English, the lingua franca, as a global language and the decline of German as an international language of science

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

22 Pages, Grade: Gut


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The Globalisation of English
Definition of the term global language
English is the global language – Why?

3. English as a lingua franca
Definitions of the term lingua franca.
History of the term lingua franca

4. Languages of science
English as a lingua franca of science
Reasons for and against English as a lingua franca of science
German as an international language of science
Definition of the term international language
German, a former international language of science: a review
Displacement of German as an international language of science by English
Present status of English and German as languages of Science.

5. Future perspectives of English
Do we need a global language?
Dangers of a global language

6. Closing remarks

1. Introduction

This paper deals with the topic of English as a lingua franca as well as the past and current status of German as a language of science.

One issue which is discussed throughout this paper is English as a global language. The questions that arise regarding this topic are: Why did English become so important in the last century? Why do we speak of English as a global language? How could English reach such widespread acceptance? What are dangers of a global language and could anything stop globalisation? In this paper many facets of English will be presented and discussed.

The second important topic this paper covers is the decline of German as an international language of science. German used to be an important language of science in the 19th century until World War I. But what happened at that point and why did German lose its international character? Which circumstances are responsible for the decline of German? What is the present status of German in science and what are the future perspectives?

All these questions and assumptions will be discussed in the following term paper and the closing remarks will summarise the findings.

2. English as a global language

2.1. Definition of the term “global language”

According to David Crystal (1997),

a language achieves a global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country. This might seem like stating the obvious, but it is not, for the notion of ‘special role’ has many facets (Crystal 1997: 3).

To achieve the status of a global language it is necessary to have a mother tongue as well as a lot of native speakers in one or more countries. Crystal (1997) argues that there are two ways in which a global language is built. A language can be made the official language of a country which means that the language is used as a medium of communication (second language) or a language can be adopted as a foreign language in the educational system. In this case the language has no official status (cf. Crystal 1997: 3).

To understand what Chrystal means by his definition of a global language it is necessary to define some other terms: When we speak of language we mean a system of lexemes. A fore ign language is a language which is not spoken by the indigenous people of a certain place. In contrast to that a second language is any language, other than the first or native language. It is typically used because of geographical or social reasons. By speaking of an official language we mean a language that is given a unique legal status in the countries, states and other territories – typically the language used in a nation’s legislative bodies. (Wikipedia 2005)

Consequently a global language can be characterised by wide dispersion and acceptance around the world as a native language and more important as a non-native language (cf. Jeschowsky 2001: 8).

2.2. English is the global language – Why?

English is seen as a global language because it is spoken all around the world. While English is not the official language in many countries (except Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand as well as several Caribbean countries and other territories), it is the language which is most often taught as a second or foreign language all over the world. Furthermore it is very often the working language for business and science

Doubtless, the English language is recognized as the most important language for the increasingly mobile international community to learn. This is a fact that seems to be irreversible. So, the main indication of its global status is the widespread acceptance as a first, second or foreign language.

Crystal (1997: 29) claims that there are two main reasons why English is the global language and not some other. Firstly, he defines the geographical-historical reasons and secondly, he discusses the socio-cultural aspect. The combination of these two strands has brought into existence a language which consists of many varieties, each distinctive in its use of sounds, grammar and vocabulary.

As far as the geographical-historical reasons are concerned it could be said that the present global status of English is the result of two important historical factors. The first reason was the expansion of British colonial power since the 16th century, which marks the beginning of the spread of English. At this time settlements of English speakers in many parts of the world started (e.g. North America, India, Australia, African countries, Caribbean islands, and South Pacific territories). Firstly, the English succeeded in establishing a permanent settlement at Jamestown in 1607.

The second aspect for the importance of English is because the United States holds the leading economic power of the twentieth century (cf. Crystal 1997: 59; Graddol 1997: 14).

The rise of the United States during the 20th century (especially after World War II) caused the leading position of English in the world. The time of colonisation came to an end at the end of the 19th century and most of the other languages lost their influences, but not English.

According to socio-cultural factors it could be said that because of the importance of the United States English is not only the language of science and technology but also leads consumer culture. Their thought behind this strategy was to increase the purchasing power of the consumers. The American idea was that advertising offered (and still offers) an ideology of choice. So, people started to be seen less as citizens than as consumers.

Another socio-cultural aspect could be the entertainment-factor. Most cinema films were produced in the US and so the United States became a leading power concerning entertainment throughout the world (Hollywood, Disney World, Film-Awards, Society, famous people…).

3. English as a Lingua Franca

3.1. Definitions of the term lingua franca

A worldwide approved and the most common definition of the term “lingua franca” is given by the UNESCO: “A language which is used habitually by people whose mother tongues are different in order to facilitate communication between them”. (UNESCO quoted in: Adler 1977:103)

According to Wikipedia (2005) “a lingua franca is any language widely used beyond its native speakers, primarily for international commerce but extending to other cultural exchanges, such as diplomacy. The origin of the term lingua franca is Italian (literally "Frankish language").”

3.1.1. History of the term lingua franca

Today it is assumed that the term “lingua franca” originated from the varied contacts of the speakers from different Romanesque languages with the speakers of other languages, above all in the southern Mediterranean area (trans. cf. Kerschbaumer 1994: 13). It was used for communication throughout the medieval and early modern Middle East as a diplomatic language (Wikipedia 2005).

During the Roman Empire Greek was the lingua franca in the east and Latin was the lingua franca in the west.

It is accepted, that the first lingua franca developed among tradesmen and sailors in the Mediterranean area around the ninth century. This so called trade jargon consisted mainly of Latin elements (which were used as the language of trade with the local population) as well as parts of French, Provencal and Italian. This new ‘language’ was called ‘Lingua Franca’.

When trade relations became international the tradesmen saw the Lingua Franca as a compromise. So, the ‘Lingua Franca’ developed to a pidgin language (which is a simplified language used as a means of communication between speakers of different mother tongues) (cf. Adler 1977: 105). We have to take care to not mix up a lingua franca with a pidgin because these two terms are different. A pidgin is a so-called contact language and is characterized by not having any native speakers and derives from the process of pidginization. Furthermore, a pidgin is reduced in its linguistic form and grammar and is restricted in context of use (cf. Patrick 2004 [Online]).


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English, the lingua franca, as a global language and the decline of German as an international language of science
University of Graz
The Globalisation of English, Language Attitudes and Language Contact
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ISBN (Book)
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English, German, Globalisation, English, Language, Attitudes, Language, Contact
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Silvia Eibel (Author), 2005, English, the lingua franca, as a global language and the decline of German as an international language of science, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/53651


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