Generally speaking, English is the universal language on the Internet, but it has no official status ,and it will never have. The reasons for the position of English are the imperialism and economical and political importance of English-speaking countries. Linguistically , English is extremely unsuitable for international communication, and the actual wide use of English tends to polarize the world into Internet users and Internet illiterates. The position of English can only be altered by major world-scale political and economical changes, such as increasing importance of European Union or a coalition between Japan and China. Such powers might wish and be able to promote a language other than English ,possibly a constructed language , for international communication.
The current situation
In general, the universal language on the Internet is English ,or more exactly a vague collection of languages called “English” because their common origin is the national language spoken in England by the English. That national language has spread over the world, and several variants such as American (US) English, Australian English ,etc exist. A great number of people whose native language is none of the variants know English as a foreign language. They typically use a more or less simplified variant ,e.g. excluding most of the idioms of British , American , Australian, etc English . Of course, they make mistakes , and sometimes the English used by people as a foreign language on the Internet is almost incomprehensible to anyone else. In addition, people who use English as their native language do not know how to spell difficult words, since they basically know English as a spoken language.
Thus, roughly speaking , the universal language on the Internet is clumsy , coarse and misspelled ‘English’.
Why is it so ?
Generally speaking, when a language has got the position of a universal language, the position tends to be affirmed and extended by itself. Since ‘everyone’ knows and uses English , people are almost forced to learn English and use it , and learn it better.
Researchers all over the world know English and use it a lot , and often the relevant terminology is more stable and well-known in English than in our own language.
In the news system, the position of English is regarded as so obvious that people who post non-English articles typically get flamed quickly. The universal language’s position, once gained, tends to be strong. But how is such a position gained ?
During the history of mankind , there have been several more or less universal languages or lingua francas , such as Greek , Latin, French and English . Universality is of course relative ; it means universality in the ‘known world’ or ‘civilized world’ or just in a large empire. No language has been really universal (global) but the current position of English comes closest. The position of a universal language has always been gained as a by-product of some sort of imperialism : a nation has conquered a large area and more or less assimilate it into its own culture, including language, thus forming an empire. Usually the language of conqueror has become the language of the state and the upper class first, then possibly spread over the society, sometimes almost wiping out the original languages of the conquered areas. Sometimes, especially in the Middle Age , the imperialism has had a definite cultural and religious nature which may have been more important than brute military and economic force.
As regards to the English language , it would have remained as a national language of the English, had it not happened so that the English first conquered the rest of the British Isles , than many other parts of the world. Later , some English colonies in a relatively small part of America rebelled , formed the United States of America, and expanded a lot. They formed a federal state where a variant of the English language was one of the few really uniting factors. And that federal state became , as we all know, wealthy and important. It also exercised traditional imperialism, but more importantly it gained a very important role in world economy and politics. Whether you call the US influence imperialism or neo-imperialism is a matter of opinion, but it certainly has similar effects on maintaining and expanding the use of English as classical imperialism.
Effects of the importance of the Internet and English
The importance of the Internet grows rapidly in all fields of human life , including not only research and education but also marketing and trade as well as entertainment and hobbies. This implies that it becomes more and more important to know how to use Internet services and, as a part of this, to read and write English.
Of course, the majority of mankind cannot use the Internet nowadays or in the near future , since they live in countries which lack the necessary economical and technological infrastructure. But the Internet causes polarization in developed countries , too : people are divided into Internet users and Internet illiterates , and as the use of the Internet grows and often replaces traditional methods of communication, the illiterates may find themselves in an awkward position.
Learning to use a new Internet service or user interface may take a few hours , a few days , or even weeks , but it takes years to learn language so that you can use it in a fluent and self-confident manner.
In different countries and cultures , English has different positions . There are countries where English is the native language of the majority , there are countries where English is a widely known second language , and there are countries where English has no special position. Globally, English is necessary for living on the Internet.
An official language for the Internet ?
There is no conceivable way in which any authority could define an official language for the Internet. The Internet as a whole is not controlled by anyone or anything , and this could only change if , by miracle, all countries made an agreement on it or the entire world were taken to the control of one government. Thus, if the question ‘whether or not English should be made the universal language of the Internet ‘ is interpreted as concerning the official status of English, the answer is simply that English or any other language cannot be made the official universal language.
But can things change ?
Things can change , and they actually do, often with unpredictable speed. The rapid fall of the Soviet empire-including the loss of the role of Russian as a ‘universal’ language within in – is a recent indication of this.
English can lose its position as a widely used (although not official) universal language in two ways. Either a new empire emerges and its language becomes universal, or a constructed language becomes very popular. Many people believe that there are two possible empires to emerge : the European Union and a yet nonexistent Japanese-Chinese empire.
The European Union is an existing formation which is, at least according to its own doctrine, moving towards federalism. In many respects, the European Union already is a federal state, with less independence and autonomy for its constituents than the states have in the United States. Although people may present as the successor of previous empires such as the Roman Empire and the empire of Charlemagne , it is quite possible that the EU never becomes a real empire, since it seems to be inherently bureaucratic. Every empire needs a bureaucracy of course , to promote the aims of its ruler(s) but the EU lacks true rulers. But if the EU ever becomes a true empire with prominent role in the world, the language of the empire will hardly be any of the national languages in the EU , except possibly English. It is more probable that the builders of the empire will realize the need for a relatively neutral universal language , and adopt Esperanto or some other constructed language for official purposes. In fact, such a choice would be extremely rational at the present stage of EU, since now a considerable portion of EU expenses are used for translation and interpretation between the official languages of the EU. A single official language of the EU might or might not be adopted by people worldwide as a universal language for everyday communication, including communication on the Internet.
Japan is probably too small , both as a country and as a nation , to create an empire with its own forces , despite its flourishing technology and economy and efficient social organization. But its potential combined with the vast human and other resources of China would certainly constitute a basis for an empire that successfully competes with the United States and the European Union.
A Japanese-Chinese empire would have a difficult choice of language . It might decide to accept the role of English as a universal language , both for continuity and for the reason that selecting either Japanese or Chinese (Mandarin) would set the Japanese-Chinese union at stake. Alternatively, it might seriously consider using a constructed language –most probably not Esperanto but a language which is culturally more neutral i.e not dominantly Indo-European ; for instance something like Loglan or Lojban.
A constructed international language ?
Internet users think it would be highly desirable to have a constructed language for international communication. It is well known that a large number of attempts to that effect have been made, with little results.
The very idea is not inherently unrealistic , but it can only be realized if strong economical and political interests are involved , such as the independent creation of a European or Japanese-Chinese empire. The best that the advocates of a constructed international language can wish is that such empires emerge and that the United States remain as an important power , so that the world will have a few strong empires which cannot beat each other but must live in parallel and in cooperation.
An alternative : machine translation
An alternative view of the future is that after a few years or decades, no universal language is needed: machine translation will allow you to use your own language. During the last few decades, quite a lot of predictions and even promises have been presented regarding machine translation, but useful software and systems for it have not been available until recently.
This has caused disappointments and pessimism to the extent that many people consider machine translation as definitely unrealistic.
Actually, machine translation is operational for a wide range of texts, although corrective actions by human translators may be necessary. Corrections are needed to resolve ambiguities which exist due to the limitation of the software and to fix errors caused by the fact that translation of human languages requires extra linguistic information .
Machine translation and constructed international languages are alternative but not mutually exclusive solutions to the problem of communication between people with different native languages. A constructed language might form the basics of a semantics-oriented machine translation system. A constructed language , specifically designed to allow exact and unambiguous expression might be more suitable than any other living language.
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