Languages are often seen as a means of sharing information needed to collaborate with others within the boundaries of a certain group. It has been acknowledged that languages may shape individuals’ identities (Danesi, 2017). The link between languages and cultures has received considerable attention as well. Researchers note that the relationship between the linguistic and cultural systems is twofold as the language influences the development of culture, and the latter shapes the way the language evolves as well (Delaney, 2017).
The geographic shifts of languages also have an impact on cultures as new languages penetrating in society can bring certain changes. The phenomenon can be illustrated with the help of the comparatively recent spread of English and, as a result, American culture. The present paper includes an analysis of the ways in which the English language became a channel of the promulgation and global proliferation of the American culture whose traits and traces can be found almost everywhere in the world.
The Spread of Languages: Historical Insights
Trade and the Spread of a New Language
Communication among different linguistic groups is an important channel of sharing messages and linguistic cues. Diverse communities have different languages, and the further these groups are geographically located, the more differences can be found in their linguistic paradigms. At that, individuals pertaining to different cultural groups often interact to address their needs. People often borrow words from other languages if they do not have such notions in their culture. Trade is one of the most potent means of the utilization of some words and linguistic symbols in wider geographic settings (Pennycook, 2017).
The traces of this method of sharing linguistic cues are manifold and can be found in almost any language. The words describing things or concepts typical of another region and culture are apparent in English as well. For example, such words as taco, sushi, kimono, and serape denote items of food and clothing that are typical of other regions, but they became widely used in English as these things came into usage in English-speaking countries (Andresen & Carter, 2016). Some things and concepts can have a profound effect on cultures across the globe. Tea is an illustration of the way cultures affect each other as the Chinese beverage became popular in Britain in the 18th century, and is now associated with the British nation (Delaney, 2017). Hence, the borrowings of some items, concepts, and linguistic symbols shapes cultures.
Conquest and the Spread of a New Language
It is noteworthy that the expansion of languages to new territories is a natural stage of their development. Even if people living in some areas have their own system of communication, it can be changed rapidly under the influence of external factors. For instance, conquest has been one of the most common backgrounds of the spread of a language for centuries (Strang, 2015). Apart from the linguistic systems, the culture of a community or entire countries can be transformed. Conquerors tend to make their language and culture dominant in new territories to avoid possible uprisings and discontent. Dominating linguistic systems are used as a part of imperial rule contributing to the sustainability of the empire.
The French invaded England in the 11th century, which had a considerable impact on the cultural development of the region. French rulers and aristocracy shaped the political system and brought feudalism to England, as well as various social and political practices (Pennycook, 2017). The French language became the dominant linguistic system in the upper classes as the language was the channel for gaining a higher status and earning a better place in the court of an English ruler or even at the French court. Modern times can also be illustrative in terms of the spread of languages and their influences on some cultures. At present, English has become a dominant language of international communication, and it has also turned into a platform for the proliferation of the American culture.
The Whorfian Hypothesis
Before analyzing the way the English language affects other cultures, it is important to identify the theoretical framework to be utilized for the present analysis. Social theories have been employed to examine various trends existing in social groups and influencing them (Fairclough, 2018). Linguistic theoretical paradigms were developed to explore the peculiarities of languages with the focus on their linguistic properties such as lexicon, morphology, and phonetics, among others.
However, decades ago, researchers started to consider the way languages affect people, including the examination of identities, cultures, and other concepts. According to Whorf, the language has a direct influence on the way a person develops their view of the world and their identities (Rangriz & Harati, 2017). As a result, languages shape the way groups of people form their picture of the world. Therefore, languages have an impact on cultures and their development (Danesi, 2017). The Whorfian hypothesis implies that the structure of the language and its vocabulary affects the culture of the corresponding group of people (Frankel, 2015).
One of the most conventional examples of the correlation between the linguistic system and culture is the use of words. If some notions or things are described with the help of many words, the importance of these concepts and items is evident. When new words are introduced into a community, those people start developing some attitude towards them, which often leads to changes in their culture.
The Grassroots Theory
Several models regarding the expansion of languages have also been developed. Kamwangamalu (2016) notes that some researchers offer the Anglo-American conspiracy theory to explain the spread of the English language as a means of international communication. According to these models, a group of people is responsible for the proliferation of the linguistic system as a tool to achieve certain dominance in the world.
It is believed that the proliferation of English is a form of British and American imperialism in the modern world. Clearly, the perspectives articulated by such prominent politicians as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson regarding English provide some grounds to consider the conspiracy theory (Andresen & Carter, 2016). These renowned thinkers believed that English was an instrument to promote democracy in the global political arena showing its benefits.
Nevertheless, another theoretical model is more justified as it reflects important social aspects and trends. The grassroots theory is often utilized to explore the reasons for the spread of certain linguistic systems (Kamwangamalu, 2016). It is stressed that people tend to choose the languages and other social constructs that enable them to achieve their goals. In simple terms, people choose capitalistic approaches to economic relations as they lead to more gains and the development of the community. Democratic societies are preferred as they are the most favorable environment for self-realization and exploration of one’s creativity.
Likewise, if people can choose between two or more languages, they will use the one (or several) that will be instrumental in attaining specific goals. Kamwangamalu (2016) argues that people living in different African countries often choose English as a tool to become successful since they can obtain a better education and land a well-paid job. The grassroots theory is the theoretical foundation of the present paper because it has proved to be viable in many contexts.
The Spread of the English Language
Globalization is seen as one of the primary premises for the dominance of one language for international use. Throughout centuries different linguistic systems came to the fore as a means of communication within the scope of economic and political domains. For instance, French was the language of official communication at certain periods of time and in some territories, including England (Pennycook, 2017). In the twentieth century, the language of international relations was definitely English. After the Second World War, Americans and Britain provided financial aid to many countries of the world, including European, African, and Asian states (Andresen & Carter, 2016).
Numerous international organizations were created to ensure the maintenance of the established world order. Companies operate across the globe as they produce products in diverse geographic locations and distribute them across the globe. People may choose any educational establishment in the world to obtain a degree. In general, geographic locations are becoming somewhat blurred for business. In the globalized environment, the use of one language has become a necessity as people can share information and achieve their goals without wasting time.
The impact of technological advances on the spread of English is manifold. On the one hand, various discoveries and innovations have been introduced by English-speaking people. Various concepts and things have English names, so a considerable number of words created in English-speaking countries (although often having Greek and Latin roots) come into usage in other countries (Delaney, 2017).
Such words as Internet or dynamite, as well as hundreds of other lexical units, are utilized in many languages, although they come from the English-speaking world. The expansion of English terms can be explained with the help of the grassroots theory. People do not need to create a new word in their own language if they come across a new object or concept. They simply borrow the term as it is more convenient since everyone around them uses the word to denote a specific item. Sharing information becomes faster and easier when some (or all) words exist in several languages.
More importantly, technological advances in modern times enable people to share information instantly. Companies, politicians, researchers, and anyone who needs to communicate an idea can reach considerable populations within a very short period of time (Crothers, 2017). Such channels of communication as the Internet and television make people exposed to a vast amount of data. It is noteworthy that researchers and scientists, whose work is supported financially in many developed countries, especially in the USA, use English to report their findings. English has become the language of communication in the scientific world and academia. Again, this language offers various opportunities since people can access knowledge, funding, employment, and status.
Political and Economic Aspects
Although some economic and political aspects related to the proliferation of a language have been mentioned, it is necessary to add some details. The economic development of such English-speaking countries as the USA and the UK in the twentieth century largely shaped the way the human society developed at that period. Developed countries provided economic support to other states, and they often provided help to individuals and groups who shared democratic and capitalistic values (Kamwangamalu, 2016). The countries they helped often adopted the political and economic models of the western world to a certain extent.
Clearly, the relations between the countries became closer, and the communication between different groups intensified, which led to the spread of English in the new territories. People who lived in African and Asian countries, as well as Eastern European states, studied English in order to increase their chances of accessing the opportunities the collaboration with the western world had to offer.
The Spread of the American Culture
As mentioned above, languages often shape cultures and people’s identities. The linguistic system is also a pathway for a culture to penetrate new areas. The English language has become one of the instruments to popularize the American culture in the world. Some people argue that the USA and the UK dominate the rest of the world and use their economic and political stability as soft power. In a certain sense, this assumption is rather justified as countries and individuals would like to receive financial support to improve their own status (Kamwangamalu, 2016). Of course, the US strategy encompasses the support of democratic values and the struggle against terrorism and tyranny (Fairclough, 2018). Some elements of domination are present in the spread of the American culture and the use of English.
Opportunities and Popularization
However, the proliferation of the language and the culture passes from the bottom to top now. People in different countries study English, and they also learn about the culture of the biggest English-speaking countries (Kamwangamalu, 2016). Alongside the opportunities English offers to people who can use it, they are exposed to the American culture. People learn about the latest advances reading English sources, and they also come across information about the American culture (Crothers, 2017).
Importantly, the business community also contributes considerably to the expansion of American culture. Multinationals often have American expatriates who use American methods of doing business and share their views regarding various aspects of people’s lives with their peers. Again, these new values and new ideas are brought through English, as this is the language of business communication.
Learning the language is often associated with reading books and watching films, as well as listening to songs in the target language. All these forms of communication are often concerned with cultural aspects (Crothers, 2017). American movies, songs, and books describe the American way of life. The English language can be regarded as an illustration of the way the popularization of the culture is carried out through the proliferation of the language.
It is necessary to note that the economic development of the USA is associated with the creation of potent platforms for the spread of the American culture. For instance, Hollywood, as well as other major producers of television-based products, have had a profound effect on the cultures of many countries. As far as Hollywood is concerned, this area can be seen as an embodiment of the American dream that becomes longlining of people coming from different cultural backgrounds. Hollywood celebrities become role models and the people who have an impact on people’s behavior and worldview.
For instance, such actresses as Emma Watson or Angelina Jolie inspire people (although focusing on gender equality) advocate for the equal rights of men and women as well as females’ active participation in the social life of their countries (Andresen & Carter, 2016). These strong women inspire others to adopt the free-thinking of the American woman who fights for democracy. Of course, they speak English and deliver their messages by means of this language with its notions and concepts such as democracy and equality, among others.
The American culture was also popularized by such iconic TV series as Friends. Six adults lived their lives and tried to achieve success in a big city, which became one of the ideals for millions across the globe (Andresen & Carter, 2016). The main characters of the TV series promulgated American values by the way they lived and even spoke. They discussed various notions and concepts that were typical of life in the USA, but those topics were often new to people who live in other countries.
Therefore, through their language, six friends popularized the culture of their country. It can be hard to identify the exact channels of the popularization of the American culture across the planet. It is also rather difficult to identify the specific ways the language affects cultures, and the tools that enable cultures to influence language. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the link between cultures, and languages exists and it has a direct impact on every person in the world.
On balance, it is necessary to note that the language and culture are interrelated as they influence each other. The language shapes people’s identities and the identity of some groups and entire countries. Although some believe that the domination of English in the contemporary world is a result of the Anglo-American conspiracy, the reasons for the popularity of the American culture and the English language is associated with the opportunities they have to offer. The grassroots theory described the reasons behind people’s willingness to use English and adopt American values. People in developing countries study English in order to obtain a better education and find the most appropriate employment. They are exposed to scientific, academic, and technological advances that tend to be described in English.
The language offers various opportunities for people living in diverse regions and continents, so it is commonly studied. English is the language of technological and scientific advances that are often associated with the USA. Educational institutions also serve as platforms for the spread of American culture as students learn more about the country and people’s way of life. The students often adopt some traditions or values and their worldview changes. They start sharing their views when at home and contribute to the popularization of some values. English became instrumental in proliferating the American culture across the globe through such potent platforms as the Internet, Hollywood, and television. The language is still a means of international communication and is likely to penetrate an increasing number of countries and aspects of people’s life.
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