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Biblical hippopotamus, trasher, thief: how English captures the planet

No language in history has dominated the world in the way English does. Does it make sense to resist? Ponders article for The Guardian journalist jacob mikanovski.

Фото: Depositphotos

16 may a lawyer named Aaron Schlossberg was in a New York cafe when he heard some of his staff speak Spanish. He immediately reacted with indignation to this and threatened to call representatives of the immigration and customs services of the United States, and he said to one of the employees: "Your waiters speak Spanish with visitors, while they have to speak English ... This is America." . The video recording of this incident immediately became very popular and caused widespread outrage. Schlossberg’s law firm’s home page on the local search site was overwhelmed by extremely negative reviews, and in addition, he himself soon faced a “fiesta” of protests in front of his Manhattan home, which included a car selling Mexican tacos, paid for with crowdfunding, as well as the musical group mariachi, whose members accompanied him to the office and sang serenades.

Against the background of how the Trump administration is intensifying its attacks on migrants, the use of some other language than English has caused tension. And in some cases it can even be dangerous. But if something has changed with regard to the English language policy since Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House, this is the outrage that Schlossberg expressed today is associated with deeper nativist roots. Raising the English language on a shield and demeaning all other languages ​​has been the basis of English and American nationalism for over a hundred years.

Signs of linguistic uniqueness could be seen in 1919 in a speech by Theodore Roosevelt to members of the American Defense Society (American Defense Society), in which he stated that “we have enough space here for only one language, this language is English, and we intend to see as a melting pot turns our people into Americans, into representatives of American nationality, and not into residents of a polyglot boarding house. ”

As it turned out, Roosevelt, in fact, did the opposite. However, a whole century of immigration did not greatly affect the status of the English language in North America. In any case, his position today is stronger than a hundred years ago. However, from a global point of view, it is not America that is threatened by foreign languages. This English language threatens the whole world.

Biblical hippopotamus, thug, gorlopan, thief: English everywhere dominates everywhere. From a sinister start to the edge of a small European archipelago, it has grown to enormous size and has received a striking influence. Almost 400 million people speak it as their first language; another billion people know him as a second language. It is the official language in at least 50 countries, and as an unofficial language, the language of the lingua franca, it is still considered to be in a dozen states. Not a single language in history has been used by so many people and captured such a large part of the globe. It is associated with the prospects for a person for the future: a golden ticket to the world of education and international commerce, the dream of parents and a problem for a student, a fan, separating the haves from the have-nots. It is everywhere - the language of global business, the Internet, science, diplomacy, navigation through the stars and bird pathology. And wherever he comes, he leaves behind a trace of dead bodies - defeated dialects, forgotten languages, crippled literature.

There is a direct way to trace the growing influence of the English language, and all you need to do is look at how its words penetrate so many languages. For a millennium or even more, English was an importer of words; he borrowed words from Latin, Greek, French, Hindi, Aztec languages ​​(Nahuatl), and many others. However, during the twentieth century, when the United States became the dominant superpower, and the world became more interconnected, English became a net exporter of words.

In 2001, German scientist Manfred Gerlach, who studied an incredible number of regional variants of English, is the author of the collections English, More English, More English, and Even More English (Englishes, More Englishes, Still More Englishes, and Even More Englishes) - published the “Dictionary of European Anglicisms” (Dictionary of European Anglicisms), which contains terms found in 16 European languages. Among the most frequently encountered are the following: last minute, fitness, group sex, as well as a number of other terms related to sea voyage and train travel.

In some countries, including France and Israel, special linguistic commissions have been working for decades in order to block the flow of English words, they propose their own new terms, however, they have not achieved much success. The journalist Lauren Collins remarked, not without irony: "Someone really thinks that French teenagers, as a result of academic dictatorship, will use the expression 'pornographic text' instead of the word sexting?" Thanks to the internet, the spread of English has undoubtedly increased.

The gravitational pull that English has on other languages ​​today can be seen in the world of fiction. Writer and translator Tim Parks argues that European novels are increasingly written in unnatural international jargon, devoid of connections with any particular country and stuffed with difficult to translate words and grammatical structures. Novels in this style — be it in Dutch, Italian, or Swiss German — not only assimilated the English style, but perhaps even imperceptibly limit themselves to describing objects in such a way that they are easier to digest in an anglophone context.

However, the influence of English today goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the University of Milan IULM drew attention to the fact that over the past 50 years, the Italian syntax has shifted towards constructions that mimic English models, for example, in using the possessive case instead of reflective elements to denote body parts, as well as in a large number of cases where adjectives put before nouns. The German language also increasingly uses English grammatical forms, and in Swedish its influence is such that it changes the rules for the formation of words and the rules of phonology.

Inside the English-speaking world it is rarely questioned that English must be the key to all knowledge of the world and to all places. English hegemony is so natural that it becomes invisible. To protest against her is like barking at the moon. Outside of the English-speaking world, living with English is like approaching an extra-large black hole, the gravity of which bends all that is within its reach. English is becoming more and more common every day, and the world is becoming a bit more homogeneous and a bit more uniform.

Until recently, the history of English as a whole was similar to the history of other global languages ​​- it was spread as a result of a combination of conquest, trade and colonization (some languages, including Arabic and Sanskrit, gained popularity because of their status as a sacred language). However, at some point, between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the new millennium, English made a powerful leap in the field of excellence, and now its meaning is not fully conveyed by such concepts as "lingua franca" or "global language". From the dominant language, it turned into what the Dutch sociologist Abram de Svaan calls the "hypercentral" language.

Фото: Depositphotos

De Svaan divides languages ​​into four categories. The lowest place in this pyramid is occupied by “peripheral languages”, which constitute 98% of all languages, but less than 10% of humanity speaks to them. These languages ​​are mostly oral, and they very rarely have any official status. Then comes the "central languages", which may be better called the "national languages." They have written language, they are taught in school, and each of them has its own territory: Lithuania for Lithuanian, North and South Korea for Korean, Paraguay for Guarani, and so on.

They are followed by 12 "supercentral languages": Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili - each of them (except Swahili) has 100 of millions of speakers or more. These are the languages ​​you can travel with. They connect people in different states. As a rule, they are used as a second language, often (but not exclusively) as a result of the colonial past of a kindred state.

And finally, we come to the top of the pyramid, to the languages ​​that connect supercentral languages. And such is only one language - English, which De Svaan calls “the hypercentral language holding together the entire world system of languages”. Japanese writer Minae Mizumura calls English "universal language." In her opinion, it’s not the number of speakers that makes the language universal — more people speak Chinese and Spanish — but the fact that “it is used by the largest number of people in the world for whom it is not native”. The literary critic Jonathan Arak expresses this in an even more straightforward form. Criticizing what he calls “Anglo-globalism”, he notes that “English in culture, like the dollar in economics, serves as a means by which knowledge can be transferred from the local to the global level.”

In the past few decades, when globalization is increasing, and the United States continues to be the most powerful country in the world, the spread of English has received new impetus. In 2008, Rwanda translated its educational system from French into English, which in this country was made the official language 14 years before. Officially, this move was part of the government’s efforts to make Rwanda a technical hub, a technical center for Africa.

Unfortunately, many consider this a manifestation of aversion to the role of France, which until 1994 supported the government dominated by representatives of the Hutu tribe, as well as a reflection of the fact that representatives of the ruling elite in this country speak English because they grew up in emigration. Anglophone East Africa.

When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, English became the official language there, despite the very limited resources and lack of people who could teach it at school. According to the then Minister of Higher Education, this step was aimed at making the country “efficient and modern,” while the director of South Sudan Radio’s news service believed that with English, South Sudan could “become a nation” and “communicate with the rest Peace ”is a clear goal in a country where people speak more than 50 local languages.

Translation: ИноСМИ

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