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Sunday, July 3, 2016

EwR Research - The Officialness of the English Language



It is somewhat surprising, and even confusing, to discover that the English language is not official everywhere; that is to say, where it is spoken as the primary language used by the majority of people in a country.  Only fifty percent of the countries in the whole world have an official language, and you might not believe it, but the United States is not on this list.  Yes, it's true!  The United States of America does "not" have an official language on record.  Therefore, you can see that the English language is not official in every country where it is spoken by the majority of its citizens. 

In order to better understand what the officialness of the English language is throughout the world, let's examine: (1) what the meaning of an official language is; (2) what makes a language official; (3) how official the English language is; (4) the reason why English isn't an official language in the U.S.; and (5) what the future holds for English as an official language.

First, a language is official when a country, state or other legal territory gives it a special status within its own lawsAn official language needs to be approved, endorsed and authorized by the governmental representatives of a country (e.g., judges, political members, lawmakers, public administrators, and civil servants) in order to establish the language that they use in their daily work.  The official language in a country is the standard language used to conduct governmental business and carry out all of its official operations. 

Second of all, and as previously mentioned by its own definition, an official language is declared as being official in any given country or territory when it is established by the law which governs it.  However, sometimes people mistake an "officially recognized language" for that of a uniquely official one.  Even though a language is "recognized" as being official in a country, that doesn't automatically make it so.  For example, in the case of the United States, English is not legally an official language because there is no federal law which has been passed in order to make that actually official.  However, it is "recognized" as official because some states have adopted this procedure; and federal, state and local governments, as well as the majority of the population in the U.S. use English as their principal language in all facets of life.

Another reason exists that demonstrates if a language is official or not.  Let's consider the case of the official Spanish language in Spain, also called Castilian Spanish.  The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) was founded in 1713 in order to conserve the changes that were made to its official language during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Twenty-one different academies from around the world merged together in order to create this unique Association of Spanish Language Academy in order to preserve the original heritage of Spain's Spanish language that is now used throughout the world.  Hence, an authorized language academy can help to make a language official.  In the case of English, there is no official language academy that regulates and controls the meaning and pronunciation of words used in the English language.  Look at the list of countries which have language regulators that standardize their official languages.

Thirdly, in order to determine how official the English language really is, let's consider the fact that 53 different nations out of a total of 202 nations worldwide, have legally identified English as their official language.  These countries have declared that the English language is also authorized for usage by colleges and universities in order to teach their students, as well.

Let's probe a little deeper into the subject of official languages in order to find some interesting statistics.  There are 189 out of 202 countries and territories in the world that have at least one official language.  Four countries; namely, Albania, France, Germany and Lithuania, have only "one" official language.  Countries that have more than just one official language include Afghanistan, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Finland, India, Paraguay, the Philippines, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, and Switzerland.  It is interesting to note the special case of the Republic of IrelandIt has two official languages; that is to say, Irish and English.  The curious thing is that even though Irish is spoken by few people in the country, it is considered its primary official language; whereas, English is spoken by the majority of its people, but is considered its second official language.

Another novelty is the case of the Philippines and parts of Africa.  Their cultures have a particular anomaly with regard to official language usage.  Both French and English are considered the official languages, but they are not the languages that are spoken by the majority of its citizens.

There are some countries like Australia, Eritrea, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Tuvalu, which have no official language at all.  There are only 15 nations that do not have an official policy about language including Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Guyana, Holy See, Iceland, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The strangest case by far, and with respect to the most powerful country on Earth, is that of the United States.  English is not an official language in the U.S.  It is amazing to discover that the United States, which is the third largest country in the world after Russia and Canada, does "not" have an official national language.  It is true, however, that 31 states in the United States have adopted English as their official language, but the country as a whole has not legally established English as an official language for its entire population.  Let's find out why the U.S. has not established English as its official national language.

In the fourth place, the reason why English is not an official national language in the United States stems from its historyThe polemic about whether or not English should be its official mother tongue, has its origin in early debates that took place in the 1750s.  Benjamin Franklin complained about the bilingual street signs and the Germans peoples' refusal to speak English in the state of Pennsylvania.  Still even today, there are members of the U.S. Congress who try to pass laws that would make English the whole country's official language.  It's known as the "English-Only measures".  These supporters claim that thanks to the English language used in their country, the country is united together.  They don't want American taxpayer's money paying for translations from English into other languages.  However, another group of opponents hope for an "English Plus" movement which favors everyone to speak not only English, but another language, as well.  The battle in the United States goes on.

And finally, let's turn our attention to what the future holds for the officialness of the English language.  Remember that the English language is not on the current official list of half of the countries in the whole world that have official languages. In other words, since its beginning, English is still not declared as an official language.

The English language, like any other language, is always changing according to the times.  It is a living and dynamic means of communication which adapts itself to the people who use it.  This implies that the English that we today in modern times will obviously change to another form of English used in the future.   For example, the English that was used in the Shakespearean period has changed immensely from that of the contemporary world of today.  Even take a look at the American English that is used in the United States.  It has twenty-four different dialects, which means that the vocabulary and pronunciation vary in different parts of this same country.

Another important factor to consider regarding the future of the English language, is to study who its users are.  Another surprising fact to learn is that native speakers of English only constitute a minority of the people throughout the world who speak English.  The majority of English speakers are second language users.  An incredible example of this is in China.  It the largest English speaking country in the entire world.  Yes, that is amazing!

Listen to Ben Bowlin talk about how different he thinks the English language will be in about 100 years.  According to him, the Internet plays an important role in the future of English.

To conclude, even though English is used by the majority of a country's population, this circumstance doesn't automatically declare it as an official language, which is obvious when you consider the example of the United States. English is a language that has several different standard dialects, which means that it varies both in spoken and written forms according to the countries that use it.

Vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation are not the same in every English-speaking country; for example, as in North American, the United Kingdom, Singapore, India and in African countries that speak English.  American English speakers represent more than 66% of all native English speakers; whereas, British English only constitutes about 18%, and another 7% includes varieties such as Australian and Canadian English.

This ever-changing world that we live in will determine the future of the English language.  For now, the English language doesn't have an official language academy which regulates a standard usage of this language.  A good reason for this is that only 26% of the nations worldwide have identified English as their official language.

Consequently, the following statement is true.  "The English language is not an official language everywhere it is spoken."

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