Is the Commonwealth an English speaking union?Posted by AlexT - 07/12/09 at 11:12 am
Martin Mulloy is the English-Speaking Union’s Director of Education. The English-Speaking Union is an international charity founded in 1918 to promote international understanding and friendship through the use of the English language.
The English-Speaking Union promotes international understanding through the use of the English language. As we know, one of the unifying aspects of the Commonwealth is this common use of English. In practical terms, how does this use of English unite people from very different Commonwealth countries?
Well, I always think of English now as not so much a language; in fact, there’s a famous quote from a Foreign Minister in Germany who said that English isn’t a language as Portuguese, Greek or Spanish indeed is a language, English has become something more, it is the lingua franca for operating all across the world, and I think it’s just a tremendous vehicle to allow people from diverse cultures and countries to be able to speak to each other.
Newly-admitted to the Commonwealth is Rwanda, as of last week, following in the footsteps of Mozambique, which speaks Portuguese. Do you think this dilutes something essential to the Commonwealth?
No, the very opposite. I have referred to English as a means of communication, and we do know nowadays that a great deal of English is spoken by countries and people for whom English is not a first language, because of its power as a lingua franca. But there is another aspect; I think that perhaps countries like Rwanda, and indeed Mozambique, and I understand there are other non English-speaking countries possibly joining in the future, and I think they join the Commonwealth for a range of reasons, and one of them may be that perhaps countries are like people; they want to belong to communities, and communities which perhaps reflect a set of interests that they feel is important. So, Rwanda joining the Commonwealth is something I see as something positive. The bigger the embrace, the more common the interests, the better. I see this as a positive move.
Finally, a recent British Council study has found that less and less Indians are speaking English- obviously the largest and most populous country in the Commonwealth- and, in fact, there are more English-speakers in China than there are in India. With a rising India, and a rising China, is the use of English really still that important?
I think it most certainly is. The key issue here is the aspect of English as a lingua franca. A Chinese businessman speaking to, perhaps, a Brazilian businessman will be speaking English, more than likely, as the common language of communication. I’ll come back to India in a second. You mentioned China; China is also promoting the use of Mandarin, it has launched, I believe, ‘Confucius Centres’ throughout the world to promote the use of Mandarin. But it takes many, many years for this to happen; I mean English has had several centuries, for a whole host of reasons- political, imperial, business and media, web communications now- to gain an ascendancy. It will take an equivalent for perhaps Mandarin to have that same sort of currency in the world. The same could apply to India, and Indian languages. I understand that there are periods when a country wants to promote its own national identity and culture, and perhaps views English as eroding that. But, equally, English is a part of India, it is an official language, and the question is not how Indians will communicate internally, within India, but how they will communicate externally, with the world at large. English exists as a global entity, as I said at the beginning of this, it’s almost more than a language, in its role. So I don’t see this as a bad thing or a good thing, simply as a natural cycle.