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Boot the bankers, keep the language
Is there a place for the English language in the emerging multipolar world? Or should it be discarded as a neocolonial artifact and instrument of domination?
As is clearly evident, the “Global South” is chafing under the Washington- and London-decreed Rules-Based Order; under the leadership of Russia and China, a new multipolar world order, long overdue, is inexorably emerging. But as James Tam (谭炳昌) argues in a delightful commentary on his website, the linguistic baby should not be thrown out with the imperial bathwater:
One good thing which came out of the Anglo and American colonial empires is the spread of English as de facto international language, laying the communication foundation of a truly globalised world. The present structure of planet-wide exploitation is unviable, wobbling due to its inherent blood-sucking design. A multi-polar global network is emerging to replace it.
Against the wish of linguistic nationalists and Esperanto dreamers (if there are still any left), English will remain the most widely used language in the new world order. Notwithstanding the historically distasteful origin of its popularity, the use of English should be maintained and reinforced for pragmatic reasons. Attempting to change the international language every time there’s a shift in world political and economic balance would be vain and impractical, working against the functioning of a fairer multi-polar framework.
However, global English of the 21st century should be properly positioned and realigned as World Putonghua of the new age. Putonghua is the quotidian Chinese promoted after 1949 to remove literary classism. It means ordinary language — for ordinary people.
English as World Putonghua is driven by pragmatism. It’s already here, working well in a wide geographic area. Some may perceive unjustifiable Anglophone advantage if the global use of English is maintained. In reality, it’s quite the opposite.
Non-native English users will continue to benefit from the mind-broadening effects of being multi-lingual. Besides having their private tongues in business and diplomacy, they will also have better access to the mindset of monolingual native English speakers, but not vice versa. Language is after all useful in promoting understanding and accessing the mind, including that of rivals.
Be sure to read the rest: English under the New World Order
As someone who worked for many years providing editing and other English-language services, I was well aware that on an individual level being a native-English speaker gave me a certain advantage in the world, but that this is counter-balanced by the fact that the English language clearly no longer belongs to the Anglophone world; the number of non-native English speakers far outweighs the native-born speakers. In view of this reality, we native speakers are beholden to maintain a certain modesty and light touch when “fixing” other peoples’ English. There’s no place in the new world order for Anglophone Grammar Nazis.
(Aside: the situation is dramatically opposite in the case of a less widely spoken language like Dutch, of which perhaps at most 10% of its practioners are not native speakers. As a result, I’ve noticed far less indulgence towards imperfectly formed written Dutch in online fora.)
My only ambivlance about English as “World Putonghua” is that the spelling system is so wretched. For me, learning Dutch and Spanish as an adult was made easier by the fact that in the spelling system of both languages has been regularized over the centuries, something Anglo-American societies could never pull off. Is it too late? The Dutch/Flemish Taalunie most recently updated spelling rules in 1996 and then again in 2005, but they only had to deal with two countries and some twenty million speakers. As we say in the Olde Countrie, where there’s a will, there’s a way; perhaps the global community of World Putonghua speakers will one day find a way.