If you can understand these words, count yourself lucky. You are one of the privileged global citizens who can speak to someone anywhere on the planet. The English language has for quite some time between the language of choice in all matters of global commerce, science, politics and even pop culture. But, of the 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, how did English win that distinction?
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
Had the Roman empire maintained its control and dominance over Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa throughout the last millennium, the world would likely be speaking Latin or some form of it today. Had the outcome of WWII been any different, German might have been our official language. Many would claim that the popularity of English could only be explained by Britain’s global empire that spanned over 500 years. Since there were British colonies established on every inhabited continent on the planet, most notably in India, the North American colonies, Australia and Africa, English was spoken all over the world.
The British Empire began to fall in the 1940s when India claimed its independence. For decades after that, Britain’s claim over foreign land began to dwindle and shrink back into its own borders. Of all the colonized countries that Britain claimed for itself, only a few remain in its commonwealth today.
America Takes Centre Stage
As the sun set on the British Empire, America’s star was on the rise. Due to its bustling industry and that good old-fashioned gumption, the United States grew to be one of the biggest exporters in the world. The twentieth century was led by American innovation, science, culture and industry. It represented a new way of life for disenfranchised people all over the world who wanted to be released from Victorian ideals of class and social limitation. But when America entered the second world war in 1941, it quickly became clear to the world that a new Empire had taken over.
Today, America is the most powerful country in the world, while Great Britain ranks third. The US holds one of five permanent seats in the UN and is the leader of major industries. Its impact on society will be felt for millennia, and it is responsible for being the lingua franca of the global economy.
Unlike many empires that have risen to power and inevitably fallen, the US and Britain share a common language. English did not dissipate like British colonization, it only grew more widespread. One of the major influencers of the expansion of English is the world’s obsession with Hollywood and American pop culture. It is a driving force that not only keeps the planet entertained but also unified.
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