|ENGLISH AS AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE|
STANFORD UNIVERSITY, CAL.
OF our thousand languages, great and small, dead and living, natural and artificial, from Edenese to Esperanto, which is to be the world-speech of the future? "Why, English, of course!" America replies with one mighty voice, in which rings the indomitable optimism of the nation. Now, I love English dearly, for having spent twelve years of my youth in trying to master some of its intricacies; I love America still more, for her generous hospitality, which I am at present enjoying, and yet I find myself unable to join in the chorus so ably led by Professor Brander Matthews. I do not believe that English is destined to be the international language of to-morrow. On this side of the Atlantic, this may sound paradoxical; across the water, it is accepted as a truism, even in England. Let us suppose ourselves in a neutral zone, and examine judicially the pros and cons of the case.
Faith in the future supremacy of English can certainly not be lightly dismissed as a mere chauvinistic delusion. It is based on personal experience: we all know how eagerly the better class of immigrants take up the study of the language; how impatient their children are of any other tongue; we know that, with nothing but English and money at our command, we can be understood, and respectfully fleeced, in all the best hotels in the world. Statistics give scientific support to these individual impressions. One half of the world's commerce, two thirds of its, one fourth of its population, one half of its railroads, of its newspapers, of its postal transactions, are under the control of the English-speaking countries. Grammatical and literary arguments can then be brought forward in favor of English: its grammar actually simpler in some respects than that of Esperanto, its international quality as a strongly Romanized Teutonic language, its wonderful vocabulary which can be extended in all directions without losing its unity, the unrivaled freedom of its syntax, which enables it to use the same word as a noun, a verb, an adjective or a preposition; last but not least, its unbroken literary record, and myriad-souled Shakespeare as supreme argument.
All this has to be granted, and is granted without reluctance. No one denies that English is one of the three or four world-languages, and a prince among its peers. But that it will ever attain the unique position once held by Greek, Latin or French does not by any means follow.
There are three ways for a language to achieve universality: political