The spread of English around the world, especially over the past century, has often been compared to that of Latin at the peak of the Roman Empire and even after the collapse of the latter. In both cases the process has been associated with, inter alia, imperial expansion, the diffusion of know-how, and international trade. In both cases the evolution has also been differential, though in quite different ways. On the other hand, Latin spread first as a lingua franca and then mutated into the Romance languages, thus into a number of new vernaculars that displaced most of the Celtic languages of the former southwestern Roman provinces. English has spread both as a vernacular, in places that remain in Inner Circle and in parts of which it has mutated into creoles, and as a lingua franca in the Outer and Expanding Circles. Braj Kachru, an Indian native, who developed the typology adopted here and in the literature on World Englishes, drew attention to the fact that English speakers around the world are not all equal; some have been considered as more legitimate than others. Salikoko S. Mufwene used this comparison to explain why economic globalization is a heterogeneous process and is not making the world uniform and articulated in the lecture some of the “ecological” factors that account for this differential evolution.
Salikoko S. Mufwene is the Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and the College; Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology; and Professor, Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago.