Conversely, Anglophones for whom English is the primary language tend to be overwhelmingly monolingual, precisely because English-only policy continues to be perceived as the universal panacea. They therefore have access to only 27 % of the total. The conclusion is inescapable : in a multipolar world, where globalisation is accompanied by the unprecedented development of information and communication technologies (ict), to speak only the lingua franca is to be under-informed – a phenomenon that Louis-Jean Calvet has called the “paradox of the dominant language” [CALVET 2007]. And in today’s world as in yesterday’s, to be under-informed constitutes a handicap. In terms of the internet, when English constituted over 80 % of the total content, the lack of information could be seen as marginal. This is no longer the case.
UNITED STATES OR UNITED KINGDOM, SAME FIGHT : NO TO ENGLISH-ONLY POLICY In the age of globalisation, being under-informed is a luxury we can no longer afford. Speaking the lingua franca is no longer sufficient. In this sense, the fact that countries like France continue to promote an English-only policy, while the English speaking world is beginning to fundamentally question it as a model, is rather amusing [MARTEL 2010].
I would like to examine three key moments of this questioning. First, let us revisit David Graddol’s authoritative study undertaken on behalf of the British Council, entitled, The Future of English The Popularity of the English Language in the 21st Century [GRADDOL 1997]. To my knowledge, this is the first substantive analysis conducted by an English speaker predicting that the future of English as an international, or “global”, language (Global English) is far from assured. Indeed, nothing prevents us from imagining that other languages will compete for influence, especially as de-westernisation carries on and emerging economies like the brics Michal Oustinoff (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) continue to rise. In 1999, this trend was only a hypothesis ; in 2011, it is confirmed daily on the web. The bottom line is that English monolingualism is not risk-free : victim of its success, English has spread to the point where the number of “native speakers” worldwide has been overtaken by the number of people who speak English as second language. In a world gone multipolar, English is only one of many core competencies. What makes a difference (on the job market) is no longer mastery of two languages (English + 1), which has become the standard for non-English speakers – but mastery of at least two languages (English + 2 or more).
David Graddol’s second blow targets another misconception : English is not destined to be the lingua franca throughout the world. Why use English as the primary language of communication in Latin America when the interface of Spanish and Portuguese presents a far more practical solution because of the two languages’ high degree of intercomprehension This point underscores the strategic value of a local lingua franca. But David Graddol goes even further, noting that it is always better to speak to others in their respective mother tongues, especially when it comes to business [BEL HABIB 2011]. If you wish to do business in Southeast Asia, for example, English is certainly useful, but Chinese is now the major language of communication in the region. Rather than passing through English, it is this “local” language that serves as the lingua franca. Moreover, these local lingua franca are going international, especially when it comes to transnational relations in southern countries : the Chinese are beginning to learn Portuguese and trade with Brazil ; the Brazilians are reciprocating and learning Chinese. The growing number of Confucius Institutes for Chinese, Camoens Institutes for Portuguese, Cervantes Institutes for Spanish, and so on, is explained by the fact that soft power is no longer reserved for English, something China in particular has well understood.
This explains, for example, the dramatic increase in Chinese language teaching in French public education, even though it’s reputedly much more difficult than German, while the language courses in the latter are on the wane.
In his third and final blow, Graddol does not exclude the possibility that English could be at the mercy of a “nightmare scenario” at a time when international public opinion increasingly sees the defence of linguistic and cultural diversity is as necessary : “These trends suggest a ‘nightmare Michal Oustinoff scenario’ in which the world turns against the English language, associating it with industrialisation, the destruction of cultures, infringement of basic human rights, global culture imperialism and widening social inequality” [GRADDOL 2000 : 62]. This is why the following quote from Leonard Orban, former European Commissioner for Multilingualism, cannot be seen as unrealistic, but as news : “Employees should master, for the benefit of their employers, at least three languages : that of their country of origin, English of course, and a third from among the most widely spoken in the eu – German, French, Spanish or Italian. Without neglecting Russian, Arabic or Chinese” [RICARD 2007]. Put in economic terms, it is no longer English-only policies that constitute a hard cash boon (for which the primary beneficiaries have until now been English-speaking countries), but multilingualism that represents the real “competitive edge” under current and future globalising.
The second key moment was the publication of the British Academy’s report Language Matters, which drove the point home, this time in the field of research, by sounding the alarm of British researchers’ growing preoccupation with foreign languages (p. 3) :
In the humanities, for example, fields such as history and philosophy need to draw on scholarship in other languages which is not translated into English, nor is likely to be. In the social sciences, comparative studies and cross-national work in subjects such as politics, sociology and development economics requires knowledge of other languages.
And researchers in all disciplines (including the natural sciences) need skills in spoken as well as written languages in order to take up and make the most of opportunities to study and work overseas, or collaborate with overseas partners. With the increasing development in collaborative work, and the large sums of money attached to such work by national and international agencies, lack of language skills inflicts a real handicap on scholars in many parts of the British university system, and therefore weakens the competitive capacity of the system itself.
Who would have predicted, even thirty years ago, that such statements would one day come from a prestigious English institution like the British Academy Let us remember that English-only policy was supposed to obviate the need for additional languages, like Koine in the Hellenic world, Latin in the Middle Ages, or French during the Enlightenment.
Michal Oustinoff And even more so : while these lingua francas were the reserved for the elites, English is accessible to a much wider audience in the era of mass education.
But there is a third and final key moment to keep in mind, which deserves to be fully developed separately : the launching, under the aegis of the Department of Energy, of the international multilingual platform WorldWideScience.org. This project calls into question the very foundation of English-only policy, and more generally, the use of a single lingua franca for global scientific communication.
LINGUA FRANCA, INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION IN THE AGE OF GLOBALISATION Before it was called into question, English-only policy was presented into the late 1990s as a model whose utility, if not outright necessity, seemed obvious. One famous English grammarian didn’t shy away from putting it bluntly : “English is the world’s most important language” [QUIRCK, AL.
1980 : 2]. Apart from the fact that English was the international language with the greatest reach, four main advantages of this model were upheld :
– English is the most practical because it is an “easy language” ;
– English-only policy is the most economic solution ;
– it is the most democratic and equitable solution ;
– English as a lingua franca is “culturally neutral”.
The latter is elaborated as follows (ibid. 6) :
English […] is pre-eminently the most international of languages. Though the mention of the language may at once remind us of England, on the one hand, or cause associations with the might of the United States on the other, it carries less implications of political or cultural specificity than any other living tongue (with French and Spanish also notable in this respect).
In other words, not only are we to presuppose that all languages are interchangeable, but also that English is somehow the most interchangeable of all because of its “neutrality”. This is what ultimately legitimates it as a lingua franca. Nevertheless, this term is in itself ambivalent, if we return to its definition in the Petit Robert 2011, a French reference dictionary.
Michal Oustinoff In the original sense, a lingua franca was a specific pidgin designated as a “language spoken until the nineteenth century in the Mediterranean ports ; a composite language based on central Italian but also on French and Spanish, and also including Greek and Arab elements”, whose golden age came in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was a purely utilitarian language.
Conversely, today the term has enlarged to cover a different reality : “A common language used across a fairly large geographical area. Swahili, East Africa’s lingua franca”. (ibid.) The term “common language” means language “used for communication between different native language groups” as opposed to a “vernacular”. (ibid.) The gross asymmetry of English as a lingua franca is immediately apparent : in contrast to Latin, which was no one’s native language during the Middle Ages, English is both a common language and the vernacular of English native speakers.
Taking this fundamental asymmetry into account, one can explain why cyberspace trends toward spreading multilingualism and not the inverse, much less an English-only policy (English + 1) that leads to bilingualism or monolingualism whether or not English is one’s primary language.
In other words, cyberspace is more likely to side with Wikipedia (which counts 280 languages) than with the portals of major international institutions, of which the most multilingual is the European Union, with its 23 official languages for 27 member countries.
At the polar opposite end from the “hypercentral” language of English (in the terminology of Louis-Jean Calvet) and other “central” languages with general circulation (Spanish, French and Arabic), we find, for example, articles in Navajo on Wikipedia. Although this language counts only 170,717 speakers [SHIN, KOMINSKI 2010], it remains the most widely spoken American Indian language according to the most recent US Census in 2007. We can safely assume that this language is unlikely to appear in the list of major lingua franca of the twenty-first century. However, this language holds 173rd position in the category of languages counting over 1,000 Wikipedia articles – 2,154 to be exact. And, of course, it is far from irrelevant when one uses Navajo rather than English on the internet in the United States, a point on which there is no need to dwell except to say that it brings further evidence to the idea that no mother tongue is truly “culturally neutral” – including, at the other end of spectrum, that of an English native speaker.
Michal Oustinoff There is, however, one domain that seems to bypass all the differences that separate one language from another, and to transcend the “world views” (Weltanschauungen) that all languages contain, each one being irreducible to another, according to Wilhelm von Humboldt. It is that of science, as Descartes articulated at the beginning of his Discours de la mthode : “Those in whom the faculty of reason is predominant, and who most skilfully dispose their thoughts with a view to render them clear and intelligible, are always the best able to persuade others of the truth of what they lay down, though they should speak only in the language of Lower Brittany, and be wholly ignorant of the rules of rhetoric” 3 [CASSIN 2004 :
466]. Since languages are interchangeable in this regard, Descartes justifies writing Discours in French rather than Latin, the dominant language at the time, in order to reach the widest readership. Although he doesn’t express himself in Breton, it is not because the language is less capable of expressing just as complex thoughts as Latin and French, but simply because this would reduce his readership.
Transpose the same reasoning onto today’s world : if science is indifferent to its language of expression, so much the better to use the most internationally widespread language, English. Not that others, from the central (Spanish, Arabic) to the peripheral (Navajo), to those with the most speakers (Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian), are less worthy transmitting scientific texts, but none is more measurably able to reach the greatest possible readership. Certainly there exists an asymmetrical relationship according to whether the reader is a native speaker or not, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy, this is the worst form of communication, except for all the others.
Such reasoning seems flawless : the language of science – especially the “hard” sciences – isn’t it English However, this is an optical illusion.
The usa are beginning to realise that their research output, once in first place by a landslide, is being caught up to with great speed by other countries, beginning with Europe and the brics. They have gotten the message that science doesn’t exist only in English, but in other languages as well.