Thursday, 21 April 2011

Amazon's Kindle store in Germany dominated by English language books

Globalisation has been with us for quite some time. A few hundred years. Similarly, English won the war to become the lingua franca some time ago. It's undoubtedly the default setting for global business and while there are exceptions - and the rise of China might well alter things eventually - its status as number one looks safe.

Even so, this report in the Bookseller's Futurebook blog really surprised me. When it comes to books, Europe has a rich culture, and people read books in the vernacular. Whether a novel is a romance, a thriller or considered literary, it is closely related to the spoken word. Just as I think and dream in English I find it hard to imagine ever reading a novel in another language.

But then I am particularly inept when it comes to languages. I have a few words of German and French but not enough to hold a conversation in either language. In this respect I think I am probably like most Brits and perhaps most Americans too. English is it: why bother with anything else?

In Europe, because of the dominance of English, people don't think the same way about their own language. The French love French. The Germans love German. But they speak English too, in large numbers. We were recently in Spain and were impressed by just how many locals were able to speak a little English - enough to do business in anyway.

According to Futurebook however, this trend toward English may well end up with books written in German being squeezed out as reading in English becomes the norm.

What an extraordinary idea. An entire language, one as old and as venerable as German, seeing its literary traditions dying out due to the economic power of Amazon and its pesky Kindle machine?

But why not? Technology is bringing the world together, fast. If everyone is on Facebook, why should we be speaking different languages? Wouldn't that get in the way of poking and messaging each other? In Ridley Scott's futuristic Blade Runner (pictured above), Harrison Ford's character speaks a hybrid language of English, Japanese and Chinese.

Of course, English is in pole position at the moment. But with the rise of China and its billions of people, who could say that the future language of the world might not be an English-Mandarin mix? Language is so fluid, and the world so increasingly small, it would be remarkable if this didn't happen.

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