If you can understand English, you can count yourself lucky. You are one of the privileged citizens around the world who can talk to anyone anywhere on the planet. The English language has been, for quite some time, among the language of choice in all matters of global commerce, science, politics and even popular culture. But, of the 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, how did English earn this distinction?
The rise and fall of the British Empire
If the Roman Empire had maintained its control and dominance over Europe, Asia, and North Africa throughout the last millennium, the world would presumably speak in Latin or one of its forms today. If the outcome of World War II had been different, German might have been our official language. Many claim that the popularity of English can only be explained by Britain's global empire which lasted over 500 years. Since the arrival of the British colonies established on all the inhabited continents of the planet, especially in India, the North American colonies, Australia and Africa, English is spoken all over the world.
The British Empire began to fall in the 1940s when India claimed independence. For decades following this event, Britain's control over foreign lands began to diminish and shrink to its own borders. Of all the countries once colonized by Great Britain, we count only a few countries that are part of its empire today.
America takes center stage
As the sun set over the British Empire, America's star rose. Due to its strong industry and ingenuity, the United States has become one of the largest 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 around the world who wanted freedom from Victorian ideals of class and social limitation. But when America entered World War II in 1941, it soon became clear to the world that a new empire had taken over.
Today, the United States is the most powerful country in the world, while Great Britain ranks third. The United States holds one of five permanent seats at the UN and is the leader in big industry. 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 rose to power and inevitably fell, the United States and Britain share a common language. English did not dissipate like the rest of British colonization, it only became generalized. One of the major influences on the expansion of English is the world's obsession with Hollywood and American popular culture. It's a driving force that not only keeps the planet entertained, but unites it.
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