English as an international language
Dr. Senarath TENNAKOON
There is an ever increasing global community of English speakers. This speech community of English speakers, according to Kachru (1985), can be segmented to three circles of speakers: the inner circle (320-380 million speakers) represents the native speakers, the second language speakers (150-300 million) comprise the outer circle and the expanding outermost circle (100-1,000 million) is occupied by people learning English as a foreign language.
However, the clear cut demarcations between the outer and the outermost circles have become less clear as the foreign language learners in some European countries have become more like second language users of English (Graddol, 2006). In particular the inner circle comprises highly proficient speakers of English.
There are around 7,000 languages around the world in use and only 12 languages account for 50 percent of the global population. Of these Chinese, English and the other European languages are spoken as native languages. The number of second language speakers is growing important as Manderin, Hindi and Spanish are challenging English.
English is a Germanic language. It developed in England as a result of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century. The so called 'Old English' was an inflecting language that preserved many features of Germanic as seen in the epic poem 'Beowulf'.
The Middle English (11-14th centuries) that followed replaced inflections with word order. It also borrowed words and expressions from Latin, French and Chaucer (1345-1400) presents the features of Middle English in his 'Canterbury Tales'.
Modern (or new) English starts from about 1,500 (end of the reign of Henry VII) to the present day (Wrenn 2006).
Before the 18th century, there was no concept of foreign language (Graddol, 2006). The 19th century ushered in several socio economic changes. Industrialisation, the growth of capitalist economy and the expansion of colonialism resulted. Hand in hand with these changes, the English language too crossed its national borders.
The English language crossed the border of modernity and entered the era of postmodernity with English being commonly used by the international travellers, computer and the internet. English speech is being communicated around the globe. English is widely used among the international, political, business, academic and scientific communities. It is often one of the standard varieties (American or British). But there are other dialects which reflect the speaker's mother tongue in the expressions of spoken English (Crystal 1998).
There are some special and specific features of English as a language for its extensive usage, apart from the social, historic and economic reasons. English is extremely heterogeneous.
It easily and quickly borrows words and expressions from any other known language. English is also simple and flexible in the use of its grammar. Linguists call this feature as the simplicity of English inflection.
The word order in an English sentence is relatively fixed and stable. The inflections are very few. At times prepositions replace or substitute inflections. Although not so marked as a Chinese, English too uses intonations to bring about different shades of meaning to words and expressions. Of these features it is the adaptable receptiveness and the simplicity of inflection that have been most dominant features (Wrenn 2006).
In Sri Lanka the current enthusiasm for English is largely driven by the parents and the job demand of the private sector and international job market.
A well to do segment of the elite population teach their children in international schools. Some institutions and homes are encouraging English imperialism. When the universities increased after 1956 and schooling commenced to function in the local languages there was a decline in the interest of the parents and the students for English.
This decline dragged on for over two decades while India continued to encourage learning in English. Even now, in Sri Lanka, students who continue to study in local languages in the primary and secondary schools encounter difficulties in particular in medicine and engineering and other science subjects at the university level. There is also a proliferation of private educational institutions which provide 'crash English teaching programmes' to attract the seekers of English knowledge. The effectiveness of these has not been evaluated.