I’ve been thinking about the prevalence of the English language. The number of people who speak it as a second language throughout the world now supposedly outnumber those who speak it as a native language, and there have been estimates that in less than twenty years there will be more Chinese speakers of English than native English speakers.
Technology has certainly helped push English to its important position, and technology has also shaped the language and how we communicate in it. For instance, the dictionary team at Oxford University Press have the interesting job of monitoring how social media is changing English. English has become the language of online social interaction and a neutral language of communication.
The popularity of online social networking has encouraged more and more non-native English speakers to express themselves in English in order to communicate with a larger audience. It’s natural for a group of people to use the language that’s most common for the majority of them, coupled with the media being used to communicate (English being the language of computer science), thus the predominance of English on social networking sites.
With social interaction comes the exchange of information and social networking sites have become venues where people are able not only to express their views from the mundane to the profound, but also show their support for certain issues. You can show all your followers which causes you feel strongly about and encourage others to feel the same. You can also report personal accounts of current situations, thereby influencing how news is spread and how quickly it can be made available to a worldwide audience.
The US government confirmed today that they had asked the social networking site Twitter to postpone its planned maintenance period at the start of this week to a time that would less impact its Iranian users. These users have been giving first or second-hand reports, predominantly in English, about the protests and disturbances in Iran since the disputed election. This meant Twitter was miles ahead of the traditional media sources, such as CNN, in reporting the initial situation. Even when the main stream media caught up, many were directly quoting information from Twitter, making the Iranian tweeters more like reporters than eye witnesses.
Not only are we seeing the growing importance of social networking sites in spreading information, but the importance of English as a neutral language of communication, the common language of the majority.
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