Why English is the world’s most spoken language? How did it happen? And why did it became the world’s lingua franca?
What is Lingua Franca?
Lingua franca is a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. The most obvious modern example is English, which is the current dominant lingua franca of international diplomacy, business, science, technology, and entertainment. Other languages serve as lingua franca in the past, like Latin, French, and Arabic. But since the end of World War I, it has gradually replaced French as the lingua franca of international diplomacy.
English is the current lingua franca of international business, education, science, technology, diplomacy, entertainment, radio, seafaring, and aviation. But many other languages serve or have served at different historical periods, as lingua francas regions, countries, or in special contexts.
Looking back at the history of English, it all started with the British empire becoming the world’s leading industrial and trading nation. This is around at the beginning of the 19th century. Because of colonization, the British Empire reach Europe, and the Americas, covering nearly a third of the earth’s surface. Thus, English spread across the globe, with each of the countries doing some variation to the language such as adding words, accents, and style. By the end of the 20th, the U.S. becomes the powerhouse of technology, trade, and commerce. By this time, it is quite evident that knowing English is a necessity for politics, commerce, science, and technology. The influence of American English shows up in places like the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
On that note, English became the most widespread language because of the British Empire. And cement it further with the business influence of the Americans. English is the largest language in the world if you count both native and non-native speakers. However, Mandarin Chinese is the largest in terms of native speakers.
Reference: Kemper, C. L. (1999). Sacre Bleu! English as a global Lingua Franca? Communication World, 16(6), 41.