Net gain for the English language

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am

The internet has become the driving force in the spread of English throughout the world, a consultant linguist said on the sidelines of a conference this week.

'All those electronic resources can be used in many languages. But at the moment, those who want to reach a worldwide audience use English,' said Professor Michael Halliday, an adviser to a City University language research centre. 'People feel that this is how they can get access to personal and economic contacts.'

The linguist, also an emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, is known for his influential grammar model, known as 'systemic functional linguistics '.

The model stresses that language is a resource for communication rather than a set of rules, and has been applied to a variety of languages.

Professor Halliday was speaking at City University this week, where linguists explored the patterns of how English, Chinese and Spanish had become the three most dominant languages in the world.

He said that over the past centuries, the growth of the English language had been mainly prompted by the former British colonial empire and the United States with its political and economic influence.

Professor Halliday said there had been little concern over comparisons of the three languages in the past. 'Once linguistic issues do get on the agenda, it is almost always relating to just one language. Each language is considered exclusively in its own term, its threat to the English language, the challenge of Spanish and so on,' he said.

'There is little concern in generalising or comparing the global linguistic situation as a whole.'

Professor Halliday said discussions on linguistic issues had typically been set on the connection between the linguistic dominance and political power without raising questions about languages themselves or even about the relation between such languages and those who use them.