Who rules the world? English! Vol.1

Today, I am going to start of my post a bit different. I have a little task for you: think about the last memes your friends tagged you on and now think about the last advertisement slogan you read online. Do you see it in front of your inner eye? Can you tell what language has been used? I bet that most of the memes and slogans you remember are in English. TV ads, online ads, memes: a large part of the text that we encounter in media is formulated in English. I am working on the connection of language and digital media for quite a few weeks now and it became more and more clear that one effect of digital media on language is influencing the status of English in daily life.

I came up with the hypothesis that English as a global language is pushed in our digital society. It is made a central language in everyone’s life. However, is that really true or is that just the skewed perception of a German girl studying English for several years? Of course, my perception may be influenced by my immense exchange with international friends. I am in contact with many different nationalities which makes English omnipresent in my digital experiences. Furthermore, I am confronted with English media every day as I need material for classes and research projects. Nevertheless, what I can tell for sure is that English has been on a rise in Germany and other non-English countries for a couple of years and nearly every company that tries to sell their products made use of it at some point to show that they are up to date and that they go with the trend even though the company may be a small regional fashion shop.

An example is the cosmetics chain Douglas. Founded 1821 in Hamburg, Germany, it is a purely German company. However, they entered markets all over Europe during the past decades. Years ago, they came up with a new advertisement slogan for the German (and some other) market: “Come in and find out”. They tried to develop an international marketing strategy and be part of the English trend. Unfortunately, the slogan was misunderstood by most Germans and has been translated as: “come in and find your way out”. As you see, the application of English in foreign markets, online or offline, is a tricky field. So, why do companies desperately want to spread their identity in English? Especially in countries that are not proficient in English, this way of global advertisement entails danger.

Furthermore, there is research on bilinguals that shows that choosing English as advertising language diminishes the positive effect of the ad. Last year, I conducted a study for my bachelor thesis addressing the perceived emotionality in bilinguals of German and English. I proved what many others have found out earlier already: using second languages in a text diminishes the perceived emotionality. Emotionality is an important factor in conveying advertisement messages and can be exploited to increase attention and memory of the potential buyers. However, there are also some positive aspects on using English advertisement slogans, at least from a business point of view. English makes the advertisement material universally applicable. The company can start one campaign and conduct it in several countries which saves large amounts of money.

I could elaborate on the pros and cons of the universality of English for ours but let’s go back to the actual topic I wanted to address. Is this development towards purely English media partly due to digital media? I would say it definitely plays a big role. Looking at the numbers of English content online, it is obvious that English is by far the number one ahead of all other languages. Of course, English is also spoken by a huge amount of people (983 mio). However, Chinese Mandarin (1.1 bio) for example is spoken by way more people but its appearance on the internet is way less.

After pointing out the facts about English in digital media, advertisements and social media, I would like to stop my post here and elaborate on my opinion on possible triggers and underlying reasons in next weeks post. Maybe, you can make up your own mind first without me influencing your opinion. I am looking forward to your input.