English as a Global Language

  • Jacques Melitz


There has never been in the past a language spoken more widely in the world than English is today. How far has English already spread? How much further can we expect it to go? What are the welfare implications? These are the three central questions in this chapter. The first two are deeply intertwined. We must have a clear idea how far the spread of English has already gone in order to assess how much further it can be expected to go. The role of the language as a lingua franca in some areas is of particular interest. On all these matters, a popular book by the linguist Crystal (2003) with the same title as this chapter is extremely useful. So are two works by the sociologist Graddol (1997, 2006) that were commissioned by the British Council. In dealing with both questions, I will try to move beyond these two authors most of all in connection with publishing, foreign trade and language learning. As regards trade, we know from economic research that common languages promote bilateral trade between countries. We also know from many sources, including survey evidence of exporting firms, that trade stimulates language learning. There is recent econometric support for this. To what extent does the expected growth of world trade in the future imply the further spread of English? To what extent does it instead imply limits to the expected spread of English because of the similar inducement to learn other languages as well? Do other factors besides trade also play an important role? These issues form the subject matter of what follows.


Foreign Language Native Speaker Target Language Common Language Bilateral Trade 
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© Jacques Melitz 2016

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  • Jacques Melitz

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