The Unfair English Advantage
This text was written by Den Drown, a US citizen who questioned the ethics behind the predominance of English worldwide.
As of late I’ve had the good fortune in my life to be able to travel frequently to Europe for my job. Since I am from the United States, a friend of mine in Germany told me that I have an advantage because all my life I have spoken the closest thing we have to an international language : English. I suppose that he’s right, but still, I find that I have absolutely no desire to have that advantage.
I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I am very proud of that. I am also proud that we are such an important nation in today’s world.
What I am not proud of is the way in which we keep ourselves so important. I am talking about the usage of English in our world as a means of international communication : I have an advantage. We in the United States have an advantage. We are the elite, we rule the whole world, and we’ll keep on ruling because all the others will never be able to communicate as well as we do. They will work at it for years, decades even. They will never get to where we are. We are the elite.
Foreigners. So often they think they are using our language perfectly but we talk about them behind their backs and make jokes about the errors they make. I want to cry out to them, "Can’t you see what you’re doing ? You are the ones that take away your power to communicate. You are the ones that constantly put us above you." And above you we will stay We are the elite, and we rule the world.
I don’t want to be elite. Here is someone from the USA who isn’t interested in ruling the world. I am a citizen of the United States, but more than that — yes, more than that — I am a citizen of the world. People everywhere, I see you as my friends, as my brothers and sisters even. I don’t want to stand above you because of an unfair advantage. I would much rather walk by your side. That way we can share our cultures with each other. That way we can be equals. We can respect one another.
You refuse though, you who are not the chosen ones. It seems to me that you are blinding yourselves to the truth. People seem less intelligent than they really are when they talk to someone in that person’s mother language. Working abroad I have seen it time after time. Unless you live for years in an English-speaking country, you will never master the unwritten rules, the countless expressions, and the subtle nuances of the language.
A national language is a labyrinth, confusing to the foreigner. It’s like the layers of an onion, and when you understand one aspect of the language, you can be sure that underneath lie exceptions and nuances that you do not understand. Learn English. It is a rich and beautiful language, spoken in many different lands full of friendly people and interesting cultures. But you must understand, that it is in no way appropriate as an international language. Think about people in your country who don’t speak their own language properly. Think about the errors that you yourself make with your mother tongue. Do you think that people who have not spoken the language from birth can compete fairly ? Is this the kind of unjust world you want to create ? As a citizen of the world, as a member of the human race, are you proud of this, our world ?
Before I go, I would like to give you something to think about concerning this world that we are creating. I began by talking about the United States, my own country and about how it is an important nation in this world of ours. Why is it so important ? I think that one of the best reasons is our strength. Not necessarily military strength, but strength in commerce, diplomatic relations, fine arts, sports, and in so many different areas. Why are we so strong in such diverse ways ? I think that it’s because we are a nation of 50 states.
Those states work together, communicate together, share their strengths with each other, and thereby create a union which is so much stronger than the sum of the 50 individual states. We are now seeing that the European Union has the same idea. I invite you to think about this world of ours. What kind of world is it ? What kind of world could it be if we, its citizens, could effectively communicate with each other, understand each other, and share our many strengths. I say that we cannot create such a world using any national tongue as the international language.
Extracts of an article by Den Drown, first published in Esperanto USA Magazine, Issue 3, 2001 (republished here)