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America’s Linguistic Hegemony and Its Cultural Locus

The global spread of English in the last century as the world’s lingua franca has come about as the result of cultural and political developments. From the strictly linguistic point of view, it is interesting to note that even speakers of British English have fallen under the cultural sway of America to the extent that they often use American expressions without any knowledge of their trans-Atlantic origins and their original meanings.

This realization transpires when one listens to the various Englishes and accents on the BBC World Service that are not American, but especially the British ones. This morning an obviously British female speaker resorted to the American idiom “play hard ball” (varying it, notably, by emphasizing “hard” through the preposition of the word “very”) in describing the peripeteia attending current EU discussions on Ukraine in Brussels. Anyone familiar with the meaning of the phrase “hard ball” (by contrast with “soft ball”) as deriving from strictly American sports terminology would be able to describe why “play hard ball” came to have an extended meaning beyond its literal meaning in the game of baseball. When the phrase is used, however, by a British female speaker, it somehow loses whatever humble authenticity it may have, since the cultural context that comes with the linguistic usage is lacking on its face.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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