The property essential for language spread in the Americas had been the propensity for speakers to settle and raise large families, so displacing local peoples, who were thinly spread and technically less developed. Something else must have proved telling in southern Asia, which is home to massive populations long used to foreign traders, and where few of the incomers would ever settle permanently. Especially to the British, India and their other Asian colonies were always places for careers, not lives-for postings, not family homes. More than other conquerors, they remained reserved and distant in their control.
What unites English with Portuguese early on is that each of the two enjoyed a wide and permanent spread as an everyday language of colonists in the Americas. But around southern Asia each language also expanded, ultimately used more among the local population than by the relatively few sailors, merchants and soldiers who came there from Europe. Paradoxically, the British left their mark on these mark on these parts of Asia in their language, far more indelibly, as it now appears, than any known previous invader.
The parallel with Portuguese breaks down when the role of the languages in trade is considered. When the English East India Company acquired its crucial bases in India-Madras (1654), Bombay (1668) and Calcutta (1690)-the effective lingua franca was still very much Portuguese, `the language that most Europeans learn first to qualify them for general converse with one another, as well as with different inhabitants of India'. (In the 1990s these first centres of government for British India, have been renamed: as Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata.)
The company stocked two hundred Portuguese dictionaries, and every branch office, or `factory', had a Portuguese linguist, even if the directors in London wrote to Bombay requiring local translation of paperwork because `the Portuguese spoken in India differed so much from that spoken in Portugal 1.40 More informally, much-business was done in what the Indians called Feringhee, an informal pidgin of European languages: by the end of the seventeenth century, Portuguese, Danish, French, Dutch and English all had factories within a radius of 10 miles in Bengal. English was at this time usable only among the company's own agents, and never became a lingua franca for trade. In practice, business was usually done through the mediation of a bilingual Indian trader, known as banyan in Calcutta and Bombay, dubash in Madras.
It is also clear that until the nineteenth century higher-level dealings with Indian authorities, above all the Mughal government, were conducted in Persian.The Mughals had brought Persian to India in the sixteenth century as their language of culture, although their ordinary sipâhi ('sepoy') spoke Turkic. There is something strangely analogous to the Norman conquest of England here, with Persian in the role of French, and Delhi's vernacular, developing into `Urdit' under Persian influence, in the role of English. In this sense Urdu, literally 'language of the camp', was the distinctive linguistic creation of the Mughals in India. And it was this, not English, which was to become the major language of the British Indian Army.
Company agents could become fluent in it, although they retained the services of a munshi, a combined interpreter, translator, secretary and language tutor. A paragon of such expertise was Antoine-Louis Henri Polier, a Frenchman in the English company's service and a friend of Warren Hastings, who published his Persian correspondence in the late eighteenth century. This shows him highly accomplished, too, in the courtly style that went with the language. Characteristically, the work is called I jaz-i Arsalani, the 'wonderment of Arsalân', alluding to the author's own Persianate title, Arsalan-i-Jang, `lion of battle', bestowed by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam himself. In their Introduction, p. 70, the modem translators point out Polier's classic approach to a dispute between his two Indian wives, threatening one mother-in-law while appealing to her sense of shame for her daughter. Polier went on to marry a third wife after his return to France in 1788.
On this basis the real question is: how did English ever spread in India at all beyond the transplanted society of the `writers' (i.e. clerks) of the East India Company, and British regiments serving in the country? The situation, after all, was almost identical with that of the contemporary Dutch in the East Indies, with Persian cast in the role of Malay, Urdu as Javanese, and Portuguese as its very own self. And as we have seen, after a first half-hearted attempt to teach their own language, the Dutch had contented themselves with the linguistic status quo: Dutch never became the language of any but the colonial rulers in the Dutch East Indies. If this pattern had been followed, Persian would have remained the preferred common language of India to the present day.
And there was an extra motive in the back of British minds which drained any enthusiasm for wider use of their native language in India. As a member of the British Parliament put it in 1793: “We have lost our colonies in America by imparting our education there; we need not do so in India too”( S. N. Mukherjee, History of Education in India, 1961, p. 30).
This loss was very fresh in memories in the late eighteenth century: Lord Cornwallis, the very general who had delivered the British surrender to George Washington in 1781, went on to become governor-general of Bengal from 1786 to 1793. Settler communities of Europeans, if they became well established, might follow the American example, and look for independence on their own terms. On this reasoning, India must remain a foreign country, albeit one kept open reliably for British business; it should not be a new British home. Richard Wellesley, governor-general from 1797, wrote to the chairman of the Board of Control in 1799:
... with relation to powers of banishing Europeans from the British possessions in India ... those powers appear to me still to be too limited. The number of persons not in the company's service resident in these provinces, as well as in all parts of the British empire in India, increases daily. Among these are to be found many characters, desperate from distress, or from the infamy of their conduct in Europe. Their occupations are principally ... at Calcutta, the lowest branches of the law, the establishment of shops and taverns, or of the places of public entertainment, or the superintendepce of newspapers ... Amongst all these persons, but particularly the tribe of editors of newspapers, the strongest and boldest spirit of Jacobinism prevailed...
In Madras, the evil resulting from Europeans not in the Company's service is still greater. The advisers of the nabob of the Carnatic, as well as the principal instruments of his opposition to the British government, and of his oppressions over his own subjects, are almost exclusively to be found among that class of Europeans.
British settlement in India, then, apart from activities directly sponsored by the company, was not even seen as desirable by the British authorities. From 1757 to 1856, Kampani Sahib, as it was known, proceeded to expand its financial, political and military control first across Bengal to Delhi, then across the Deccan, and finally to most of what is now India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. The one thing the company hardly spread at all was a body of speakers of its own directors' language.
In the end, the wider spread of English was begun not by the East India Company, but by British Protestant missionaries. Comparing this with the role of missions in the spread of Spanish points up another irony. The Church's solution was a “The lenguas generales”, the Spanish missions had served to retard the spread of Spanish, while the state was inclined to encourage it. In Brazil, something similar had occurred. But in British India, the effects of Church and state-or state monopoly-were the reverse of this.
The company was in general suspicious of missionary involvement in its domains, on much the same grounds-and with better evidence-as those on which they shunned other Europeans. The bloody mutiny of their Indian troops in Vellore, near Madras, in 1806 was associated with rants by one Claudius Buchanan on Hindu indifference to Christianity, demanding `every means of coercing this contemptuous spirit of our native subjects'; in 1808 the company had speedily to suppress a tract put out by the Baptist Mission Press in Serampore (Srirampur), near Calcutta, `Addressed to Hindus and Mahomedans'.44 India has long been a dangerous place for pressing a religious point, and the company was sensitive to this hazard, which could be highly damaging to trade.
Nevertheless, there had been churchmen at the company's settlements from the earliest days. Early on, they had had to work in Portuguese, like everyone else, a requirement made explicit in the company's renewed charter of 1698; “All Ministers shall be obliged to learn within one year after their arrival the Portuguese language and shall apply themselves to learn the native language of the country where they shall reside, the better to enable them to instruct the Gentoos that shall be the servants or the slaves of the company, or of their agents, in the Protestant Religion” (J. W. Kaye, The Administration of the East India Company, 1853, p. 626).
But soon they began to found English-language schools, primarily for children-often orphans-of company employees and servants: at Madras in 1715, Bombay in 1719, and Calcutta in 1731. The schools grew in attendance, then multiplied, and became centres of access to English, with attached printing presses and libraries. It was clear to anyone that English influence and power were growing massively throughout the eighteenth century: not surprisingly, ambitious Indian parents increasingly tried to obtain for their children knowledge of English, to share in this growth. Around 1780 the raja of Ramnad (Ramanathapuram) sent his own son to Schwartz's missionary school at Tanjore (Thanjavur), south of Madras.
As the actions of the East India Company were more and more subjected to scrutiny and control in London, patronizing attitudes-often shared by such influential reformers as Charles Grant, William Wilberforce and James Mill-were becoming the motive force of policy. In 1813 the House of Commons resolved that `it is the duty of this Country to promote the interests and happiness of the native inhabitants of the British dominions in India, and that measures ought to be introduced as may tend to the introduction among them of useful knowledge, and of religious and moral improvement(Parliament Debate 1813 , 26: 562-3.)
In the nineteenth century, as British political control expanded and hardened in India, the old laissez-faire business ethic in dealing with the natives, which had entailed a robust mutual respect, was increasingly replaced by an unashamed belief in European superiority, coupled with a duteous endeavour to bring up `the dark race' to the moral and intellectual level of the Godearing Briton.
The company's Charter Act of 1813 included the provision that `a sum of not less than a lac ,100,000, of rupees in each year shall be set apart and applied to the revival and improvement of literature and the encouragement of learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories in India...' But at this stage the company's traditional distrust of missionary priorities was still effective: the funding was explicitly aimed at `fostering both Oriental and Occidental science ... a reliable counterpoise, a protecting backwater against the threatened deluge of missionary enterprises (Selections from Educational Records I ,H. Sharp, 1920, p. 22) The decision on how this small sum was to be applied turned out to be crucial for the language history of the subcontinent.
The missionaries' wish to give priority to the English language was all the time gathering support from the home government, and at last from the Indians themselves. In the late eighteenth century the company, following popular urging, had founded a number of prestige colleges for the acquisition of Indian learning: for Muslims the Calcutta Madrassa in 1781, for Hindus the Benares Sanskrit College in 1791, and for incoming civil administrators from Britain the Fort William College in Calcutta in 1800. All of these had some classes conducted in English; and Fort William had little else. In the early nineteenth century spontaneous foundations were also made by eminent citizens, notably in 1817 the Hindu College of Calcutta, for `the cultivation of the Bengalee and English languages in particular; next, the Hindustanee tongue ... ; and then the Persian, if desired, as ornamental general duty to God'.Ram Mohan Roy, who is considered its presiding genius, was a scholar of Sanskrit and Arabic, but vociferous in his appeals for greater access to English.
... we understand that the Government in England had ordered a considerable sum of money to be annually devoted to the instruction of its Indian subjects. We were filled with Sanguine hopes that this sum would be laid out in employing European gentlemen of talents and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences, which the natives of Europe have carried to a degree of perfection that has raised them above the inhabitants of other parts of the world... We now find that the Government are establishing a Sanskrit school under Hindoo pundits to impart such knowledge as is clearly current in India. (Ram Mohan Roy's letter to Lord Amherst, 11 Dec. 1823).
Several new government colleges were also founded, often in oriental disciplines, but under pressure from London the oriental ones were offered various inducements to improve their English-language instruction. Then in the early 1830s came catastrophic falls in the enrolments for all non-English subijects, and corresponding surges for English. A public meeting in 1834 protested against patronage of the classical languages, and in favour of English and the vernaculars. (Samachar Darpan, 23 April 1834)
In this context, the General Committee of Public Instruction made its longdelayed decision on how to spend the company's annual lakh of rupees to promote literature and knowledge. Reversing their previous preference, which had followed the hints in the charter, for native learning (and the translation of European scientific texts into Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian), they decided on 7 March 1835 that “the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India; and that all the funds appropriated for the purposes of education, would be best employed on English education alone” (Alexander Duff New Era of the English Language and Literature in India, Edinburgh,1837: 3)
This decision, although still controversial at the time, proved fateful. This was the very period when British academic studies of India's history were making giant strides: between 1835 and 1837 James Prinsep, Assay Master at the mint, and secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, succeeded in deciphering the Brahmi writing of the emperor Asoka's third-century uc inscriptions, and so unlocked the central story of the Maurya dynasty. (See: sanskrit.html) James's brother Henry Thoby, then Chief Secretary to the government, had spoken out eloquently against Macaulay's minute, possibly even leaking it and so providing the basis for a petition from eight thousand Muslims and another from Hindus. James, in an editorial in the Asiatic Society's Journal, condemned “a measure which has in the face of all India withdrawn the countenance of the Government from the learned natives of the country, and pronounced a verdict of condemnation and abandonment on its literature” (Quoted in Charles Allen, The Buddha and the Sahibs, 2002: 166-7).
The number of the government's English-language schools more than doubled within three years of the English Education Act (Duff ,1837: App., p. 2) This was just the beginning. When in 1857 universities were founded in the classic three British cities, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, English would be their language. of instruction. And this educational preference was simultaneously reinforced in 1835 by a regulation that English was to replace Persian as the official state language and the medium of the higher courts of law, with lower courts using the local vernacular. Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian had hitherto kept a half-practical value, comparable to the survival of Latin into early modem Europe: henceforth, like Latin after the Enlightenment, they would be consigned to purely classic status, symbols of heritage rather than vehicles of learning and research. And English, which had been little more than the mark of a foreign ruling caste, was now going to serve as the means for opening the whole subcontinent to foreign traditions of culture.
The basic language balance had been struck, and it persisted in India through to independence in 1947. And in practice, although English is now classed as an Associate Official language of India, theoretically inferior to the eighteen official vernaculars, it has persisted right up to the present day. English is universal in South Asia as the lingua franca of the educated: how many actually know it is harder to say, with estimates over the past twenty years rising from 3 per cent to 30 per cent of Indians, but fewer in the other states of the region .See David Crystal, English as a Global Language (2nd edn), Cambridge University Press. 2003: 46.
In his summary of world English-speaking populations, Crystal plumps for about 19 per cent of Indians in 2001 (200 million), but 12 per cent of Pakistanis (17 million), 10 per cent of Sri Lankans (1.9 million), and barely 3 per cent of Bangladeshis (3.5 million). He also offers some surprising estimates for some of the other countries, suggesting that 45 per cent of Nigerians, and 84 per cent of Liberians, speak English. These may well reflect the number who have received some English-language education, since the literacy levels in these countries are rather high. But Crystal's explicit reason is the prevalence of English-based pidgins and creoles.
Another long-term influence that favoured English, especially in the south, was the absence of any other useful lingua franca: Britain's domain had always included the south of the country, and went on to encompass the whole subcontinent; but Persian or Hindi-Urdu were never acceptable south of the old Mughal boundary. If India, especially a democratic India, is to stay united, it needs a common language that seems neutral, or at least equally oppressive to all.
Thus two means to the spread of English-what we may call American sweep-aside and Indian re-education-were to be applied, one or the other, across the whole British empire as it expanded to cover a quarter of the earth. Revealingly, the choice was correlated as much with climate as population: the typical-and ultimately most influential-settler is a farmer, and European farmers only really know temperate-zone crops. In temperate colonies, above all Australia and New Zealand, British long-term settlers became a majority of the population, and so English became the principal language. But in the tropics, where British activities were restricted to government, trade and commercial exploitation, the spread of English was more superficial, affecting local elites, and those in contact with British power centres, through school education and gradual recruitment of the locals into British government and enterprise: this was the pattern in most of the Asian colonies Burma, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah.
In the sweep-aside countries (English law, especially as applied in Australia, has a revealing quasi-synonym for this: terra nullius, literally `land belonging to nobody'), the action was concentrated in the nineteenth century. Australia is estimated to have accommodated 300,000 people (speaking two hundred languages) when the British began arriving in the 1790s; by 1890 they were down to 50,000 (with 150 languages left). Their population had always been concentrated in the south-east, just as the English speakers are today: that is where there is water. In the same period, English speakers went from nil to 400,000 by 1850, and nearly 4 million by 1900. As in the Americas, after the first few years no serious effort was made to accommodate the Aboriginals, let alone learn any of their languages; even the missionaries were rather unsuccessful in making non-destructive contact.
In New Zealand, although the British found it in 1770 held by a single people speaking a single language, Maori, a similar story ultimately played out. After the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi was struck between the Maori and Britain, British immigration took off, growing twelvefold in the following decade, from 2000 to 25,000 by 1850. In the next half-century, their population grew thirtyfold again, now boosted by big families, as well as an unceasing flood of hopeful new settlers: by 1900 it had reached 750,000. In the same nineteenth century, Maori numbers sank from well over 100,000 to 42,000. They may have had the advantage of knowing the country for a millennium before the British arrived; but they could not contend with European diseases, and above all the productivity of European farm animals, cattle and sheep, evolved to thrive on temperate grasslands. They put up a bitter fight, but like the Australian Aboriginals, they were swept aside.
Both Australian Aboriginal and Maori populations have rebounded in the late twentieth century, but their proportions in their own countries remain tiny: 170,000 a little less than 1 per cent Australians are now reckoned to be of Aboriginal descent (47,000 0.03 per cent-with some knowledge of an Aboriginal language), and there are now over 310,000 Maori-8 per cent of New Zealanders-of whom some 70,000 speak the language, 1.8 per cent. They are simply engulfed by the modem English-speaking nations of Australia (18.5 million) and New Zealand (3.8 million) in which they still struggle to survive.
Farther north, English speakers came in earnest to South-East Asia only in 1786, when the English East India Company acquired Penang, a small island just off Kedah, largely as a base for naval refitting.The company had attempted early on ,1612-22, to set up agencies for spice trading at Patani (in Halmahera, the far east of Indonesia) and Ayutthaya, then capital of Siam, and in 1669 for tin at Kedah in the Malay peninsula, but they had always been expelled by the Dutch.
Lord Cornwallis was still governor-general at the time, as keen as ever to avoid settlement, and above all any political involvement. But one thing led to another; the British kindly stewarded the Dutch empire from 1795 to 1814, while its metropolis was occupied by the French, and in the meantime Penang gained a mercantile life of its own, eclipsing the ancient entrepôt of Malacca. The British lieutenantgovernor, Sir Stamford Raffles, who had opposed return of the Dutch colonies, felt that Penang, lying outside the Straits, was not quite right to protect the burgeoning trade (largely in opium) between India and China. Through an act of diplomatic legerdemain, installing there a Malay sultan who had been slighted by the Dutch, he was able to acquire Singapore for Britain in 1819. It was then a fairly small settlement, but the population instantly went up to five thousand, and began to develop as the new major entrepôt.
Subsequent intrigues and wars, always undertaken by the British with an eye to the commercial main chance, resulted in British political control being extended to the whole of Burma (1853-86), Malaya (1883-95) and the northern region of Borneo (1888). As icing on the cake, Britain also acquired its own base in China, Hong Kong (1848, enlarged in 1860 and 1898). The linguistic effect was extension of English for law and administration, all over these parts of South-East and East Asia. Others soon saw which way the language wind was blowing: the Straits Times of Singapore began publication in 1845 (current circulation 386,000, for a national population of 3 million), and the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong in 1903 (circulation 200,000, for a population of 6 million).
Nowadays, knowledge of English is still a mark of the elite in all the successor states of the British colonies. It is often difficult to know what proportion of the people speak it. Its status has become politically controversial in Malaysia since independence in 1957; there is an active policy to 'standardise' on Malay in education, but as in India, English is popular with the large minorities, here Chinese- and Tamil-speaking, who feel threatened by this. In Burma (or, to use its more ancient name, Myanmar) use of English is nowadays not readily admitted by government sources. Its future in Hong Kong, since 1997 returned to mainland China, is obscure, but a survey in 1992 suggested that over 25 per cent had some competence in it. In Singapore, a 1975 survey put competence among the over-forties at 27 per cent, but among fifteen-to-twenty-year-olds at over 87 per cent (Crystal,2003: 57).
In Africa, there were no major European settlements until the nineteenth century, except for those of the Portuguese and Dutch. But when the scramble for colonies had exhausted the available territory, the spread of English in British possessions followed the re-education pattern as against sweep-aside. The temperate parts of South Africa did attract large numbers of white settlers, but they tailed off as British territory extended northward; the Bantu population, who were fairly recent arrivals themselves, held their ground well. As a result we find 3.5 million English speakers in South Africa, 9.1 per cent of the population, but even grouping together the English and Afrikaans speakers, a million of them mutually bilingual, they amount only to 22 per cent. Farther north, the percentage of native English speakers-essentially white citizens-is far less, 3 per cent in Zimbabwe, 0.5 per cent in Zambia. English is a more significant secondary language in East Africa; there are ew native speakers, but 5 per cent of Tanzanians, Kenyans and Ugandans use it, despite the availability of Swahili as an alternative lingua franca. This, of course, is a figure very comparable to countries of Asia that accepted reeducation; and in all these countries, as in so many Asian ones, English remains as an official language.
The other major area of old British colonies in Africa is the west, from Cameroon out out along the coast to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. In this area also is Liberia, another country with English-speaking links, but in this case through its foundation as a preserve for freed slaves from the United States of America. They all have different histories; but they share the fact that their climate has always discouraged white settlement. All define English as an official language, but it appears that only a smallish minority of their populations, again in the region of 5 per cent, are actually speakers. Since all the countries are highly multilingual, another widespread means for communication is the use of English-based creoles, such as Nigerian Pidgin in Nigeria, Krio in Ghana, Liberian English in Liberia (Crystal,2003: 62-5).
The last major area for expansion of English was into the islands dotted across the Pacific. British colonisation of this area came rather later than the French: Fiji in 1874, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1892, the Solomons in 1893, Tonga in 1900. New Guinea's western half was reserved by the Dutch, but Germany and Australia claimed the rest in 1884. Like many German colonies in Africa, this one fell into British hands after the German defeat in the First World War, but in this case the hands were specifically Australian. At the same time, the German (western) half of Samoa was assigned to New Zealand. In the New Hebrides, British missionaries and French planters shared control from 1887.
None of these territories was of great interest to British imperial strategists, except in some notional competition with French influence; the islanders in general were left to the shifting mercies of whale and sea-slug hunters, sandalwood cutters, the cultivators of sugar cane, cotton and coconut, and of course missionaries. One result was the temporary recruitment of large gangs of South Sea Islanders to work on plantations in Queensland, Fiji and Samoa, where they learnt to communicate in pidgin English. Another was a vast infusion of Indians into Fiji to engage in sugar planting and processing, so that now close to half its population speak a form of Hindi. But as a long-term result of all those indentured workers, the South Pacific has become a prime area for English-based creoles, and two of them are now accepted as official languages: Tok Pisin is the language of Papua New Guinea, independent since 1975, and Bislama of Vanuatu (once the New Hebrides), independent since 1980. These creoles are very different from the English spread by missionaries. Anyway, the communities that speak this English are all very small minorities in their countries, as one would expect where the language has been spread by re-education.
English was also coming to the Pacific islands from the opposite direction. Since the early nineteenth century Hawaii had been a winter harbour for whalers, and from 1820 it became the focus of interest for fifteen companies of missionaries from New England. US businessmen were also increasingly active, perhaps looking for a new frontier after the fulfilment of their country's `Manifest Destiny'; they were the main beneficiaries of a land division organised in 1848-50. For a short time, Hawaiian independence survived, balanced among the contending interests of Britain, France and the USA. But American pressure was unabating: a special treaty of reciprocity was struck in 1875, the Hawaiian monarchy was deposed in 1893, and in 1898 the whole archipelago was annexed to the USA.
In 1896 one of the first acts of the Hawaiian republic, formed briefly after the fall of the monarchy, was to require English as medium of instruction for no less than half the school day; but in practice no Hawaiian at all was allowed. In that generation, the transmission of the language from parent to child stopped dead. One grandmother told her granddaughter before her first day of school: Learn well the language of the whites. Do not rely on our language, there's no value there. One's future well-being is dependent upon mastering the language of the foreign people. (See P. Bairoch 1982 is `International Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980', Journal of European Economic History, 11, and F. Crouzet 1982 in The Victorian Economy, London.)
This sounds like particularly harsh re-education, but in fact Hawaii conforms at least as well to the sweep-aside model: by 1996, with the population now standing at 112 million, only 18.8 per cent were ethnic Hawaiians, and half of these had les's than 50 per cent Hawaiian ancestry. Outside the one small island of Niihau, everyone on the islands is now at least bilingual in English, and the vast majority know no other language.
In the same year of 1898, the USA took the Philippines and Guam forcibly from Spain in a flush of imperialist glee ; and a year later they also enforced their own solution to a long-standing dispute over Samoa, taking the eastern half of the archipelago.
Appart from the political there was also an economic aspect in reverse, students in India and elsewhere, had usually been impressed by the material benefits of British methods than the imperishable rewards promised by the Protestant missionaries. The prestige of English in the nineteenth century was elevated to the skies through the same process that had made French the leading language of European culture throughout the Middle Ages and the early modem period. At root, the thought was: `if you're so rich, how can you not be smart?'
France had had a good natural endowment of fertile farmland and abundant labour on which to found this, but Britain had had quite a modest starting capital. In the early seventeenth century, when the British had first turned up in the East Indies, and tried to get involved in the spice trade, their main problem had been the lack of goods for which there was any local demand. But now, after over two centuries of trading, finagling, shipbuilding and warring, their capital and influence gave them access to pretty much anything they might desire: as the economist Stanley Jevons crowed in 1865:
The plains of North America and Russia are our corn fields; Chicago and Odessa our granaries; Canada and the Baltic our timber-forests; Australasia contains our sheepfarms, and in Argentina and on the western prairies of North America are our herds of oxen; Peru sends her silver, and the gold of South Africa and Australia flows to London; the Hindus and the Chinese grow tea for us, and our coffee, sugar and spice plantations are in all the Indies (W. S. J. Jevons, The Coal Question, London: Macmillan, 1865.).
Britain, as a power, was going to find that some of these other powers, especially one in North America, would have a tendency to shift the terms of trade against it; but this was no loss to the English-language community; if anything it was a net gain when the English-speaking inhabitants of America began to look beyond their own domain, and use their resources, in fertile fields, in productive mines, and in a highly educated and massive population, for schemes, of their own devising.
Amid the general splurge of galloping wealth creation, there was a particular surge in the power and speed of communications. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed progress that was unheard of, first in inventing, and then in speedily applying, all over the world, systems for transport of people and merchandise. Perhaps even more impressive is the parallel progress made, largely using electronics, in systems to transmit and store all sorts of information. A hundred and fifty years from 1830 takes us from the first railway engine through the steamboat to mass-market air transport, and from telegraph through the telephone to global broadcasts of radio and television, as well as the first approaches to effective computer networks. In the same period, means were found to store, and to access at will, all kinds of sounds, including speech and music, visual scenes and pictures, and views of events and actions as they took place. Any one of these would have had the potential to transform the world in an earlier age; but in this age, when humanity's dreams of magical powers came true, they all came together.
Almost every one of these new technologies was invented by a speaker of English-Stephenson, Fulton, Wright, Bell, Baird, Edison-or by a speaker perhaps of another language who had to work in the English-speaking world, as Marconi and Reuter had. And even when they were not-think of Benz's German internal combustion engine, or the French photograph and motion picture, due to pioneers such as Daguerre and Lumière-it was English-speaking developers, such as Henry Ford or the film-makers of Hollywood, who first demonstrated what could be done with the new media on a truly vast scale. This inevitably meant that the key talk about these achievements, how to replicate them and what was to be done with them, took place above all in English. For scientists and engineers, but crucially for businessmen, English has been the language in which the world's know-how is set out. Never since cuneiform writing set up Akkadian as the diplomatic language of the Near and Middle East has technology been so effective in spreading a language.
These triumphs in what is called `communications' all tend to reduce the time-taking and effort-costing effects of distances in the world. But they also tend to reduce the differences between the world as it is presented to distant people. Quite literally, they make certain descriptions of experience 'common' to more and more people. They make regional and international business routine, allow international contacts to involve the highest level of personnel, turn far-distant destinations into sites for brief visits, even holidays. But they also standardise the images and phrases that people carry in their memories, from advertising through entertainment to education; nowadays there are not only classic texts and works of art that we are taught to appreciate, but classic jingles, classic ads, classic kitsch, which we can't get out of our heads from one end of the country or one end of the world to another: and quite likely the words we remember will be in English, even if we are Hungarian, Balinese, South African or Mongolian.
The new technologies of communication have made possible new institutions too, institutions that exist above all to spin words, to decorate them and transmit them. Newspapers, magazines, film studios, cinemas, song-sheet publishers and recording companies, radio stations, television production companies, website designers: the list will no doubt continue long into the future. And within every medium, advertising-the supreme meta-product of the language media, acting as a kind of fertiliser or growth hormone, promoting distribution and sales of all these language-based products through its explicit content, even as its payments for space on the channels enable the communications media to cut their prices and reach farther; and at the same time, a major producer of language material in its own right. None of these new institutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is restricted to English-but they all became available first in English, and English has remained the biggest producer.
As the Portuguese found when they first gained a reputation for trade in the Indian Ocean, a national language need not remain restricted to its own nationals. Portuguese became the lingua franca of international trade-and indeed the Christian Church-in South and South-East Asia for ten generations and more, long after Portugal itself had yielded in influence to the Dutch and British. The same thing has happened to English, but on a global, rather than an oceanic, scale. So many people in different parts of the world were finding that they needed to deal with English speakers that their dealings began to overlap: non-natives, and even those without any direct connection to the English-speaking world, started using English among themselves, purely for their own convenience. In the words of the English proverb, `nothing succeeds like success', and the spread of a language is no exception. In the twentieth century English replaced French as the usual language for international conferences. The language of air traffic has always been (a restricted form of) English-unsurprising, perhaps, since aviation is a US invention; but English has anyway become the world's interlingua of choice. For 1996 it was estimated that 85 per cent of international associations made official use of English, and 33 per cent used nothing else. In Asia and the Pacific, 90 per cent of international organisations work only in English (Crystal 2003: 88). French was the runner-up in official use with 49 per cent; otherwise, only Arabic, Spanish and German achieved over 10 per cent.
And the English-speaking world, with its characteristic eye for a business opportunity, has converted this too into a paying proposition: English Language Teaching (ELT) has become not only a field of education, but-as in those early days in Bengal-a commercial service industry in its own right. Now it flourishes in almost every country of the world: if the ambient language is English, it must be a good place for the students to get plenty of practice; and if it is not, English must be an eminently desirable skill to learn. The influential philosopher James Mill (1773-1836) had once remarked that the imperial civil service was little more than `a vast system of outdoor relief for the upper classes' of Great Britain: ELT could be seen as a new answer to the same problem, though now the qualifications in background and nationality are a little less demanding than they were then.
This spread of English is harder to map geographically than the expansion of British colonies. In spirit, it follows in direct descent from the re-education policy that the British introduced in India. But the mechanism is almost pure diffusion, since-unlike in India-the language has travelled with very little presence of its native speakers. It is probably the best example of a language spread by the sheer prestige of the culture associated with it. Our previous examples have shown the possibility in principle, as when the Egyptian and Hittite courts of the fourteenth century BC corresponded in Akkadian, when the Cambodians and Javanese of the fifth century AD chose to inscribe their temples with literary Sanskrit, or when the Mughals, sweeping down into India from Afghanistan in the sixteenth century, preferred Persian to their native Turkic as their court language. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century vogue for French in eastern Europe, too, should be seen in this light. But the spread of English was the first time that a language and culture had simultaneously made themselves desirable to peoples all over the world, truly a unique event.
The worldwide take-up of English in the twentieth century, and particularly in its latter half after the Second World War, is mostly set down to the influence of the USA, its globally stationed armies and fleets, its outreaching commercial enterprises, and above all its ubiquitous films, pop music, TV shows, news media and computer software. Certainly, all these things have been significant, and mass enthusiasm for English-language culture is now focused on the products of the USA. Among the native speakers of English, the USA's 231 million are clearly the largest single group, four times the size of the UK's 60 million, and alone make up two-thirds of the global total.
Contrary to the census myth that English is the language of a microscopic minority, the poll indicates that almost one in three Indians claims to understand English, although less than 20 per cent are confident of speaking it.( Cited by David Graddol, The decline of the native speaker, 1999: 64). And arguably, the preferred brand of English now-to judge from accents fashionable outside their own regions-is General American, verging to African American Vernacular English; by contrast, the UK's current broadcast favourite of `Estuary English', a London-oriented alternative to the traditional Oxbridge `Received Pronunciation', is very much a local taste. Even today, location in the UK provides the best medial point from which to understand speakers of English from all over the world: US, South African, Caribbean, Indian, Singaporean and Australian varieties are all frequently heard on the British media, together with a range of UK regional dialects (notably Scots, Ulster, Newcastle, Liverpool, Yorkshire, Birmingham and cockney); all are assumed to be intelligible to a British audience. The USA, by contrast, has for over thirty years already applied dubbing or subtitles to films in the English of Australia.
But when the concern is the spread of language communities, bodies of people who can understand one another through a given language. In this sense, distinctions of accent are irrelevant until they threaten mutual understanding. And looked at historically, it is quite evident that the springboard from which English made its jump to global status was built far less on the recent exploits of Uncle Sam than on the adventures over the previous 350 years of John Bull.
We have to consider the growth of second-language speakers, since it is they who have dominated expansion of English use in the twentieth century: by the 1950s, all sizeable countries whose first language was English had already slowed the growth in their populations. For second-language speakers, a good estimate, or range of estimates, is provided by David Graddol's 1999 essay `The decline of the native speaker'. He identifies recent growth in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, growth that will almost certainly lead on to second-language speakers outnumbering native speakers within the next fifty years, if they don't already.
The levels persisting in ex-British colonies range between 2 per cent and 5 per cent, but are usually estimated to amount in total to around 200 million speakers. Other recent estimates put the rate much higher, as much as 20 per cent in India and Pakistan, 10 per cent in Bangladesh (India Today, 18 August 1997). Contrary to the census myth that English is the language of a microscopic minority, the poll indicates that almost one in three Indians claims to understand English, although less than 20 per cent are confident of speaking.
If these are correct, the total should already stand at 395 million. Contrast Latin America and sub Saharan Africa, where knowledge of English is clearly growing, but where Graddol estimates current percentages as no more than 1 per cent of the population (73 million, 43 million). In the very few parts of the world with significant use of English directly due to US influence, the proportions of people knowing it are 50 per cent in the Philippines (36 million), and 85 per cent in Liberia (2 million-although this last represents speakers of English creole). All in all, these English-speaking regions of non-British origin may represent a total of 152 million.
Already in this second-language-speaking part of the English world, then, it seems that the growth of British-origin English remains more significant than the radical effects of the US influence. But this leaves out of account what may currently be the fastest-growing area of second-language English, namely Europe. It is difficult to attribute this directly either to British or US influence; English was already widely used as a (then neutral) working language of the European Community before UK accession in 1971. But British English remains the majority option when English is taught in Europe.
It is purely a matter of definition whether European English should be considered as part of the foreign-language or the second-language domain, but it is clear that it has become the major working language of the European Union, as well as being widely used in commerce, industry and academia in northern European countries, particularly Scandinavia. Graddol's analysis of the European Union's Eurobarometer surveys from 1990 to 1998 suggests that English competence in Europe was high, but fairly static, until 1980, at under 20 per cent; it then perked up and since 1990 has begun to take off meteorically. It now stands at over 100 million, approaching a third of the European Union's population. The 42 million Continentals capable of taking part in an English conversation in 1950 grew to 60 million (18 per cent) over the thirty years to 1980; the figure had reached 80 million (21 per cent) by 1990 and 105 million (31 per cent) by 2000. Taking account of differing competence at different ages-in 1994, 10 per cent of the over-fifty-fives knew some English, but 55 per cent of those between fifteen and twenty-four--Graddol expects the numbers of English-speaking Continentals to peak around 190 million in 2030.
Robert Bums, wrote in,`To a
Louse', 1798; O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us. It wad frae monie a blunder free us An' foolish notion.
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us An' ev'n Devotion.
A language that links together a speech community, even a vast one like the global multitude who think and speak in English, is given its character not so much by its phonetics and phrasings as by the patterns of associations that have piled up on its words as they are transmitted down the generations. A language bespeaks a history-the history, of course, of those who have spoken it-and this is the main creator of its reputation abroad, as it is of its attractions to those who may want to learn the language, and so join its community. This is one reason why study of a language has long emphasised its literature, `the best that has been said and thought's using that language, as selected by its own tradition. But not all the experiences in a language's long memory may have been hallowed by good writing.
Looking back on the history of English as formative of its present character and reputation, memory can afford to be quite selective: the past before the sixteenth century of the Reformation and the beginnings of colonial expansion seems to have left only the very faintest of traces. But from that era on, the kinds of adventures that spread English, and which were prized most highly by many of its speakers, do have a certain consistency. English is associated with the quest to get rich, the deliberate acquisition of wealth, often by quite unprecedented and imaginative schemes. This quest has sometimes had to struggle with religious and civic conscience, and the glories of patriotism, but has largely been able to enlist them on its side. In general, it has been the ally, rather than the rival, of freedom of the individual. English has been, above all, a worldly language.
There is little left in English from the epoch before the arrival of the Germanic dialects that were destined to fuse into Anglo-Saxon: perhaps only the name Britain itself, from a presumably Gaulish term to describe the ancient Britons, `the figured ones', for their custom of body painting. Even older might be the name Albion, used in Greek c.300 BC, and still used in Gaelic to refer to Scotland, Alba: for this the only suggested etymology is pre-Indo-European, making it cognate with the Alps, and two ancient Roman cities called A lba: a truly ancient word for `highlands' ( Mario Citroni, in Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth , The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press.1999).
It is also just possible that some features seen in Irish English, such as `I'm after finishing my work' and `I saw Thomas and he sitting by the fire', imported from typical phraseology in Irish, are features that happen to go back to the language spoken here before the Celts even got here. Similar phraseology is after all found in Egyptian and the Semitic languages respectively, and one hypothesis to explain this, and much else, is that there was prehistoric trade among these regions.
The language, once established in Britain in the fifth century, found itself surrounded by Celtic to the west and the north. Celts could not stand against its advance at spear-point, but gradually forces bent on converting its speakers to Christianity converged from the north-west and south-east, finally meeting and ending the competition at the Synod of Whitby in 664, when King Oswy ruled in favour of the Roman tradition. English reacted well to the sophisticated missionaries of Roman Christianity, becoming actively literate, with translations frond Latin but also its own poetry and prose set down in books. Overlaid by French in the eleventh century, it suffered a setback to its literary life, but benefited from the invaders' military prestige in that it began to expand into all the remaining Celtic areas of both Britain and Ireland. Its life under French domination could perhaps be compared to the early years of Aramaic, submerged militarily by speakers of Akkadian from Assyria, but gradually replacing it as the empire's elite faced crises that shook its power structure. For the chivalrous romance of Norman French, the disrupting crises came as bubonic plague, which struck repeatedly in the fourteenth century, especially in towns and monasteries, and military severance of England and Wales from southern France. In the new dispensation, where feudal ties were dissolved and politics was firmly focused north of the Channel, English came into its own as the unifying language of the kingdom.
This long period, a full millennium, created the substance of English as we know it, but socially it was so different from the bourgeois life that followed that it has contributed little to the language's modem character. In the sixteenth century England's rulers began to conceive the country as an agency independent of, and in principle equal to, any power in Europe, secular or spiritual. In this period the foundation was also laid for the formal union with the outlying parts of the British Isles, Scotland and Ireland. The governance of the whole region was firmly in London's hands. At the same time, with the advent of printed books, the spelling and grammar of English became standardised. England, and English, was positioned for growth.
This growth, when it came, was based on sea power and commercial credit. Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the strength of the Royal Navy and the City of London became unassailable, and both enabled English to be projected around the world. As the language that settlers brought to North America, English simply persisted and spread: the colonies were self-sufficient, and grew at the expense of their neighbours. Not surprisingly, as they became richer they also became more self-confident and overbearing: they never had serious cause to revise their early, self-regarding, attitudes, especially since they could hardly fail to notice that whenever they came up against opposition, whether indigenous or from another colonial power, they came off best. A belief in `manifest destiny' could almost be seen as the lesson of experience.
In the other great overseas enterprise that spread English, the English East India Company-founded like Virginia at the beginning of the seventeenth century-business acumen was more to the fore. This enterprise was driven not by desperate or hopeful people committing their lives, but by rich people committing part of their capital. But as in the American colonies, the venturesome spirit of those engaged made it a success. Nonetheless, it did not begin seriously to spread English for the first two centuries. It was only when a more earnest spirit began to prevail at home, and the colonies taken for profit came to be seen as conferring a responsibility to uplift the less fortunate, that schools were founded actively to spread the intangible benefits of Britishness, starting with the language.
By this time a third stream of English-based enterprise was beginning to flourish, the host of ventures in ways to profit from fossil fuels and the sheer ingenuity that go under the name of the Industrial Revolution. This same revolution began the shrinking of the world, with news ever more available of achievements far away. English was from now on identified not only with self-regarding settlers and self-righteous governors but self-inventing and self-aggrandising entrepreneurs too: and so it became seen as a passport to self-improvement for ambitious people all over the world.
This progress of English contrasts in many ways with the careers of other world languages.
Compared with its contemporaries, the fellow European imperial languages, the advance of English is remarkably informal. With the exception of the state's first charter of a trading monopoly for the East India Company, and until the British parliament began to concern itself with policy in the nineteenth century, there is a sense of do-it-yourself. Maintenance of the Royal Navy became a state responsibility, after the glory days of profitable Caribbean piracy were over; but the actual activity of spreading English settlement, British business and indeed the Anglican word of God around the world was left up to private initiative.
This contrasts starkly with the mode of operation of Spain and Portugal, where individual conquistadores might open the way, but state involvement 'of viceroys, and the whole apparatus of state and Church, immediately followed; until the revolutions of the nineteenth century, all Spain's and Portugal's colonies were ruled by governors sent out directly from Europe. This made for strained relations, and a lack of solidarity, between the home governments and the criollos who had succeeded in establishing themselves abroad. The Romance-speaking settlers were not really trusted as representatives of their Catholic Majesties. In the early days, the allocation of land through encom ienda meant that they were at best leaseholders from the king; and as we have seen, many settlers' descendants in Peru adopted Quechua to emphasise their separateness from the European establishment.
In these circumstances, it is hard to say what the Spanish and Portuguese languages came to represent overseas: perhaps more than anything else, the continuing link with the Catholic Church-ironic, when we remember how the policies of the religious orders had delayed the spread of these languages in Latin America for hundreds of years. And for France, too, overseas expansion was under government control, ever since King François I had sent Jacques Cartier out to seek a North-West Passage in 1534. In the seventeenth century, Colbert had fretted over the non-expansion of the French language; but a century later, the French colonists on the ground had taken so little interest in de la Salle's explorations along the Mississippi, let alone effective occupation of them, that Napoleon volunteered to sell them, sight unseen, to the USA. All the colonies that the French acquired in the nineteenth century, from Algeria to Indochina, were taken by French arms for the glory of France: la gloire remained an active motive. At the same time France was clearly still a major force in the scientific civilisation that it promoted, so that use of French could be presented as a channel to modernity. Settlers did move into Algeria, but elsewhere the force that made the French colonies a reality-and so spread the use of French-was the central government. Apart from in Algeria and Indo-China, this centralised approach meant that withdrawal of French control, when it came in the 1960s, was surprisingly speedy and painless. What often remained was an affection for the French language, a symbol of la civilisation française, rational in aspiration, national in sentiment.
Given that Russian was spread over three centuries rather nakedly as a mark of the power of the Tsar's empire-of limited appeal to those not accepted as Russian-and that the twentieth-century attempt to convert it, after the fact, into a vernacular for `Scientific Socialism' collapsed with the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian language has something of an image problem. The heavy-handedness with which its materialism was asserted contrasted with the lighter touch of French rationalism, and the even-handedness of British pragmatism, and the open-handedness of American consumerism. Russian's associations with group effort and economic austerity are almost the converse of English's conjuring up of initiative and ingenuity by individuals, leading to wealth through enterprise.
English, as a quintessentially `worldly' tongue, can also be set against the atmospheres of world languages from a more distant past. Chinese and Egyptian, and indeed Greek and Latin in the ancient world, were all vehicles of civilisations that emphasised the value of the here and now, and at their best were able to provide a high standard of living to their citizens, as well as a degree of peace and security. Arabic and Sanskrit, by contrast, like Latin and Greek in the Christian era, were and are promoted by much more otherworldly cultures, focusing their speakers' aspirations on spiritual aims, and seeing their degree of visible success or gratification in daily life as only a small part of what is really important. Phoenician and Hebrew, though neither achieved great expansion, and both were as languages highly alike, are classic cases of language communities on opposite sides of this divide. As for languages such as Akkadian or Aramaic, Nahuatl or Quechua, we know too little about their contemporary societies to place them in this framework.
This difference of language culture is in our age very evident. In the early twenty-first century, the aspiration to learn English or Arabic has become distinctive for many young people all over the world. In the countries of western Asia and North Africa, Arabic Language Teaching has become a service industry seeking foreign customers, just like ELT in so many other parts of the world. English and Arabic are in some ways remarkably similar: both have a written history of about one and a half thousand years, have been spread around the world by speakers who often knew no other language, and have bodies of literature that freight them with associations many centuries old. But rare is the young person who strives to learn Arabic for Avicenna's philosophy, the stories of the Thousand and One Nights or the novels of Naguib Mahfouz; even rarer is one who struggles with English hoping to read the King James Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer. In our age, Arabic is for foreign learners the language of the Koran, English the language of modem business and global popular culture.