INTO THE TWENTY-FIRST
IT is a widespread literary trope to anthropomorphize English—to talk about its ‘remorseless advance’ (around the world) or its ‘insatiable appetite’ (for new words). If we were to continue this trope at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we would have to select much less assertive metaphors. For, as a result of the unprecedented trends which affected the language during the twentieth century, and especially during its final decade, we would need to talk of ‘tentative steps’ and ‘uncertain directions’. We can see these new perspectives chiefly in relation to three themes: globalization, the Internet, and education.
As the preceding chapter has stressed, the impact of globalization brought a widespread acknowledgement during the 1990s that English had achieved a genuine world presence, receiving special status in the usage or educational systems of every country. Books and journals whose titles described English as a ‘world language’ or a ‘global language’ became ubiquitous. But because there has never been a language of such global reach and magnitude, it is unclear what happens to one in the long term when it achieves this status, or what happens to other languages as a consequence. Certainly, we saw during that decade an increase in the number of concerned reactions from other-language communities