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Internet - the Flagship of Global English?

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The study is concerned with two contemporary phenomena: - the first is the advanced computer technology which enables the transmission of data of various kinds from one part of the world to another in a few seconds; - the second is English, a language that because of its large number of non-native speakers has come close to the status of universal language. These two phenomena - the advanced computer technology and English with its status as a world language - are brought together in one whole and form something that is really exceptional and unique, something that is multinational and the most global thing ever in the whole of human history: they form the Network-of-networks, the Internet, and English as its lingua franca appears to be the network's inseparable part. The study attempts to show the most important aspects and implications of the status of English as the lingua franca of the Internet, a status which reflects the dominant position of English as the most used language worldwide.


The advent and spread of the Internet probably constitute

the most important event of the end of the 20th century and the

beginning of the new millenium.

Indeed, nowadays, the whole humanity has at its

disposal an exceptional, very powerful medium. The new

communications technology is causing a revolution in many

aspects of our lives, and its future effects are still

unforeseeable. The Internet is changing our way of working,

studying, shopping, carrying out business and financial

transactions, but principally it is causing a revolution in the

way we communicate with other people.

Communication through the Globe has never been so

easy, cheap and full of contents and, above all, within

everyone's grasp. In the cyberspace1, the virtual space of the

1 Expression invented by Gibson (1984). It derives from the Greek word "kubernao", which means

"government", "use of the helm", "control". The word is currently used to describe the whole range of

information resources available through computer networks. "Cyber" as a prefix is now used as a

description of a range of activities. A cybernaut is a person who cruises through online services and

Internet, there is no difference between sending an e-mail2,

participating in a video conference, chatting3 with the nextdoor

friend or with our 'cyber' friend from New Zealand. On

the Internet, the distance concept loses most of its

significance. We all are increasingly becoming citizens of the

'global village' described by McLuhan4 a few decades ago

(prehistory, considering Internet's high speed evolution),

which is becoming reality. We are almost forced to correct

some habits of our lives, to think and see things from a global

and planetary new perspective.

In this new global context, it is essential for everybody

to be able to make himself understood to a potentially

worldwide audience; in other words, it is necessary to be able

to use a universal language, or, at least, a language which can

be understood by as many people as possible.

networks; a cyberlibrarian is someone who uses the Internet for research; a cyberpunk is an anarchic

presence living from their wits; etc.

2 Electronic mail (see Section 2.3). Messages, usually text, sent from one person to another via

computer. E- mail can also be sent automatically to a large number of addresses - Mailing List (see

Section 2.7) (Matisse's Glossary of Internet Terms).


To communicate in real-time through the Internet (see Section 2.4). When we chat with someone, the

typed words appear on a "shared" screen (The Language of the Internet).

4 McLuhan (1964).

Today, English seems to be the only language which can

be considered both a global language, and the real lingua

franca of the Internet. When we say 'English' we do not refer

only to the Standard language spoken in England and other

native English-speaking countries, but rather to "a number of

distinct and highly diversified varieties of English"

(Burchfield, 1994b, p. 1), including a range of

institutionalized and increasingly autonomous non-native

varieties, frequently referred to as 'New Englishes'. Roughly

speaking, we can say we refer to the so-called Global English,

whose main standard varieties are British English and

American English.

The Internet has always spoken English, since it was

created. It is speaking it today, while it is still 'a child'.

Certainly it will speak English when 'adult' too, even if it is

extremely difficult to predict in what way, measure and,

principally, what kind of English it will be.




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