English is the nearest we have to world language. It is spoken as a second language by more people than any other.
Its reach is worldwide. Most scientific papers are published in English. It is the language of the Internet. In short, it has established a linguistic empire greater than the British Empire. This in itself is of immense influence for language defines thought processes to a large degree. No man can be divorced from the language in which he thinks. Language forms part of personality. Nor is this just a case of vocabulary but of grammar. In fact, all people who share a first language are in some way culturally homogenised.
The international success of the English language is increasingly ascribed by the England haters to the dominance of America and nothing else, that it is no credit to the English that their language has obtained such a dominant place in the world. This argument conveniently ignores the fact that without England there would be no America. But even without that consideration , the argument does not stand examination because it underestimates the legacy of the Empire and the utility of the language itself. That America has English as its first language is of immense importance, but it is far from being the sole reason for the international success of the language.
The Imperial influence should be clear. The British Empire was both vast and long lasting. Under any conceivable set of political circumstances it would be extraordinary if English was not still spoken widely in the ex-colonies. The experience of the ex-colonies of other powers such as France shows that the colonisers’ language has been maintained in at least the first two generations born after independence. Why should the ex-colonies of Britain, which parted from their colonial power on much better terms than the colonies of any other power, and who have willingly joined in association with Britain in the Commonwealth, have been less likely to retain the use of English than the French colonies French? It would make no sense.
Important as American influence and the imperial connection are, I believe the general utility of the language to be the greatest reason for its success. The English language is immensely tough and varied in its capacity. It may be strong or soft, lyrical or brutal, express humour as readily as it accommodates intellectual discussion. It is also largely unencumbered with gender and inflected endings. It is consequently simple to learn. One may also abuse it greatly in terms of grammar and syntax, yet be understood. That makes its acquiring as a functional language even easier. It is this suit of qualities which I believe make English so attractive to users throughout the world. Had it been a language notoriously difficult to speak or write such as Japanese or Chinese, I doubt whether it would have had its success regardless of its promotion by the dominant world power of our times.