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Language Spread and Its Study in the Twenty-First Century

Abstract and Keywords

The study of language, its spread in the twenty-first century is the nucleus of this article. Language spread is, according to Cooper, “an increase, over time, in the proportion of a communication network that adopts a given language or language variety for a given communicative function”. It is generally taken for granted that language, as a concomitant of culture, can spread. Schoolchildren learn of the spread of Greek culture and language throughout the Mediterranean world, of the spread of Roman influence and Latin throughout the Roman Empire, and of the spread of Islam as a new world religion that accompanied the spread of the language of the Koran, Arabic. The ecology of languages paradigm, on the other hand, includes factors that emphasize the sustainability of language diversity and multilingualism, and the equality of languages—factors associated with the third period. This article synthesizes language spread, focusing on the defining characteristics of this field of study.

Keywords: language, language spread, communication network, communicative function, ecology of languages, language diversity, multilingualism

Language spread is, according to Cooper, “an increase, over time, in the proportion of a communication network that adopts a given language or language variety for a given communicative function” (1982a: 6). It is generally taken for granted that language, as a concomitant of culture, can spread.

Schoolchildren learn of the spread of Greek culture and language throughout the Mediterranean world, of the spread of Roman influence and Latin throughout the Roman Empire, and of the spread of Islam as a new world religion that accompanied the spread of the language of the Koran, Arabic. As the children's world expands in historical and geographical dimensions, they begin to perceive how most historical change has been accompanied by the spread of a culture, and consequently of a language, usually that of the more powerful or high-status group. In some cases, the language of the more powerful has been forcefully imposed; in others, participation in the new sociocultural context has simply demanded the adoption of the new language or of new language features. Sometimes there is a social need for the new language or language variety in order to enjoy socioeconomic benefits or to achieve political integration; at other times, the need is communicative because the new messages that the new cultural context creates cannot simply be transmitted in the old way, and a new way of communicating is needed (García and Otheguy, 1989; Otheguy, 1993, 1995).

As children in the Americas grow up, they begin to understand that English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French were powerful languages that spread quickly and (p. 399) forcibly, as the Indigenous groups of the Americas were silenced and sometimes killed. They learn from history books that other languages were brought to the New World, but yet there was no spread of either the many languages of African slaves or of the languages of less powerful immigrant groups. When students later compare the fate of Spanish in Latin America, brought by powerful conquerors, with that of Spanish in the United States, spoken originally by the less powerful conquerors in remote areas such as Florida or eventually by darker-skinned Mexicans in the Southwest who had by then adopted the Spanish language of their conquerors, they start to realize that language spread has much to do with dominance, power, prestige, and privilege.

Three different, but not mutually exclusive, phases in the study of language spread (or language diffusion or language expansion as the phenomenon is also known) can be distinguished:

  1. 1. The beginnings (1970s to 1980s): Language spread is described as a natural phenomenon to solve the language problems of the world, usually referring to those created by language diversity and multilingualism. Studies during this time were motivated by a modernist agenda following the independence of Asians and African countries. The imposition of language planning agencies and other forms of imperial and political control in spurring the spread is foregrounded. (See, e.g., Quirk, 1988, for English.)

  2. 2. The critical period (1990s): Language spread is studied within the complex sociocultural processes that affect it in diverse ways. The role of class, ethnicity, race, and gender that causes asymmetrical power relations between speakers and that impacts adoption is given attention (McConnell, 1990). There is much criticism of language spread as a linguistic imperialist agenda within the context of language rights and of protecting endangered languages (Phillipson, 1992; Skutnabb-Kangas and Phillipson, 1994).

  3. 3. The postmodern period (twenty-first century): Language spread is studied from a postmodern perspective, within a language ecology framework in which languages do not compete, but readjust themselves to fit into an environment (Mühlhäusler, 2000). Globalization and technological advances spur this position. In language adoption, the agency of speakers—causing language spread while appropriating and penetrating it with their own intentions and social styles—is foregrounded.

Basing their formulations on Tsuda's work on communication (1994, 1997), Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas 1997 make a distinction between what they call the diffusion paradigm and the ecology of languages paradigm in the study of language spread. The diffusion paradigm refers to factors of imposition that are closely associated with the first period (modernization, monolingualism, capitalism) but also, as Tsuda 1997 has made clear in the case of English, to (p. 400) factors that are often associated with the second period (linguistic, cultural, and media imperialism) and the third period (globalization). The ecology of languages paradigm, on the other hand, includes factors that emphasize the sustainability of language diversity and multilingualism, and the equality of languages—factors associated with the third period. At the same time, Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas's (1997) ecology of languages paradigm includes the protection of local production and national sovereignties. Thus, although supporting linguistic diversity in the face of language spread, Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas's ecology of languages paradigm does not promote the flexibility in language use that Mühlhäusler's (2000) and other postmodernist scholars (e.g., Canagarajah, 1999; Pennycook, 1994) support. Many have proposed that the old imperialism-resistance analytical model is not relevant in postcolonial globalized contexts in which hybrid identities and flexible language practices are being constructed (Canagarajah, 1999). Pennycook (2000) has proposed that language spread is a result of “postcolonial performativity,” the ability of local people to appropriate language practices for their own diverse intentions. In fact, one could say that the study of contemporary language spread is more about languaging spread—that is, about the spread of the ways in which people use language and about their discursive practices. (For additional explication of the concept languaging, see especially the discussion of Yngve, 1996, in Makoni and Pennycook, 2007.)

Brutt-Griffler 2002 has indicated that language spread is not always imposed by external factors, but rather that local situations may encourage the spread. In encouraging language spread, the speech community is involved in a process of language change in which the local interacts with the global. In this process of second language acquisition by speech communities that she terms macroacquisition, there is no language spread without local language change; in other words, language spread occurs because speakers adopt external language practices, while infusing them with their own. In the face of language spread, language change occurs. Thus, language spread does not promote additive bilingualism in the classical sense of two separate languages. Language spread encourages a dynamic bilingualism that supports flexible language use and translanguaging practices. (For additional explication of the concepts bilingualism and translanguaging, see García, 2009.) Dynamic bilingualism involves multiple language practices and translanguaging, in other words, using hybrid and multiple language practices simultaneously—practices that are associated with one or another autonomous language to perform different languaging acts (García, 2009).

This chapter synthesizes the theoretical literature on language spread, focusing on the defining characteristics of this field of study. The study of language spread has sometimes mimicked the phenomenon itself, thinly stretching to encompass many situations of different kinds of language change. This chapter also draws theoretical boundaries around the construct of language spread, making it easier to study it in the future.

(p. 401) The Study of Language Spread

What it is, and What it is Not

Fishman, Cooper, and Conrad (1977) formally introduced the complex conceptualization of the field of study in relationship to English-as-an-additional-language and as another perspective for the study of language maintenance and shift. Language spread studies were the object of attention at the Aberystwyth Conference in Wales in 1978. Cooper (1982b) compiled the first significant publication of studies devoted to language spread.

The modern study of language spread, made possible by advances in the sociology of language and in psycholinguistics, as well as in ways of gathering and analyzing macro- and microsociolinguistic data, was preeminently shaped by Cooper, who has offered the classic definition: “the increase over time in the proportion of a communicative network that adopts a given language or language variety for a given communicative function” (1982a: 6).

Both Fishman, Conrad, and Rubal-Lopez 1996 and Cooper (1982a) insist that the study of language spread is really not about language itself but is rather about changes in the language behavior of speakers. Sometimes these changes in behavior result in new speakers, but often they result simply in the adoption of the language, language variety, or language features for new societal or communicative functions by existing speakers (Fishman, Cooper, and Rosenbaum, 1977).

According to Cooper (1982a), the study of language spread is really about human variability in four aspects of behavior toward language: (1) awareness, (2) evaluation, (3), proficiency, and (4) use. These four behaviors have defining characteristics and are connected to different disciplines. The first two aspects—awareness and evaluation—involve being aware of being positively inclined toward a language or language variety and are of psychological import. Proficiency may be subdivided into (a) the underlying knowledge or competence and (b) the execution or speech performance in that language. Underlying competence is of psycholinguistic import, whereas performance is of sociolinguistic import and involves external behavior that may be directly observed and measured. Finally, the frequency of actual use, or adoption of the language or language variety or language practices, implicates both the narrower definition of sociolinguistics and the broader definition, sometimes explicitly referred to as sociology of language or macrosociolinguistics.

While studying the variance in human behavior toward language, language spread studies also focus on the contextual specificity and their dynamics in change in language behavior. Three aspects of contextual specificity and their dynamics are taken into account:

  1. 1. Variance in overtness: whether the behavioral change toward language is in speaking, hearing, reading or writing, and whether it includes receptive or productive language behavior;

  2. (p. 402) 2. Variance in domain specificity: whether the behavioral change toward language occurs in relation to an institutional domain—in other words, home and family, school, work, religion, government—and in a specific communicative situation;

  3. 3. Variance in role-relationship specificity: whether the behavioral change toward language depends on the social relationship of the interlocutors.

Language spread studies look not only at the degree and location of language behavior change but also at the dynamics and the interrelationship of the aspects of contextual specificity identified earlier (Fishman, Cooper, and Conrad, 1977). But language spread studies go beyond the degree and location of language behavior to include the sociocultural processes that accompany the change. For example, Brosnahan (1963) identified four sociocultural processes that explain the spread of Arabic, Greek, and Latin as mother tongues:

  1. 1. Military conquest or imposition

  2. 2. The length and duration of authority

  3. 3. The multilingualism and linguistic heterogeneity of the area in which the spread occurred

  4. 4. The material incentives for learning the language

The study of language spread focuses, then, on the pervasiveness and variance of change in human behavior toward language (even when those are affective or cognitive, instead of only interactional behavior per se), while identifying the contextual specificity and institutional domain of the behavior as well as the sociocultural processes that shape the language behavior (Fishman, Cooper, and Rosenbaum, 1977).

Working within a modernist development framework, Fishman, Cooper, and Rosenbaum (1977) and Lewis (1982) identify the following sociocultural processes as important for language spread:

  1. 1. Factors related to modernization, especially:

    1. Economic development, particularly external exploitation of indigenous resources

    2. Educational development

    3. Political affiliation and global position vis-à-vis superpowers

    4. Urbanization, with greater linguistic heterogeneity, presence of governmental agencies, and increased educational opportunity

    5. Demographics and population mobility

  2. 2. Factors related to between-group interactions besides conquest, such as

    1. Colonization

    2. Nature of the colonial center and the periphery

    3. Geographical contiguity

    4. Ease of communication

  3. 3. Factors related to the religious and cultural characteristics of a group

(p. 403) Although early modernist work on language spread merely described the phenomenon and related it to these sociocultural processes, critical work on language spread has foregrounded the linguistic imperialism that accompanied development projects, including education. Phillipson 1992 describes the spread of English as an imperialist project conducted not through impositional force, as had been done in the past, but through persuasion and ideas. This critical language spread work questioned the role of modernization and the state, focusing not on the spread, but rather on the decline and loss of many of the world's languages (Krauss, 1992; Nettle and Romaine, 2000).

In the twenty-first century, globalization has become the most important sociocultural process in the study of language spread. The development of globalization and the end of the Cold War, coupled with technological advances, have accelerated the movement of peoples. Language spread is now more dynamic than ever, involving not simply replacement of languages as a result of language shift, but also the acquisition of additional languages and dynamic bilingualism (García, 2009).

De Swaan 1998 has proposed that there is a dynamic world system of languages that accounts for language spread. This system is held together by multilinguals. Languages that spread are central because there is a large percentage of multilinguals in that system whose repertoire contains that language. Thus, these central languages have more Q-value, in other words, their utility increases with an increasing number of users. De Swaan 1998: 71) explains that languages spread when speakers realize that they can increase the Q-value of their repertoire by a greater amount by adding a given language than any other. Q-value, the worth of a language, takes into account the language's prevalence (i.e., the number of people within a language constellation who speak it) and its centrality (i.e., the number of people knowing another language who choose to use this language to communicate). The difference at present in the study of language spread is that it is multilingualism and dynamism that stands at the center of the spread.

Language spread studies, as a subfield of sociology of language studies, attempt to answer the summarizing question posed by Cooper: “Who adopts what, when, why, and how?” (1982a: 31). The framework proposed by Cooper asks that language spread studies determine

Who: the sociolinguistic characteristics of individual and communicative network adopters

Adopts: the interaction of the different levels of language behavior previously identified

What: the structural/functional characteristics of the linguistic innovation

When: the time of adoption

Where: the kinds of social interaction within the type of societal domain that lead to the adoption

Why: the incentives for adoption

How: the language planning activities that accompany adoption

(p. 404) There are a number of well-known cases of language spread:

  • The spread of Latin as a lingua franca in the western half of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages

  • The spread of Arabic during the Islamic expansion

  • The spread of Spanish throughout Latin America during the conquest and colonization

  • The spread of French, Portuguese, and English as colonial languages throughout Asia and Africa

But all these cases of language spread, which resulted from direct military conquest, often causing a language shift in the population, have little to do with the study of language spread as it is currently conceived. Studies of language spread beginning after Cooper (1982b) mark a change in scholarship brought about not only by advances in the sociology of language (Fishman, 1968) but also by the globalization of a new world order. Presently, the study of language spread looks at how global and discourse forces, less explicitly present than military conquest and interacting simultaneously at many social levels, impact language behaviors.

Language spread differs from language change, from language shift, from language maintenance, from reversing language shift, and from language policy. The term language change describes the change in the linguistic forms themselves, without considering the behavior of human beings as mediators (or sources) of change (Cooper 1982a) or the reason for the occurrence of language change within a given sociocultural context.

Language shift, the process by which a speech community abandons a language or language variety and takes up another one, most often starts with the displacement of a language or a variety for low (L) functions—in other words, with the erosion of diglossia. Language spread, however, most often responds to newly created communicative functions and language uses, usually for high (H) functions. Thus, in some ways, language spread disturbs what was previously a diglossic relationship between two particular languages. As two or more languages coexist within the same social spaces, a transglossia results with many languages in functional interrelationships. (For additional explication of the concept transglossia, see García, 2009.) The French sociolinguistic Louis-Jean Calvet 1999 has proposed that the contemporary spread of globally powerful languages can coexist with many other languages. For the individual, this means being able to engage in different language practices encompassing those of the expanding speech community.

Language shift situations constitute the other side of the coin of language spread. The study of language shift and language maintenance focuses on the more external human behavior toward language (i.e., proficiency and use), often using the more implicit behavior (i.e., awareness and evaluation) only as predictors of the change in external adoption, unlike language spread studies. Whereas studies of language shift and language maintenance concern themselves with measurement of habitual language use, language spread concerns itself with processes of sociocultural (p. 405) change and their impact on language behavior, including awareness, evaluation, proficiency, and use (Fishman, Cooper and Conrad, 1977).

Efforts to reverse language shift (RLS) often mimic in reverse the process of language spread, attempting to spread the use of a heritage language in communicative functions for which another language is being used. As in language spread, RLS results in macroacquisition that also produces differences in the local language practices.

Language spread is always spurred by the three components of language policy (Spolsky, 2004):

  1. 1. Language management—also known as language intervention, language engineering, or language planning in the context of direct efforts to manipulate language situations

  2. 2. Language practices or the habitual pattern of selecting among varieties that make up a linguistic repertoire

  3. 3. Language beliefs or ideology referring to the beliefs about language and language practices

The Characteristics of Language Spread: Who, What, Where, and When?

Language spread has been characterized as taking an upbeat perspective (Fishman, 1988), as the language adds speakers, functions, and ways of languaging. Additive, Dynamic, Dominant, Sustained over time, and Broad refers to contextualized language spread within an additive context. Each of these defining characteristics of language spread will be explicated individually.

Additive. Language spread results in additive language practices. According to Fishman 1977, language spread often begins with the acquisition of a language—or of a variety—for such H functions as technology, economics, government, high culture, religion, and literacy-related functions in education. The increased globalization occurring over the past 2 decades of the twentieth century has spurred the spread of languages, in particular of English, with bilingualism and multilingualism being desired outcomes. As globalization takes hold, new communicative functions are created that respond to the movement of capital and people around the globe and to a proliferation of new products and services. Speakers who wish to participate in this new world order are then increasingly aware and favorably inclined to learn and adopt the language or language variety that will enable them to participate in this new economic order. The increased use of English on the Internet is an obvious example. Phillipson (1994a, 1994b) claims that English has been globally marketed as the language of economic and technological progress, national unity, and international understanding. Thus, it has spread through ideological persuasion of access to socioeconomic incentives and favors.

(p. 406) Dynamic. Language spread is dynamic because the increase in pervasiveness of behavior toward language is a result of sociocultural change and results in sociolinguistic and sociocultural change. As a result, the bilingualism is not linearly additive, but dynamic. As Brutt-Griffler 2002 has suggested, language spread always results in language change for a speech community, and it is precisely this complex language use that results in dynamic language practices and translanguaging. Although language spread is always upbeat, its dynamism can hide the painful social dislocation of the adopters, sometimes resulting in conflict and loss (Fishman, 1988).

Kachru 1986 refers to the “alchemy of English,” suggesting that the spread of English has resulted in nonnative varieties of English, used extensively in non-English society for H functions, in other words, even in literature (Thumboo, 1987). It is precisely because of the bilingual nature of language spread that adoption of such language behavior usually begins and is enthusiastically embraced by indigenous populations—populations that are the victims of extensive power inequalities and for whom use of a second language, whether an international language like English or a colonial language like French, constitutes an advantage.

Dominance. Combined with economic power, language spread occurs primarily among groups that have a secure group language identity and for whom an additional language does not appear to be threatening. In countries of the Global South, where the division between the poor and rich is great, only the elite become bilingual. For example, Phillipson (1994a) points out that in such “English speaking countries” as Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan, only a very few indigenous people are actually English speakers. There is a difference between language spread in the Netherlands and language spread among the indigenous people of the Americas. In the former case, English has spread throughout the Netherlands, both in the Dutch-speaking and in the Frisian-speaking areas, without posing any threat to the language identity of the Dutch and the Frisians, because English does not compete with their languages. Yet the spread of Dutch threatens the existence of Frisian, whose speakers have adopted protective policies against the spread of Dutch. Although Spanish has spread extensively throughout Latin America and has been vigorously imposed through conquest and colonization, there continues to be resistance against total adoption of Spanish by members of impoverished and isolated indigenous groups who fear that the pull of economic advantages will lead to sure language death (Cobarrubias, 1990; García, 1999; Heath, 1972).

Language spread responds to dominance of some kind, whether economic, political, ideological, or demographic, or to dominance arising from communicative factors. The language that is contextually more powerful spreads as an additional language because of the benefits that accrue to the adopters (Fishman, 1977, 1988). Scotton (1982: 85) recalls that in order for individuals to want to adopt another language or language variety, they must be dissatisfied with their socioeconomic status and confident that their lives will improve as a result of the new language behavior. Language spreads because there is dominance and because there are prospects for increased dominance.

(p. 407) To a lesser extent than economic, political, or demographic factors, religion can also account for the dominance that causes language spread. Religion, by insisting that prayer and ritual must be conducted in a certain language, may indeed be a very important factor in language spread, as in the case of Arabic (C. A. Ferguson, 1982).

Because language spreads through dominance, spread usually occurs from the top down; in other words, it is the government or the cultural elite who first adopt and promote the change. Dominance is also advanced through schools—especially through higher education—as well as through such other special mechanisms controlled by the elite as the mass media, business, and employment (Fishman, 1977), and testing and language in public space (Shohamy, 2006).

Language spread may be most effective in cities, where interaction is intensive and prevalent and where there is greater linguistic heterogeneity, creating a communicative need for the acquisition of different language practices and for their spread. Language spread may also be most effective where there are governmental agencies and schools that can promote the use of different languages.

Sustained over time. Language spread takes place over extended time. It is persistent, consistent, and repetitive, having lasting impact on language behavior. Mackey (1990) recalls that the study of language spread is usually diachronic; he uses demographic, geographic, and especially historic factors to explain spread.

Broad. Finally, language spread affects not only groups, as do both language shiftand language maintenance, but also its impact is felt between groups. Thus, language spreads in a broad and extensive context is responsive to geopolitical interests. Language spreads among individuals and groups, as well as in sociopolitical contexts. Phillipson 2003 has, for example, examined the spread of English throughout the European Union (EU) and the laissez-faire EU policies that are moving the EU dangerously close to being an English-only union. (For additional details, see Council of Europe, 2000.) Scotton recalls that “it is misleading to study the spread of any language out of the context of change in the entire social system” (1982: 89).

Traditional diglossia allows for bilingual speakers who clearly differentiate between the “L” and “H” functions for which the two languages serve. Language spread makes possible multiple language acquisition for H functions and translanguaging practices, a transglossia (García, 2009) that is a consequence of living in the twenty-first century.

How and Why Language Spreads

The macro level of geopolitical interest may manifest itself consciously (as in language policy and language planning—management—efforts), or it may be unplanned, with the pull toward the spreading language being a result of what Fishman refers to as the zeitgeist, in which “social mobility aspirations, hungers for material and leisure time gratifications and stylishness of the pursuit of modernity itself” (1988: 2) constitute part of the picture. Yet Fishman himself believes that if (p. 408) left unattended, the spreading language will eventually erode the other language(s) in the environment. Phillipson 1994a, 1994b) also believes that because language spread is tied to linguistic hierarchies in the new world order, it is never really left to chance. This is a different position from that of Calvet 1999, who, in proposing a gravitational model of bilingualism, believes that the spread of global languages can coexist with official and national languages, with regional lingua francas, and with local vernaculars without threatening them in any way.

Language spread also occurs because of the communicative needs in language contact situations. The spread of a trade pidgin along contact borders, its subsequent acquisition as a creole, and its eventual decreolization constitute examples of language spread (Holm, 1988; Kaplan and Baldauf, 1997b; Stewart, 1989).

Language spread is not subconscious, as language maintenance is because of its static characteristics. Language spreads only when people believe that they will gain well-being, power, and control (Scotton, 1982); in other words, the educated and the middle-class are more likely to adopt new language behaviors than are those for whom the acquisition of a new language will offer little change in the socioeconomic and political structure. Scotton (1988) provides evidence from Africa that the spread of a lingua franca depends upon the degree of socioeconomic integration. Fishman notes that the spread of languages is facilitated by “the promise they hold to change the lives of their new speakers” (1988: 2).

Language spread policy, defined by Ammon, “attempts to entrench a language more deeply in its speakers, to increase their skills and improve their attitudes or to enhance its status or extend its functions in any domain” (1997: 51). Ammon 1997 identifies the following five goals of language-spread policy:

  1. 1. To increase communication

  2. 2. To spread one's ideology

  3. 3. To develop economic ties

  4. 4. To gain revenue from language study and products

  5. 5. To preserve national identity and pride

Language spread policy, according to Ammon 1992: 47), can be explicit and declared, but it can also be undeclared (as in the case of Japan), covert (as in the case of Nazi Germany), or implicit (as in the case of Brazil). Language spread policy is not always directed by government or by independent organizations; it also involves the media, business, the scientific community, and education, particularly institutions of higher education (Phillipson, 1994a: 20). There are many agencies that promote or limit the spread of language by acting as motivators, propagandists, and pressure groups (Lewis, 1982: 248). Among the most important agencies of language spread are the national language academies. Language planning deals with both corpus planning (especially standardization) and status planning. Ammon 1992, 1994) has described at length the Federal Republic of Germany's overt policy of spreading German. Although language spread policy is commonly top down, there have been various attempts to contain it and promote it through bottom-up efforts, such as those described in Hornberger (1997a), Rivera (1999), and Lin and Martin 2005.

(p. 409) Language Spread and English

Since Cooper's seminal volume (1982b), there have been only a few serious comprehensive general studies of general language spread (Ammon, 1994; Ammon and Kleinedam, 1992; Laforgue and McConnell, 1990; Lowenberg, 1988). The term is absent from encyclopedic works on language such as those by Crystal 1987, Baker and Jones 1998, and Davies and Elder (2004b). Yet, language spread has been increasingly used to describe the growth of English as the language of science, technology, finance, and higher education (Crystal, 1997, 2003; Fishman, 1977; Fishman, Cooper, and Conrad, 1977; Fishman, Conrad, and Rubal-Lopez 1996; Graddol, 1997; 2006; Kachru, 1986, 1992; Lin and Martin, 2005; Phillipson, 1992; Tsui and Tollefson, 2007; Uysal, Plakans, and Dembovskaya, 2007). This emphasis on English responds to the more current definition of language spread as a consequence of modern globalization and local desire and agency, and not simply of military conquest or imposition.

How English has spread has been the object of intense disagreement. Some have argued that English happened to be in the right place at the right time (Crystal, 2003); others have proposed that English spread just came along with globalization (Block and Cameron, 2002; Fishman, Conrad, and Rubal-Lopez, 1996; Kumaravadivelu, 2006) and colonialism (Pennycook, 1994, 1998). Others have focused on the role that the English language teaching profession has had in spreading English (Canagarajah, 1999; Phillipson, 1992). Yet, other scholars have pointed to voluntary language choice as the explanation for the spread of English (de Swaan, 2001; Brutt-Griffler, 2002; Ferguson, 2006), while Kaplan (2001) has looked at the accidental confluence of forces following World War II.

In 1988, Kachru observed that one reason for the spread of English was … its propensity for acquiring new identities, its power of assimilation, its adaptability to decolonization as a language, its manifestation in a range of lects and its provision of a flexible medium for literary and other types of creativity across languages and cultures. (Kachru, 1988: 222)

English spreads because it has increasingly become synonymous with globalization and with the economic and technological progress that accompanies it. English has also been widely disseminated, however, because as English has spread across cultures, cultures and languages have spread across English, enabling people to appropriate it differently to express global and local messages. Many different forms of English are spreading. For example, in Singapore, “Singlish” language practices are spreading, requiring government intervention to promote Standard English.

English has succeeded in shedding its Anglo-American identity. As it has spread, it has gained new speakers and spawned new nativized English varieties (Kachru, 1982, 1992) that include hybrid translanguaging practices (Chew, 2007). Because of its global identity, English has even spread in Cuba, isolated by the United States for almost a half century (Corona and García, 1996).

(p. 410) Conclusion

The questions raised in Cooper's (1982a) language spread framework (“Who adopts what, when, where, why and how?”) can be summatively answered. Missing from such answers, however, are the complex interaction of all those factors that defines language spread:

  1. 1. Who adopts?

    1. Those individuals who stand to gain, who need to achieve, and who are secure in their language identity, thus being open to change.

    2. Those communicative networks that stand to gain from the spread of one language because it provides them with a lingua franca enabling both intergroup and intragroup communication, thus increasing trade, improving economic and educational opportunity, or promoting religious/ideological fervor.

  2. 2. How does adoption work?

    1. Generally adopters first become aware of the language innovation and become favorably disposed to it. Behaviors of psychological import (awareness and evaluation) precede behaviors of psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic import (knowledge and use).

  3. 3. What structural and functional characteristics of language are associated with adoption?

    1. Especially high-literacy/econo-technology spurs the adoption. Whether the adoption includes receptive or productive language behaviors depends on the communicative need.

  4. 4. When does adoption take place? Why does it take place at different speeds?

    1. The higher the benefit of adoption, and the higher the density and repetitiveness of the language behavior, the faster the adoption.

  5. 5. Where does adoption take place?

    1. Usually first in societal domains that have high value.

  6. 6. Why does adoption take place?

    1. Because there are enough personal and societal incentives.

  7. 7. How does adoption take place?

    1. It is most often spurred by language planning activities but many times without them, as long as the incentive is high enough.

To be adopted as an additional language, the spreading language must either be curbed by language planning efforts or even through explicit language management or it must be allowed to coexist flexibly in a stable multilingual ecology.

Language spread is not a new phenomenon, but it is a highly complex one. As the study of language spread has expanded and demanded a multidisciplinary and multidimensional level of analysis, the numbers of languages that are spreading have contracted. In this first decade of the twenty-first century, English is not the sole language that is spreading. Arabic, Spanish, and Swahili are spreading. And (p. 411) Modern Standard Chinese—also known as Putonghua or Mandarin—is also spreading (Zhou, 2006). But, increasingly, the focus is on English, as it spreads not only around the Global South (which had been gaining English speakers since the days of colonization) but also significantly throughout the Global North. English has not only spread through cultures, but cultures have spread across English (García and Otheguy, 1989). Thus, although the number of autonomous languages that are spreading has shrunk, languaging practices that include features of different languages are spreading more rapidly than ever. This phenomenon has to do with the spread of new technology and of media throughout the world. The shrinking of geographical space, coupled with the dynamism of the concept of time, will certainly accentuate languaging spread in the twenty-first century, as it shifts the traditional understandings of language spread.