Reading the following passage from this paper brought me back to the lobby of a hostel in Thessaloniki :
The Finnish network in Figure 7 is qualitatively different. It continues the trend observed in the Portuguese network in that it is smaller and looser, but unlike the previous networks, it lacks an apparent center. Rather, each seed journal and its friends constitutes an independent cluster. Moreover, rather than appearing mainly on the margins of the network, English appears in the centers of the clusters, and even in positions bi-directionally bridging between Finnish journals. This pattern is suggestive of a high degree of Finnish-English bilingualism among Finnish Live-Journalers; indeed, most of the English journals in this network appear to be written by Finns. Thus Finns have conversations on LJ in both Finnish and English, but mostly among themselves. [emphasis mine]
It was in that Thessaloniki hostel lobby that I came to a banal-but-then-amazing realization – while watching a Swedish gent chat up a Japanese lass, I consciously realized, perhaps for the first time, that every day there are probably somewhere in the dozens to hundreds of millions of people speaking to each other in English, for whom English is not a first language. And in the years since (that was in 2002), English has since become not only the default international lingua franca (ironically, mostly not in the Western Hemisphere, where Spanish is increasingly dominant as an international language due to its increased penetration Stateside) but basically the default language of business in the EU. Not due to British cultural imperialism, either – just because it’s easier.
Indeed, English instruction starts so early in most Northern European countries that it can hardly be said to be a non-native language. Especially or the Finns and the Swedes, their export-and-knowledge-based economies (Nokia based in Finland, Linux born in Sweden) demand fluency not just in multiple languages but specifically the international language – and language of the Western internet – English [the Sino-Nipponese-Korean corner of the Net is another story entirely].
I often think about what impacts this will have long-term on the English language – the many divergent strands of slang and local dialect that are emerging among non-native English speakers even as American, Canadian and British regionalisms and colloquialisms are drowned in the ongoing homogenization of our national cultures.
Will an international English-language culture emerge? Has it already – is in fact the (Western) Internet just that? Is the emergence of a more-or-less global language a consequence of transnational trade harmonization – an outfall of GATT, NAFTA, EU, etc. – or does it set the stage for them? Or am I just part of an informational elite that makes it seem like there’s increasing internationalization when for most people, there’s not, and English is just the latest in a series of lingua francas for the transnational global elite? I’m not rightly sure, about any of these things. But it’s something, ain’t it?