English and the World

Posted on March 22, 2011

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“Year 2006 aggregate estimates suggest approximately 375 million native English speakers, and a combined native and non-native number of English speakers of over 1.5 billion worldwide.” – http://cnrsociety.org/english.html

This map shows the countries which have English standing as their Official Language as of 2006. Before the Elizabethan period this would not have been the case – almost entirely ‘thanks’ to imperialism and colonization.

The universality of the English language today is quite an achievement. Now, it may have been progressed from some less than moral means, but it still is quite a feat for a language that was once considered Barbaric and vulgar. Even more astonishing is the extent of English literature and poetry that has been produced since the Elizabethan era.

Sir Philip Sidney helped legitimize the language for such arts in his essay: “The Defence of Poesy.”  Within the essay he argues that English is the best tongue suited for poetry, stating that:

“the Italian is so full of vowels,” “the Dutch so of the other side, with consonants”  … “the French” has no accents on the last syallable of words … “and little more hath the Spanish”

And ultimately concludes:

“The English is subject to none of these defects”

With the help of great writers coming out of that era and following, this proved effectively true. William Shakespeare, John Milton, Sir. Thomas More, just to name a few. It is hard to imagine the prejudice these writers would have faced in the literary world before English was accepted as a ‘writable’ language, and how they collectively broke down the barriers. I wonder how many Italians scoffed at the idea of English poetry – and I do believe they did in fact scoff.

Really makes you think when you walk into a chapters and see the thousands upon thousands of English books. I’d like to be proud of this, but it always becomes more difficult, when I remember that the globalization of English had arguably as much, if not more, to do with colonization than these great writers. You can’t win them all.

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