THE BLOG

Dollars, Booze and Hashtags: The Global Past, Present and Future of English

04/04/2013 08:17 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 10:12 BST

As the 'mother country' we can be a bit sniffy about English in the UK. Especially when it comes to 'foreign' influences - from Americanisms to gangsta and technobabble. After all, it's called the Queen's English for a reason.

But it's time to let go of the idea that English 'belongs' to anyone - let alone English speaking countries. "No way!" as the rest of the world regularly exclaims - after all far more people now speak English around the world as a second language than as their mother tongue.

The British Council's new #EnglishEffect exhibition shows the power and joy of the English language, its value to people and economies worldwide - and its true status as the world's language.

Because English isn't just a global language in terms of where it's spoken - it is global in its very fabric and evolution. The English we speak today is the product of centuries of contact with other languages and cultures. The language of trade has traded words too - and many words we couldn't live without have their origins overseas.

By our own admission, booze is the UK's worst habit. But we learned it from the Dutch - būsen, means 'to drink to excess'. It washed ashore in the 1500s, mixing into the parlance of thieves and beggars before joining the heady brew of slang used by the wider populace.

Bungalow wasn't coined when a foreman short of bricks instructed his builders to 'bung a low roof' on. The word's true origins lie in Bengal, where the word was first used to describe a single-storey home built for early European settlers. Those early settlers obviously felt right at home in their little houses, so they brought the word and design back with them for a comfy retirement.

If the dollar now trumps the pound, its origins are similar - in weights of silver. But the dollar is a German measure. The original was taler - a shortened form of joachimstaler, a coin minted from the silver of a mine in the town of Joachimsthal.

And bringing us right up to date, your futuristic avatar first appeared in the 1700s, from Sanskrit - describing the descent of a Hindu deity to earthly form.

There are many, many more English words with equally fascinating histories - as well as new ones joining every day.

That English has coexisted and evolved for centuries alongside other languages - absorbing winning words - is one of the reasons it has become a global language. From Pidgins and Creoles to the 'LoLs' and #omnishambles of the Twittersphere - English mashes, hashtags and rehashes like no other language.

Of course English opens doors for us in the UK - we can get by when we step off a plane in most parts of the world. And if there's trade, information or culture about, there's a fair chance some of it'll be in English.

But for countless people worldwide - if they can access it - English brings far more: opportunities, jobs and life chances. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the British Council's busy classrooms and websites show daily that English is the world's most wanted skill.

Don't worry about linguistic imperialism - it's dead. The world has chosen English as its global language. That's not to say that we in the UK don't need to bother learning other languages. Just as English opens doors for others, speaking the world's other languages will always open more doors for Britons and more chances to enrich the lingo.

As a neutral language, English helps build peace in conflict zones. As a business language it brings trade and prosperity. And, as a common language, it connects people to the global economy, global culture and the global conversation.

What's not to like? Only that 'like' is too common a currency these days. English deserves more - our respect and our love.