Thursday, 19 May 2016

Building an English 'Latin' America

Taking into account the grand history of our planet, it doesn't take long at all for us humans, judging by behaviour anyway, to feel that certain things are indisputably part of where we are from. 'It is what it is, and that's just that.'

From nature's point of view, where we haven't seriously altered the landscape, change, for the most part, does indeed take time. Nonetheless, it happens, whether we witness it in our lifetime or not.

US President Barack Obama meets his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro ...
The English, nay Yanks, are coming ...
As a species, we also go through constant changes, be they cultural, genetic, geographical or linguistic. On that last one, that a certain region speaks a certain language today does not mean, as history has shown us, it will always speak in that tongue.

Now it could be argued that the days of regions witnessing great language changes, as happened to the native populations of the Americas, are over. One reason for this is the very fact that there is more homogeneity in this regard than, let's say, 500 years ago. You have a few main languages that the majority of people speak with many minor ones just barely being kept alive.

Alongside this, we have one language that dominates internationally, especially in terms of business and tourism, that being English; or its Globish version in any case. Where French was the globe's lingua franca in the 18th and 19th centuries for diplomacy, international relations and other areas, English has taken that position; minus, though, much of the former's prestige.

This being so, English gaining close to parity with both Portuguese and Spanish amongst the masses here in South America is a future possibility.

It is by quirk of fate, and bad luck according to some, that Portuguese and Spanish are the common languages in these parts. For sure, over the centuries they have become culturally as much a part of the lands they cover as the Andes Mountains are physically. Yet, with the continued influence of its powerful neighbour to the north coupled with a belief that an ability to speak English well leads to better prospects and/or an improved quality of life (however true in reality that may be), South America's nascent anglicization may gather momentum in the coming decades.

As is, most of the region's more well-to-do, along with some not-so-well-off types who have seen it to be advantageous, already have a decent level of English. Here in Colombia, successive governments have made no secret of the fact that they would like to see the country bilingual — they just haven't come up with a winning formula yet, despite a few attempts launched with great fanfare. (There's also that love affair the country seems to have with the Union Jack.)

Another factor to consider is that the origin countries of the dominant languages here, Portugal and Spain, aren't exactly, to put it mildly, the global powers they once were. Thus, while internal, regional trade doesn't require English, international business with the world's biggest players is most likely to be conducted via the lingua franca. It may not be that much of a stretch to see Latinos drift more towards English in the decades to come; a slide away from one imposed language that has lost a certain usefulness and a drift towards another that has more clout.

You will also find those, Latinos and non-Latinos alike, who believe that Latin America would be in a better position financially, even culturally (if not aesthetically), if it had actually been 'Anglo-Saxon America' instead, pointing to the US and Canada as 'proof'. Whatever about a language benefit, to say this is to assume a lot and ignore a host of differences between North and South America when Europeans first came calling, such as the lack of any powerful pre-existing civilization in much of the former and, perhaps more significantly, no immediate, obvious riches to loot for the motherland, to name but two. (Guyana, as the only mainland South American state to have English as its official language, doesn't exactly have us looking on with envy.)

Of course, in all this we can be accused of taking for granted the continuance of English-language dominance. Frenchmen in the 18th century probably thought the same about their language's position. However, at this remove, in a far more globalised world than when French was king, English's fall from ahigh any time soon seems hard to contemplate.

Those variable winds of change from the East surely can't blow in a new top language?
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