In his March 3 Counterpoint article, “The days may be numbered for English as a universal second language,” Roger Pulvers analyzes the status of English from a startling new angle.
I don’t know if English will actually die out as an international language. As more and more Indians try to learn English, even if it is sometimes of a pidgin variety, many children these days are growing up learning only English without a knowledge of their own tongues. This trend is encouraged by the increasing number of marriages between people of different states in India, who don’t have time to learn each other’s language.
Technologies have really changed the scenario for some languages. When I first came to Japan a decade ago, I was surprised to hear that few people had even heard of my native tongue, although the number of people who speak it are double the number of Japanese speakers.
Since my college days, I have lived away from my native place and have had very little chance to use my native tongue. I used to read a book or two occasionally, but it seems very expensive to have someone send books by international post, especially when the books themselves are not so costly. There was no Skype on which I could talk to family and friends for hours if I wanted.
Computers sometimes had problems reading the font of a lesser-known language; besides, there wasn’t much available to read on the Internet in my native tongue. I had little choice except to read mostly in English, the language I was educated in, and later in Japanese. I did not feel optimistic about the future of my mother tongue — my second language according to educational records.
Now there is Skype and a host of applications for talking with family and friends back home as long as I want for free. The Kindle e-book reader has just started providing books in my native language that can be downloaded in seconds. I can watch most TV news and other stuff for free every day on the Internet if I want.
The world is certainly changing, and many of us now have a choice. To the extent that books in various languages become available in digital format and such versions are easily accessible to all at affordable prices, many languages will have a far better footing than they had just a decade ago.
The days of the English-language monopoly are certainly over, but even if English ceases to be the international language, we should perhaps feel a bit nostalgic for good old English. After all, it is a very rich language that has drawn copiously from many other different languages. So much English vocabulary is not “English” at all. And there are so many varieties of English that very soon there will be no “standard” English.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.