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  • The American moment is waning. Will English pull us through?

Comments Jun 11, 2009 11:40 am

"All the previous 'world languages' bowed out when their sponsor-countries did ..."

Not exactly true. All the previous world languages bowed out AFTER their sponsor-countries did, and in at least one case--Latin--that "after" took centuries (depending on how you count the bowing out of the Roman Empire and the subsequent bowing out of Latin as the dominant scholarly language of Europe, fourteen or fifteen centuries).

Of course the timing of these things is pretty complex. If America does "bow out," that won't happen overnight; we could be bowing out over five years, or twenty, or fifty. And presumably the world dominance of English would last a little longer than US world domination, but how long is a little? That would be difficult to time with any kind of precision as well. But my guess would be that English would survive the crumbling of the current US empire by decades--especially given the fact that Chinese characters make Mandarin an unlikely choice for the next world language. (Unless they went to pinyin ...)

That doesn't mean that Wynne is right about the "growing" dominance of English propping up the US as it fades. Much more likely would be a scenario in which a variety of postcolonial englishes (and their pop cultures) emerge into greater international prominence; while academic English--our period's scholarly Latin--would have only vestigial effects on the US, for example helping US universities continue to attract large numbers of foreign students, and thus in some small measure helping to maintain America's international prestige. But not for long, surely--and not exclusively the US. If academic English remained the dominant language of scholars around the world for another century, say, I would imagine the emerging economic powerhouses would begin (or continue) hiring British and American scholars and creating their own centers for training in academic English. Hong Kong has been doing this for some time, for example; and there's no reason mainland China should not expand their programs in academic English as well. They're already hiking up their academic salaries, in an increasingly successful bid to begin attracting foreigners.


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