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Generally   speaking, English is the universal language  on the Internet, but it has no official status ,and it will never have. The reasons  for the position of English are the imperialism  and economical and  political importance  of English-speaking  countries. Linguistically , English is extremely unsuitable  for international communication, and the actual wide use of English  tends to polarize  the world into Internet  users  and Internet illiterates. The position of English can  only be altered   by major world-scale  political and economical changes, such  as increasing importance of  European Union or a coalition between  Japan and China. Such powers might wish and be able to promote a language other than English ,possibly a constructed language , for international communication.


The current situation


In general,  the universal language on the Internet is English ,or  more exactly  a vague collection of  languages called  “English”   because their common origin  is the national language spoken in England by the English. That national language  has spread over the world, and several variants such as American (US) English, Australian English ,etc  exist.  A great number of people  whose native language is  none of the variants   know English as a foreign language. They typically use  a more or less simplified variant ,e.g. excluding most of the idioms of  British , American , Australian, etc English . Of course, they make mistakes , and sometimes  the English used by people  as a foreign language on the  Internet is almost  incomprehensible  to anyone else. In addition, people who use English as their native language  do not know how to spell  difficult words, since they basically  know English  as a spoken language.

  Thus, roughly speaking , the universal language on the Internet is clumsy , coarse and misspelled ‘English’.


Why is it so ?


Generally speaking, when a language has got the position  of a universal language, the position tends to  be affirmed and extended by itself. Since  ‘everyone’ knows and uses  English , people are almost forced to  learn English and use it , and learn it better.

   Researchers all over the world know English  and use it a lot , and often the relevant terminology  is more stable and  well-known in English than in our own language.

   In the news system, the position of English is regarded as so obvious that people who post  non-English  articles typically get flamed quickly. The universal language’s position, once gained,  tends to be strong. But how is such a position  gained ?

  During the history of mankind , there have been several more or less universal languages  or lingua francas , such  as Greek , Latin, French  and  English . Universality is of course relative ; it means  universality in the ‘known world’ or ‘civilized world’  or just in a large empire. No language has been really universal (global) but the current position of English comes closest. The position of a universal language  has always been gained  as a by-product of some sort of imperialism : a nation has conquered a large area  and more or less assimilate it  into its own culture, including language,  thus forming an empire. Usually the language of conqueror  has become the language of the state  and the upper class first, then possibly spread over the society, sometimes almost wiping  out the original languages of the conquered  areas.  Sometimes, especially in the Middle Age , the imperialism has had a definite  cultural and religious  nature which may have been  more important than brute military and economic force.

   As regards to the English  language , it would have remained  as a national language of  the English, had it not happened so  that the English  first conquered  the rest of the British Isles , than many other parts of the world.  Later , some English  colonies in a relatively small part of America rebelled , formed the United States of America, and expanded a lot. They formed a federal state  where a variant of the English language  was one of the few really uniting factors. And that federal state became , as we all know, wealthy and important. It also exercised  traditional imperialism, but more importantly  it gained a very important role in world economy and politics. Whether you call the US influence imperialism or neo-imperialism is a matter of opinion, but it certainly has similar effects on maintaining  and expanding the use  of English as classical imperialism.


Effects of the importance of the Internet and English


 The importance of the Internet  grows rapidly  in all fields of human life , including not only research and education but also  marketing and trade  as well as entertainment  and hobbies.  This implies that  it becomes more and more important to know  how to use Internet services  and, as a part of this,  to read  and write English.

   Of course,  the majority of mankind cannot use the Internet nowadays  or in the near future , since they live in countries which  lack the necessary  economical  and technological  infrastructure.  But the Internet causes  polarization  in developed countries , too : people are divided into Internet users and Internet illiterates , and as the use of the Internet grows  and often replaces  traditional  methods of communication, the illiterates may find themselves  in an awkward position.

  Learning to use a new Internet service  or user interface  may take a few hours , a few days , or even  weeks , but it takes years to learn language so that you can  use it in a fluent and self-confident manner.

   In different countries and cultures , English  has different positions . There are countries where English is  the native language of the majority , there are countries where English is  a widely known second language , and there are countries where  English  has no  special position. Globally,  English is necessary  for living on the Internet. 


An official language  for the Internet ?


There is no conceivable way  in which  any  authority  could define  an official language  for the Internet. The Internet as a whole is not controlled  by anyone or anything , and this could only change if , by miracle,  all countries made an  agreement on it or the entire world  were taken  to the control of one government. Thus, if the question ‘whether or not English should be made the universal language  of the Internet ‘ is interpreted as concerning the  official status of English, the answer is simply that English or any other language cannot  be made the official universal language.


But can things change ?


Things can change , and they actually do, often with unpredictable  speed. The rapid fall of the Soviet empire-including  the loss of the role of Russian as a ‘universal’ language within in – is a recent indication of this.

   English  can lose its position as a widely used (although not official) universal language in two  ways. Either a new empire  emerges and its language becomes universal, or a constructed language  becomes very popular. Many people believe that there are two possible empires to emerge : the European  Union and a yet nonexistent Japanese-Chinese empire.

  The European  Union  is an  existing formation which is, at least  according to its own doctrine, moving towards federalism. In many respects,  the European Union  already is a federal state, with less independence and autonomy for its constituents than the states have in the United States. Although  people may present  as the successor of previous empires  such  as  the Roman  Empire and the  empire of  Charlemagne  , it is quite possible  that the EU never becomes  a real empire, since  it seems to be inherently bureaucratic. Every empire needs a  bureaucracy  of course , to promote the aims of its ruler(s) but the EU  lacks true rulers. But if the EU ever  becomes a true empire with prominent role in the world, the language of the empire will  hardly be any of the national languages in the EU , except possibly English. It is more probable  that the builders of the empire  will realize the need  for a relatively  neutral universal language  , and adopt Esperanto  or some other constructed  language for official purposes. In fact,  such  a choice   would be extremely rational at the present stage of EU, since now a considerable portion of EU  expenses are used for translation and interpretation  between the official  languages of the EU. A single official language of the EU might  or might not be adopted by people worldwide  as a universal language  for everyday  communication, including communication on the Internet.

  Japan is probably too small , both  as a  country and as a  nation , to create an  empire with its  own forces , despite its flourishing technology and economy  and efficient social  organization. But its potential combined with  the vast human and other resources of China would certainly  constitute a basis  for an  empire that successfully competes with  the United States and the European  Union.  

  A Japanese-Chinese empire would have a difficult choice of language . It might decide to  accept the role of English as a universal language , both  for continuity and for the reason that selecting either Japanese or Chinese (Mandarin)  would set the Japanese-Chinese union at  stake. Alternatively, it might seriously consider using  a constructed language –most probably not Esperanto  but a language which  is culturally more neutral i.e not dominantly Indo-European ; for instance something like Loglan or Lojban.


A constructed  international language ?


 Internet users think it would be highly desirable to have a constructed language  for international  communication. It is well known that  a large number of attempts to that effect have been made, with little results.

  The  very idea is not inherently  unrealistic , but it can only be  realized  if strong  economical and  political interests are involved  , such  as the independent creation  of a European or Japanese-Chinese empire.  The best that the advocates  of a constructed international language  can wish is that such  empires  emerge and that the United States  remain  as an important power , so that the world  will have a few strong empires  which cannot beat each other   but must live in parallel and in cooperation.


An alternative : machine translation


An alternative view  of the future is that after a few years or decades, no universal language is needed: machine translation will allow you to use your own language. During the last  few decades, quite a lot of predictions and even promises have been presented regarding  machine translation, but useful software  and systems for it  have not been available until recently.

This has caused disappointments and pessimism to the extent that many people consider machine translation as definitely unrealistic.

Actually, machine translation is operational for a wide range of texts, although corrective actions by human translators may be necessary. Corrections are needed to resolve ambiguities which exist due to the limitation of the software and to fix errors caused by the fact that translation of human languages requires extra linguistic information .

Machine translation and constructed international languages are alternative but not mutually exclusive solutions to the problem of communication between people with different native languages. A constructed language might form the basics of a semantics-oriented machine translation system. A constructed language , specifically designed to allow exact and unambiguous expression might be more suitable than any other living language.


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Greek as International Lingua Franca

Languages in Extinction

Is the English Language Changing

The Barriers to Educating Girls

English–the universal language

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Language News

Indigo Children

International Phonetic Association  


Xenophon Zolotas on Economy

Links to the Linguistics

Translation Problems

Language and the Brain

Language and the Internet

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Greek Language Centre

Dyslexic Mind