Changing English

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, English All Over the World

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. To really get into 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:


Class Activity: 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 The Adventure of English (Episode 7 above) either in class or for homework. 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 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: Babu English As ‘Tis Writ

British commentators during the colonial period sometimes expressed amusement at the kinds of English used by their subject populations. Babu, or Baboo, English of India attracted particular attention because it aspired to poetic heights in vocabulary and learning, despite being full of errors. Linguists today find a great deal in common between Babu English and the ornate style used by many British writers in past centuries. In 1891, journalist Arnold Wright collected examples of this dialect, and published them in his book Babu English As ‘Tis Writ, extracts of which you can study as 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)

IB Language and Literature Guide

An extract from Baboo English As ‘Tis Writ would be an unusual, but possibly very effective, choice to bring to your Individual Oral. Here are two 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: Power, Politics and Justice
  • Global Issue: Language Currency
  • Rationale:

Because English spread around the world on the back of the powerful British Empire, and is now the language of American corporate success, English has become the language of those in power (a tradition continued in International Schools where English has become associated with an ‘elite’ style of education despite it rarely being the first-language of a host country). Babu English developed out of the need for English colonialists to teach a servant and administrative class the language of trade. This Body of Work reveals the power dynamics inherent in this use of language.

  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – try pairing this Body of Work with the interaction between Alfred Doolittle and Henry Higgins; when Doolittle uses a mixture of servile and persuasive language to try to get Higgins to give him the money he feels he is owed in Act 1.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – compare the ‘servile’ or ‘flowery’ style of Babu English to the way Antonio and Bassanio interact with Shylock when they want to borrow his ducats.
  • J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians – in chapter one of this powerful allegory, the narrator discovers for himself the power of language when wielded by an officer of the empire, covering up the torture and murder of a political prisoner in his charge.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – this is a play about the power of language and would make an ideal, if unusual, pairing with Wright’s collection. You might like to examine how Roma uses language to seduce and deceive Lingk in Act 1 Scene 3, or how any of the men try to exert power over one another through the way they speak.

Towards Assessment: Higher Level 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.

Investigating a particular dialect of English would make an extremely interesting subject for your Higher Level essay, should you choose to write about this topic. Of particular note in the study of Babu English might be what the primary texts in this collection reveal about Anglo-Indian relations during the colonial period.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s