Time and Space

The Spread of English

“From the mid-twentieth century the English language flooded all over the world, until by the year 2000 no-one was in any way surprised that a Polish Pope, the head of a Latin-speaking Vatican, on his arrival in a Hebrew-speaking state, should speak in English.”

Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue
In this short video by The Generalist Papers, you can find out where English came from, and begin to study why it has become the world’s first ‘global’ language.

Of all the languages in the world, why has English become the world’s lingua franca? Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘global village’ in the 1960s to refer to the way people were reaching out to connect with one another – but he could not have known at the time that the unifying language of this village would be English. As an introduction to the IB course, to begin our study of Time and Space, we will find out how English became the language of the global village by looking at the convergence of three groups of factors: historical factors, economic factors, and popular culture: Begin your study by reading a selection of these articles and extracts:

Reading Challenge

This is a longer and more challenging piece of reading, but spending time on this piece, and discussing it with your teacher, will help you master this topic:


Class Activity 1: Word Hunting

Modern English is rich, flexible and successful. It is the most widely learned language by number of speakers, the third most-spoken native language after Chinese and Spanish, and the most popular official second language, with more than 60 countries listing it as an official language. One reason for its success is because English is a ‘mongrel’ language – English is happy to absorb words from other languages in a process called language borrowing. These new words are misleadingly called loan words – misleading because once English has adopted a loan word, it doesn’t give it back again!

Etymology is the study of words and their origins (not to be confused with ‘entomology’ which is the study of insects). Use a dictionary and see if you can discover the bewildering origins of English loan words. Draw or use this blank map of the world to record your findings.

Class Activity 2: The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English is a BBC television documentary series uncovering the history of the English language. It is presented by journalist Melvyn Bragg. This is the seventh episode in the series: The Language of Empire. Watch this episode either in class or for homework. In your next class, test your powers of observation and recall by running this class quiz. Split into three or four teams and nominate one quizmaster who runs the quiz and is allowed to see the answers.

Areas of Exploration Guiding Contextual Question

The Danger of a Single Story, a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been viewed over 8 million times.

All varieties of writing can be seen as a product of the environment in which they were produced. Writing can be affected by the political climate, major events, popular trends and more. Part of this resource explores diversity in English language works and texts, and considers the impact of the British Empire and ‘linguistic imperialism’ on countries and writers.

Discussion Points

After you’ve got your head around the material in this section, pair up, pick a question, spend five minutes thinking and noting down your thoughts – then discuss your ideas with a friend and report back to the class:

  1. What benefits has English being a lingua franca brought to the world? How can it be argued that having English as a lingua franca is a positive phenomenon. Does the world need a lingua franca? Does it have to be English?
  2. What would be gained and lost if everybody spoke the same language? Would it matter if that language was English, or not?
  3. What will happen to the status of English as a lingua franca in the next ten years, in your opinion? What about the next hundred years? Is there any pushback against using English as the ‘world’s language’? What alternatives exist?

Learner Portfolio

Create a diagram or infographic showing how English spread to become a global language. Annotate your diagram with written information about the factors that influenced this spread.

If you would like an idea of the kind of work you might try to produce, here’s a fantastic example of a visual guide summarising key information from the reading in this section designed by a student.


Paper 1 Text Type Focus: letters

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Letters are an interesting text type, as they are normally written with a specific reader in mind. Depending on the relationship between the writer and reader, letters can be written formally, informally, (or properly-improperly) and for various purposes. The letter writer will often make use of individual stylistic features to create all kind of effects, from outrage, to humour and everything in-between. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of Letter Writing and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

Key features of letters
  • Name and address: formal letters are posted to the recipient, so they normally contain both the sender and receiver’s address, allowing the recipient to reply. The sender’s address is traditionally placed on the right hand side, with the date below it.
  • Purpose: people send letters for all kinds of reasons; to complain, to seek advice, to connect with a loved one or even to pass gossip. The purpose of this text type is completely flexible.
  • Register: letters can be formal or informal depending on the purpose and relationship between the sender and receiver. The tone can vary widely too: compare a formal letter of complaint with an intimate letter between lovers.
  • Salutation: a direct address to the recipient. Depending on context, they can vary from the formal ‘Dear…’ or even ‘To whom this may concern…’ to a quick ‘Hi…’
  • Sign off: you can tell a lot about the relationship between the reader and the writer from the way the letter ends. Formally, ‘yours sincerely’ is used if the recipient’s name was used and ‘yours faithfully’ is used when the writer does not know the name of the receiver. Non-conventional sign-offs can be used for a variety of reasons; check the end of the letter to see if the writer expects a reply.

Body of Work: HSBC Advertising Campaigns

This series of HSBC video averts are collectively known as the ‘Local Knowledge’ campaign.

Cultures are increasingly mingling with each other, swapping ideas, concepts, words and mixing cultural practices such as cuisine, fashion – and even language. For a case study in the impact of globalisation on culture, you need look no further than this famous series of adverts produced by HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation). Indeed, if you are a frequent flyer, you may even have seen these adverts lining the gangways of airplane boarding gates. As a global brand in an increasingly intertwined world, HSBC want to make a point about how they understand and respect different cultures, and these adverts are the result of this thinking.

In a famous campaign called ‘Different Points of View‘, created by JWT for HSBC in 2008, gangways of boarding lanes at airports around the world (perhaps because passengers are a captive audience?) were lined with images and words in various patterns. Included in this collection are three variations: three different images and one word; or three different words and same image;  a third version shows two images and two keywords, each with opposite meanings. Through these juxtapositions, HSBC implies that it understands different markets, and customers can trust the bank to take this into account when operating in different cultural contexts. In combination with the video adverts above, and others you might like to research (such as ‘Together We Thrive’ or ‘Local Knowledge’) these adverts constitute a Body of Work.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

Selected HSBC adverts could be used in this assessed activity. Here are suggestions as to how you might use this Body of Work to create a Global Issue. You can use one of these ideas, or develop your own. You should always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own thoughts, discussions and programme of study when devising your assessment tasks:

  • Field of Inquiry: Culture, Identity and Community
  • Global Issue: Globalisation
  • Rationale:

As countries and cultures draw closer together and become more intertwined, it becomes increasingly important to understand and respect the way other people view the world. HSBC adverts certainly deliver a pro-globalisation message; but in these terms, are the adverts a genuine attempt to surmount cultural barriers, or do you see them as a cynical exercise in marketing?

possible literary pairings
  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare – partway through Kadare’s story, two outsiders visit the Albanian High Plateau. Educated and modern, Diana is appalled at the medieval traditions and beliefs practiced in this remote part of the world. An extract featuring Diana’s reaction to the Kanun would make a perfect counterpoint to this body of work.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – set in the years after the industrial revolution has made the world smaller, Shaw’s play features all kinds of misunderstandings and conflicts caused by a rapidly changing society. Look closely at Pickering’s values and beliefs: he may have travelled to India, but does he really represent a globalised man of the world?
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare – half of the action of this play takes place in the rarefied and exclusive world of Belmont, a place out of fairy tale and seemingly trapped in time. The other half takes place on the Venetian rialto, a public place buzzing with vendors from all corners of the world. Closely examine the attitudes of various people who inhabit these places to discover various ideas about globalisation and cross-cultural exchange.
  • The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – this poetry collection crosses oceans and continents – and even spans centuries of time – to reveal how our interconnected world is controlled by those in power who happen to be (mostly) men. This pairing may be a little more difficult, but a careful selection of points from different poems could make it work.
  • Border Town by Shen Congwen – in the opening few chapters of this novel, Congwen describes an idyllic rural paradise. The largest town in the area is Chadong, nestled at the foot of the mountains. But even in this remote place, life is not immune to the forces of globalism. For example, American Oil is for sale, and the river is an important trading conduit.
  • The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami – a persistent theme in this story collection is the failing of modern society to meet people’s spiritual and emotional needs. To what extent does Murakami imply that globalism is one of the causes of this malaise?
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee – in this novel, the officers of an unnamed empire believe wholeheartedly in the spread of their culture and society. But Coetzee brings the dark side of colonialism into the light in this powerful allegorical story.

Towards Assessment: HL Essay

Students submit an essay on one non-literary text or a collection of non-literary texts by one same author, or a literary text or work studied during the course. The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length. (20 Marks).

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions, and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

These HSBC adverts would make a good case study for an extended written task. Beginning in 2002 when HSBC positioned itself as the World’s Local Bank, the (mostly) successful campaigns have evolved and developed over the years, and even changed direction entirely when the social and business landscape changed. Therefore, these campaigns demonstrate how a text changes in response to social and economic developments. For example, the ‘local bank’ strategy was abandoned after the financial crash of 2011.

You might therefore like to investigate how HSBC developed and changed its advertising over time. Your essay would include a range of campaigns, with a focus on exemplar adverts. You should make sure to include analysis of both visual and written elements in your work. There is a wealth of material for you to research, including the recent ‘Thrive Together’ campaign reaction, which was not received as uniformly positively as you might have expected given the success of previous campaigns. Alternatively, you might have found some of the images used in various HSBC adverts, while promoting an inclusive or global message, actually fall back on stereotypes. This might be a productive angle for you to investigate.

Questions you might ask therefore include, but are not limited to:

  • Explore the ways in which the values presented in HSBC advertising campaigns have developed over time.
  • Evaluate the methods used by HSBC advertising campaigns to engage with an international audience.
  • To what extent does an analysis of HSBC’s advertising reveal the presence of cultural or national stereotypes?
  • Explore the use of symbolism in adverts by HSBC.
  • In what ways does HSBC address the idea of ‘difference’ in its advertising campaigns?
  • To what extent is language the crucial element of HSBC’s famous gangway advertising campaigns?

Categories:Time and Space

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