Unequal Exchange in the World Language System

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Abraham DE SWAAN, Columbia University, USA
The World Language System consists of a 4-tiered constellation of plm 6000 language groups, held together by multilingual speakers in a hierarchical structure of peripheral, central, supercentral and hypercentral languages, resembling  the moons  planets, suns in the galaxy: the hub of the system is English. How could such a system with English as the one hypercentral language emerge? Is it because of the unique characteristics of the language, the historical ascent of Britain and then the US,  or was it just a matter of sheer luck? Since English now offers so many advantages, people the world over are eager to learn it and thus accelerate the ‘slow stampede’ towards English. These asymmetric language relations certainly have profited English speakers who have much less need to learn a second language than others do. It also has made for an 'uneven exchange of texts’: books and other cultural products travel far more easily from the English speaking core outward than the other way round. The near hegemony of English also helps to spread English, especially American, notions and practices across the globe. In this presentation the position of the supercentral languages, the state languages and the peripheral languages in unequal power relations with one another and with global english will be examined from the perspective of the world system approach to languages.