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Do you speak English?
Published in Ahram Online on 01 - 09 - 2020


If you are reading those lines, you obviously do.
The whole world now speaks English or needs to. It has become the Lingua Franca, the international language of the world, since about the 19th century. It is the only language that absolutely everyone feels the need to study in order to cross-culturally communicate with one other.
Although Chinese Mandarin and Spanish are the most popular languages, they are spoken natively. English, coming in third, has four times the number of non-native learners than it has natives. With only 360 million native English speakers, 1.5 billion people worldwide speak English.
According to the general census, there are 1,702 known languages, English is the official language in 70 countries, and in Papua New Guinea, with its 800 languages, English is still the second official language.
In India there are two official languages, Hindi and English. With 22 languages spoken, English is the one common means of communication in several regions.
The growth of English is mainly political.
After the language developed on the British Isles for centuries, it was taken around the world by sailors, soldiers, traders and missionaries. The rise of the British Empire expanded across almost one quarter of the world. Soon English reached all corners of the world. The sun, literally, never set on their dominions.
After the British Empire was gone English stayed.
Access to English meant access to education, advancement, and progress. This created an educational elite and everyone wants to be part of the elite.
English pushed other languages as in Canada, Australia and France. French was the Lingua Franca since about the 19th century, when English prevailed.
Now it is compulsory for aviation, business, travel, trade and pretty much everything else.
England alone is not responsible for the flourish of the language. The British handed the baton to one of their prominent colonies, now known as the US.
The rise of the US after WWII has been a huge factor in pushing English even more to the forefront in the international community. Its political and economic power has much to do with the reason that English continues to be hugely important with its range of different industries.
If you wish to trade with the US, and who does not, you'd better know how to speak English.
Before their economic boom and until now, the Chinese make it a point of learning English and teaching the language in schools.
Here we have to pause in order to mention one of the major elements that made English/American so popular: Hollywood.
By just watching Hollywood movies, you are longing to speak English, play their music, wear blue jeans and eat hamburgers.
The British were no less influential in the sound department with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Sting and others.
Once Britannia ruled the waves, now it was ruling the airwaves.
Yes, we all wish to be part of this “English” cultural legacy of the Internet, of Facebook, Google, of Science and Technology, all conceived in English.
Millions of us speak English, but we do not all speak it in the same way. We have different accents, dialects, pronunciations, intonations and there is nothing wrong with that.
In Britain there are at least 29 different English accents and dialects. Some are thought of as different languages within English. What is the difference?
A “dialect” is a particular form of language, peculiar to a specific region or social group.
An “accent” according to linguists, is a way of pronouncing a language — which means everyone in the world has an accent. And everyone does.
There are as many English accents as there are English speakers, even if English is your first, not your second, language.
The English drop the letter “r” after a vowel, as in “path”, instead of “part”, unless it is followed by a vowel, as in “paragraph”. The Scotts relish the rolling of their “rrrrs”. This is what is known as “rhotic” accents, in which “r” is retained, used by the Irish, Americans, Barbadians, Indians, Pakistanis among others.
The subject of accents was much discussed last week after America's first lady Melania Trump's appearance at the Republican Convention. The beautiful and graceful Melania gave a flawless speech, but she had an accent. Born in former Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, she came to the US at 19 and although commanding four languages, she struggled to learn her fifth — English — and to speak it perfectly.
Hollywood Jewish entertainer Bette Midler, tweeted some very insulting comments about Melania, such as: “Oh God, she still can't speak English,” and “Get that illegal alien off the stage,” and on and on.
Now her comments were removed from the Internet, but not before millions slammed Midler as a xenophobic, sending a bushel of derogatory comments.
“The Divine Miss M” is no longer divine.
Did her Eastern European ancestors have an accent, when they migrated to the US?
This double standard and intolerance is unacceptable in a land built by foreigners from other countries.
Democrats, which Midler surely is, call for “open boarders” — they want foreigners to walk in illegally without permits, papers or identities. None speak English.
The shocking fact is that the US has no official language. Though often proposed, Congress has rejected English as its official language because it was a threat to individual liberty.
Strange but true. Did Miss Midler know that?
“It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow necked bottles: the less they have in them the more noise they make in pouring it out.”
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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