Today is English Language Day, Celebrating the Most Spoken Second Language in the World

English may be spoken here as well.

By Jonathan Spira on 23 April 2017
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Some 25% of the world’s population speaks English to some extent, with almost 400 million speaking it as their mother tongue and a similar number speaking it fluently as their second language, thus making it a candidate for the world’s language, ostensibly an Esperanto for the 21st century.

Indeed, some pundits have predicted that, by 2050, half the world will be more or less proficient in it.

April 23 is English Language Day, an observance created by the United Nations to coincide with the date traditionally considered the birthday and date of death of William Shakespeare.

English is the language of globalization, politics, and diplomacy (sorry, French). Even where it’s not fully understood, it’s used on posters, in advertising, and in sports for its supposed cachet.

English is the global language of academic research, regardless of where it takes place, and is used worldwide in some fields, such as air-traffic control, regardless of where an aircraft is taking off or landing. It is interesting to note that the European Union is dominated by the language of a member that is planning to leave the bloc.

Further, an ever-increasing number of firms across the globe are adopting English as their official language. Put together a meeting with delegates from Berlin, Bratislava, Bucharest, and Budapest and English will be what unites them.

Curiously, or perhaps not, native English speakers are being quickly outnumbered by those who speak it as a second language and who, in many respects, are taking control of its future. It’s so widely spoken and so many versions have evolved native speakers from one region may have trouble understand native speakers from another or even those speaking fluent “English” as a second language. One example is Euro-English grammar: many nouns that in English don’t take a final “s” in their plural form are pluralized nonetheless with the fricative in cases such as “informations” and “competences.”

The smashing success of English is not because it is easy: indeed, its grammar appears deceptively easy thanks to only having two genders and an overreliance on the word “it” as a pronoun, but verb conjugations lean to the irregular and spelling and pronunciation are frequently at odds with one another.

English has, however, adapted with the times and that has given it staying power while other languages in their day failed to keep up.

As the poet Edward Waller wrote in the 17th century,

Poets, that lasting marble seek,
Must carve in Latin or in Greek:
We write in sand, our language grows,
And, like the tide, our work o’erflows.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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