A long succession of such accidents has put English so far in the race for dominance in global communication that it can hardly even be called a race now.
Geoffrey K. Pullum, who apparently thinks that imperialism, colonialism and deliberate linguicide are “accidents” (via darnhomosexuals)
I have to say I don’t read it quite like that. Imperialism, colonialism, and linguicide were deliberate British and European choices (see Macaulayism), but as processes, they were enabled by certain things about British and European society that were brought about by accident. For example, why in the 18th century should England have been the world’s technological leader as opposed to anyone else? Part of it was just geographical accident. As an island nation, development of maritime technology became paramount to the English, giving them a leg up in the naval arms race that kicked off during the age of European expansion. Hell, if the Spanish armada had attacked the English navy at Plymouth or if it hadn’t been stormy in Scotland in September 1588, we might we saying these same things about Spanish right now.
Going even further back, one could argue that the European Renaissance and subsequent expansion was kick-started by a bunch of gold that Mansa Musa spent with Italian merchants in Cairo, or that the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople closed off the Black Sea, pushing European expansion into the Atlantic, or that the wide east-west spread of the Eurasian landmass allowed plant and animal species to disperse longitudinally, facilitating the exchange of early agricultural technology. So yes, British policy during the colonial period spread the English language around the world at the expense of indigenous tongues, but many of the things that put the British in a position to do that were “accidents,” and not due to the inherent superiority of the people or their language.
I think in his original article, Pullum phrased it inartfully, making it sound like English just happened to be the language of the British Empire and Hollywood without exploring how it got there, and there’s a bit of utilitarian snobbery in the last few paragraphs (no, not everyone should learn a language just because it’s “useful”), but I also don’t read a deliberate attempt to erase a history of colonialism (especially with the map of the British Empire right there at the top of the article).
I agree that I doubt it was intentional. For someone who works so closely with language, Pullum is remarkably incautious with his own.