Language of the Day: English, lingua franca to the modern world


Our first Language of the Day had to be dedicated to English, not only because of its c.360 million native speakers and from 470 to a billion second language speakers worldwide, but especially because of its status as lingua franca of the 21st century. The language of science and business, English is used as common language for all type of human interaction around the world.

History shows us that human groups have used a common language in different moments, especially for the purposes of trade. In the Ancient world in Europe it was Greek. The “koiné” dialect (meaning “common” in Greek), was used to refer to the form of Greek used as a lingua franca during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Also Latin was used as a lingua franca in all over the Roman Empire. Spanish and Portuguese also had this function in the 17th Century, same as French. Arabic came to be lingua franca in the Arab world before the Crusades and during the Middle Ages, and it still keeps that status in Asia and Africa . In East Africa it is Swahili, in the old soviet republics, Russian, and in a big part of Asia, Chinese. In some countries with a lot of language variety, one language functions as national language and lingua franca; this is the case, for instance of Pakistan and Urdu.

English is a Germanic language of the greater Indo-European language family. It was brought to England by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century and it substituted the Celtic languages spoken in the territory. The language was influenced by Old Norse though the Viking invasions (9th-10th centuries), and especially by French from the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. English borrowed many words from Norman French, directly from French in subsequent centuries, and also from Latin, which was the lingua franca of the European intellectual life and of the Christian Church. It is the Germanic language with a greater influence of the Latin languages, since around 50% of its vocabulary is derived either from Latin, Anglo-Norman, or French.

Now, English is an official language in 54 countries, 27 non-sovereign entities and organizations such as the United Nations, the NATO, the European Union and the Commonwealth of Nations.

English is also the language in the FX business, and its vocabulary is used as neologisms or borrowings in many other  languages, from Spanish to Chinese. Since some languages are more permeable to such influence than others, we will devote a series of articles to how English FX terminology is borrowed or adapted in the different languages.

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