ENGLISH AMONG THE
Richard W. Bailey
MULTILINGUALISM is, and has been, a normal part of social life for most people, both now and in the past. Modern multilinguals look with surprise on those who believe that a single language will serve them better than several, and they can hardly imagine so isolated an existence as implied by one language or barely believe that monolinguals can be satisfied by talking to people identical, more or less, to themselves.
English is (and has been) one language among many, and this chapter introduces readers to some of the interactions between English and other languages, focusing on the period between the later Renaissance and modern English (although earlier aspects of this pattern of interaction will also be examined too). The ebb and flow of enthusiasm for other languages within the anglophone community is a tale of profound cultural importance for this history of English. Yet both sides of the linguistic divide are important. In Britain, abroad has been seen as sometimes repugnant, sometimes frightening—‘that beastly abroad’, wrote one nineteenthcentury novelist quoted by the OED. Mistrust and suspicion is not the exclusive property of Englishspeakers, however. English, as seen by those who did not acquire it as a mother tongue, has been characterized in an astonishing variety of ways: unimportant, invasive, empowering, destructive are among the words used to describe it.