Huffington Post Blog Pre Referendum: Ask not for what you want for your country, Ask ‘What is best for your mother tongue’…

The arguments used to win over the uncommitted in the British referendum have been so confrontational. They’ve focused on divisive issues like immigration or silly claims that in 13 years time Brits will earn exactly £4 300 less.

You’re losing the ability to rule yourselves, says the right wing press, blinkered by bitterness at their declining control of the people.

Meanwhile those who cry wolf on the Remain side have run such a negative campaign that I’m convinced that if Britain votes leave this week, I’ll wake up the next day and find all my shoelaces have dissolved.

This is an appeal to think along a different line. I’m English. I speak English. I’m not unique in this: so do my fellow countrymen and the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish who currently comprise the UK. Then there’s the other half of Ireland. Jump the pond and those damn Yankees do too…

The ripples of the English language cover the globe. 54 countries have it as their official language. Many of the globe’s biggest organisations use English. Fans of acronyms can note this includes the UN, EU, NATO, ICC, OPEC Etc.

English is big. It’s not just used by Brits abroad to order a Sunday Roast on any given day.  It’s a lingua franca. It’s the medium for speakers from two different countries of two different languages to get along together. All over the world people who’ve learnt English after their own language are talking to others who’ve done the same, in ENGLISH.

About one billion people are learning English now. That makes English as popular as Facebook and as powerful as the seven Google products that have a billion users each day. 

I’ve lived in Spain for ten years. I’ve seen Russians chatting with Swedes, Spaniards talking to Dutch and many, many other combinations. And I’m able to join in the conversation as and when. This is a powerful social tool and it provides valuable opportunities too. My nephew has escaped the lack of decent graduate jobs and the drudgery of the Recession by teaching English to school kids in Asia. He’s having a wonderful time, he’s travelling, broadening his mind and getting paid a bit.

English oils the wheels of commerce, too. It’s the global language of business. More and more multinational companies use English as their corporate language, including Microsoft in Beijing. Computers use an architecture based around English.

This is not the place for a history lesson. It’s not necessary to know that the roots of English lie with the Germanic tribes who  occupied parts of the country from the Seventh Century onwards. But it is right to note that many people who’ve come to England at different times, speaking different languages, have added to the language. Nor is this the time to discuss in any detail how English has reached this position. Chance, the spirit of adventure, trade, the wars, the conquests, the defeats, the good and the bad brought it to here. 

It’s a blinkered view that says Britain has lost the power to govern itself. That focuses on the loss of power of Britain to bend others to our will. But almost none of us ordinary folk have any say in sovereignty anyway. We’re led by unelected elites who manipulate society to ensure the success and continuation of their world view. Plus the odd politician. Darwin was right. Whether this elite is English, British, European or even one day Chinese doesn’t make much practical difference to me.
But I am in control of how I connect to the world. This is a power I have inside me. And the more others who also connect in English, the better off I am, culturally, socially, financially etc.

It’s time to show my hand. I work in Spain for an English language talk radio station. Talk Radio Europe. We talk to Expats, holiday makers, visitors and we have a strong listenership from people learning or wanting to improve their English. I, and my fellow English speakers, benefit from this.

The promotion of our language should be an important factor in our vote. Do you think leaving the EU will aid the success of our language? Do you think our language is successful enough that its global use will see its continuing triumph? I don’t know. I’m not from the British spirit of adventure camp. I’m more a quiet liberal with a lifetime of programming to do the right thing. I can’t not start by seeing both sides of an argument: On a good day, I can find a way to move through that.

However we vote in the referendum, we should bear in mind the importance of the language we carry with us. Think not just of ‘isolated’ or ‘independent’ Little England or ‘in the club’ or ‘bullied’ Great Britain. Think of what’s best for our mother tongue.

As someone from an extinct language once said ‘Carpe Diem’.

Rob Humphries

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