Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 September 2021
This chapter documents the globally leading status of English and investigates reasons for this. It is argued that the layperson explanation that English is 'easy' to learn fails as an explanation and that 'classic' reasons brought forward by Crystal (2009), English having been available 'at the right time and the right place' as the language of British colonialism, industrialization and American dominance, is valid but insufficient. It is supplemented by wider perspectives on the process of colonization, the role of English in modernization and globalization, the importance of its ethnic neutrality in some countries, and its massive spread as 'New Englishes' especially in Asia and Africa. Historians' accounts are screened for a comparison of the developments of English versus Spanish in colonization, and it is shown that, while both nations successfully built empires around the globe, only the British replenished their colonies with large settler streams and thus produced copies of the homeland society in foreign lands and established permanent ties with them. Finally, the recent past has experienced an unparalleled 'transnational attraction' of English which has boosted its role.