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Globalizing Americana: Part 18 – American Normativity and Global English

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American Normativity and Global English

In this four part section discussing American normativity, I will briefly attempt to analyze the concept and its influence on global relations. As mentioned in the previous section, the four parts under investigation are (1) global English, (2) United States Multinational Corporations (U.S. MNCs), (3) the accessibility of American ideals through the Internet and blogosphere and finally (4) the influence of American normativity on non-Americans and non-American cultures.

In discussing the globalization of the English language, especially during the 21st century, one should recognize the influence of the English language on academic thought, business, and the formation of economic policies. David Nunan, a world renowned linguist, suggests that each year nearly 50% of all the academic papers published throughout the world are published in English.

As businesses grow and their representatives travel abroad, English serves as one of the primary languages for multinational corporations. Our economic policies, business practices and even our ability to communicate higher order concepts is increasingly done in English.

Should English serves as the global language? Some may argue that the question is essentially irrelevant as the English language already functions as a global language. Thus, they may argue, the goal is to educate and successfully incorporate the English language into the curriculum of non-English speaking primary school systems, rather than posing questions of its relevance. Quite obviously, the earlier one is introduced to a second language the easier it is for that individual to attain mastery.

Granted, one may argue that competing in a global market almost necessitates a global language, which may or may not be true. Note, however, that the importance in this assumption is placed on the role of the English language as an economically viable skill. People should have this skill because it is valuable. It is valuable because lots of people already speak English.

It is at this point that I begin to have concerns about the logic of the argument. People who do not speak English should be trained to speak English because so many people in the business and academic world already speak English. Surely I am trivializing the argument, but the immediately blaring question is, “why aren’t English speakers facing similar pressures to learn another language?” More specifically, “why aren’t Americans learning a second language?” The truth is the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot speak a second language.

Since the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot speak a second language and many have acknowledged that English is already a global language, Americans conclude that there is no need to learn a second language. But, one should note that this dominance of the English language is not a given. At any time, especially because of the volatility of America’s current economic crisis, English could be dethroned.

Moreover, in my previous discussion on American arrogance, I could have more fully incorporated this notion of the globalization of the English language into that discussion. There is a certain sense of an assumed ease in being American, something that many Americans do not readily recognize. The language we learn as children is the global language, which is a profound benefit.

This, however, should in no sense suggest that Americans, unlike the rest of the world, should not face the same pressures to gain mastery in a second language. Americans should learn to speak a second language. To refuse is only to support the notion of American arrogance.

On a much deeper philosophical level there is an even more insidious explanation for this phenomenon – namely American normativity. Americana and all that is contained within that concept, is normativized; that is, it becomes the standard with which competing practices are assessed.

Thus, for those that subscribe to American ideals and already speak English, there is little, if any, global pressure to conform. However, for those that do not subscribe to American ideals and do not already speak English, American normativity exerts incredible pressure, both academic and economic, to conform and learn to speak the English language.

The truth is, at every corner of the globe, in every city or small village, there are enlightened people with great ideas and a profound sense of one’s place in the world. Fortunately, the geniuses at Google have designed translate.google.com, which allows people from every corner of the world the means of communicating effectively.

The only means of combating American normativity, then, is through a heightened sense of one’s interconnection with every other human being on the planet. Once an individual understands this interrelation, the need to learn at least one other language becomes paramount.

David Nunan. “The Impact of English as a Global Language on Educational Policies and Practices in the Asia-Pacific Region” TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Winter, 2003), pp. 589-613

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About Jason J. Campbell

  • Conspiracy Kat

    I agree with your facts, i.e. English is currently the language of globalism, most Americans don’t speak a second language, and that
    this status is predicated on America remaining a dominant economic force, which is in jeaporday given the current economic issues. These facts have nothing to do with a macro-level American arrogance. They are purely market forces at work. America is the leading world power so interact with this power it would be wise to speak their language. Those blessed to be born here can achieve great things and have access to many opportunities without having to learn a second language. If another world power arose, say China, and America were to be irrelevant on the global stage. Americans and all other peoples of the world would be trying to learn Chinese. Supply and demand.