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World language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A world language (sometimes global language,[1]: 101  rarely international language[2][3]) is a language that is geographically widespread and makes it possible for members of different language communities to communicate. The term may also be used to refer to constructed international auxiliary languages such as Esperanto.[4]

English is the foremost, and by some accounts the only, world language. Other possible world languages are: Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish, although there is no clear academic consensus on the subject. Some authors consider Latin to have formerly been a world language.

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Various definitions of the term world language have been proposed; there is no general consensus about which one to use.[5][6]

One definition proffered by Congolese linguist Salikoko Mufwene is "languages spoken as vernaculars or as lingua francas outside their homelands and by populations other than those ethnically or nationally associated with them".[7]: 42 Linguist Mohamed Benrabah equates the term world language with what Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan refers to as "supercentral languages" in his global language system.[8] Spanish sociolinguist Clare Mar-Molinero proposes a series of tests that a language needs to pass, relating to demographics, attitudes towards the language, and political, legal, economic, scientific, technological, academic, educational, and cultural domains.[9]

German sociolinguist Ulrich Ammon [de] says that what determines whether something is a world language is its "global function", which is to say its use for global communication, in particular between people who do not share it as a native language and with use as a lingua franca—i.e. in communication where it is not the native language of any of the participants—carrying the most weight.[1]: 102–103 Ammon formulates a series of indicators of globality, i.e. factors useful for assessing the extent to which a given language can be considered a world language. Chief among these indicators is the number of non-native speakers. Another indicator is the number of native speakers, which although it is not in itself a criterion for globality, empirically correlates positively with it and may influence it indirectly by making the language more attractive. Other potential indicators are economic strength (measured as the native speakers' GDP), number of countries that use the language as an official language as well as those countries' geographical distribution, international business use, and prevalence in scientific publications.[1]: 104–116 

Possible examples


Arabic has been described by Salikoko Mufwene as a world language—albeit a second-tier one after English and French due to limited use as a lingua franca—on the grounds that is a liturgical language amongst Muslim communities worldwide.[7]: 43 Mohamed Benrabah criticizes this argument, writing that "Rote learning and reciting Koranic verses for daily prayers does not necessarily yield spoken proficiency", but nevertheless categorizes it as a world language on the grounds of it being a supercentral language in de Swaan's global language system.[8]


Academic consensus is that English is a world language, with some authors such as British linguists David Crystal and David Graddol going so far as to consider it the only one. Authors who take a pluralist approach nevertheless consider English to inhabit a unique position as the foremost world language; for instance, in Abram de Swaan's global language system, English is the sole occupant of the highest position in the hierarchy: the hypercentral language.[8] According to German sociolinguist Ulrich Ammon [de], "[t]here is virtually no descriptive parameter or indicator for the international or global rank of a language which, if applied to today's languages worldwide, does not place English at the top".[1]: 116–117 Ammon and Mufwene both posit that what sets English apart as the foremost world language is its use as a lingua franca,[7]: 43[1]: 103 whereas Crystal focuses on its geographical distribution.[10]


French has been described as a world language due to its status as a supercentral language in de Swaan's global language system,[8] and Salikoko Mufwene characterizes it as such based on it being spoken as a lingua franca or vernacular by people neither ethnically nor nationally associated with it outside of France.[7]: 42


Some authors consider Latin to have formerly been a world language.[6][7]: 42[11]


Russian has been categorized as a world language on the grounds of being a supercentral language in de Swaan's global language system,[8] and is characterised as a world language by Salikoko Mufwene on the grounds that it is used as a vernacular or lingua franca outside of Russia by non-Russians.[7]: 42


Spanish has been categorized as a world language on the grounds of being a supercentral language in de Swaan's global language system,[8] and is considered a world language by German sociolinguist Ulrich Ammon [de] as it is spoken as a foreign language worldwide.[1]: 102 Salikoko Mufwene also considers it a world language—albeit a second-tier one after English and French due to limited use as a lingua franca—on the grounds that it is used as a vernacular by people neither ethnically nor nationally associated with it outside of Spain.[7]: 42–43

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ammon, Ulrich (2010). "World Languages: Trends and Futures". In Coupland, Nikolas (ed.). The Handbook of Language and Globalization. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 101–122. doi:10.1002/9781444324068.ch4. ISBN 978-1-4443-2406-8.
  2. ^ Ammon, Ulrich (1997), Stevenson, Patrick (ed.), "To What Extent is German an International Language?", The German Language and the Real World: Sociolinguistic, Cultural, and Pragmatic Perspectives on Contemporary German, Clarendon Press, pp. 25–53, ISBN 978-0-19-823738-9
  3. ^ de Mejía, Anne-Marie (2002). Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism: International Perspectives on Elite Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters. pp. 47–49. ISBN 978-1-85359-590-5. 'international language' or 'world language' [...] The following languages of wider communication, that may be used as first or as second or foreign languages, are generally recognised: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.
  4. ^ Ammon, Ulrich (1989). Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties. Walter de Gruyter. p. 422. ISBN 978-3-11-086025-2. Retrieved 2021-02-13. By the term world language approximately the following can be understood: Firstly, [...]. Secondly, international planned languages (e.g Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua).
  5. ^ García, Adolfo M. (2014). "Neurocognitive determinants of performance variability among world-language users". Journal of World Languages. 1 (1): 60–77. doi:10.1080/21698252.2014.893671. hdl:11336/89353. ISSN 2169-8252. the notion of world language has been variously defined
  6. ^ a b Wright, Roger (2012). "Convergence and Divergence in World Languages". In Hernández-Campoy, Juan Manuel; Conde-Silvestre, Juan Camilo (eds.). The Handbook of Language and Globalization. John Wiley & Sons. p. 552. doi:10.1002/9781118257227.ch30. ISBN 978-1-4051-9068-8. There is no generally agreed precise definition of what counts as a 'World' Language. For the purposes of this chapter, they can be defined as languages spoken over a wide geographical area, often as a result of previous colonization, and in many cases by native speakers of some other language. The category now includes Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English, but with reference to historically earlier periods the label has been applied to Latin [...]
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Mufwene, Salikoko S. (2010), "Globalization, Global English, and World English(es): Myths and Facts", in Coupland, Nikolas (ed.), The Handbook of Language and Globalization, Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 31–55, doi:10.1002/9781444324068.ch1, ISBN 978-1-4443-2406-8
  8. ^ a b c d e f Benrabah, Mohamed (2014). "Competition between four "world" languages in Algeria". Journal of World Languages. 1 (1): 38–59. doi:10.1080/21698252.2014.893676. ISSN 2169-8252.
  9. ^ Mar-Molinero, Clare (2004). "Spanish as a world language: Language and identity in a global era". Spanish in Context. 1 (1): 8. doi:10.1075/sic.1.1.03mar. ISSN 1571-0718. By 'international' I am referring to a language spoken as a mother tongue in more than one national context. This is not necessarily (or normally) the same as a 'global' language. To define the latter it is necessary to identify certain criteria [...] The following 'tests' which I propose as necessary to meet the definition of 'global' language are based loosely on the work of David Crystal (1997) and David Graddol (1997) in respect of English as a global language. We need to ask such questions as: [...]
  10. ^ Crystal, David (1995). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Internet Archive. Cambridge [England]; New York : Cambridge University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-521-40179-1. English is now the dominant or official language in over 60 countries (see the table on p. 109), and is represented in every continent and in the three major oceans – Atlantic (e.g. St Helena), Indian (e.g. Seychelles), and Pacific (e.g. Hawaii). It is this spread of representation which makes the application of the term 'world language' a reality.
  11. ^ Crystal, David (2003). English as a global language (PDF) (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN 0-511-07862-5. OCLC 57418548. The emergence of English with a genuine global presence therefore has a significance which goes well beyond this particular language. Because there are no precedents for languages achieving this level of use (if we exclude Latin, which was in a sense 'global' when the world was much smaller), we do not know what happens to them in such circumstances.

Further reading

This page was last edited on 27 April 2024, at 15:13
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