Discussion paper

DP10102 English as a global language

How far has English already spread? How much further can we expect it to go? In response to the first question, this chapter tries to identify the areas of life where English already serves as a lingua franca in the world (more or less) and those where the language faces sharp competition and does not threaten to marginalize the other major languages. The former areas of life are international safety, the internal business of international organizations, internal communication within the international news industry, international sports and science. The latter areas are the press, television, the internet, publishing and international trade. As to the second question, about the future prospects of English, the chapter argues that the advance of English will depend heavily on the motives to learn the other major languages in the world as well. Based on the empirical evidence, the same model applies to the incentives to learn English and these other languages. On the important topic of welfare, the cultural market is the single one where it is arguable that the progress of English has gone too far. English dominance in the song, the cinema and the best-seller is indeed extraordinary and difficult to reconcile with the evidence of strong popular attachments to home languages, which is otherwise apparent.


Melitz, J (2014), ‘DP10102 English as a global language‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 10102. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp10102