after English in Singapore and many people are functional in both. Two is better than one if not three or four. Young people in Luang Prang know this, judging by the number of students who are already studying Mandarin Chinese.
The sad thing about these blog floggers is the way they talk about a winner language that takes all without understanding the power and possibility of being bi-tri-quadrilingual. Some forsaken writers show us that they can hardly write in one language. “i think what you are thinking of is the fact that chineese is spoken by the most people that is simply because there is so many people in china they are not however relatively spread out and the ones that are, usually speak the language of the country they live in.”
There will be no superior language. There will only be the superiority of the fluent polyglot. Learn English. And then some.
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