What we have seen in this course is that the English language is and always has been a diverse entity. It has changed dramatically over the centuries since it first arrived on the shores of Britain from the north of Europe, and these changes mean that the language that was spoken at that time is almost incomprehensible to us now. As the language has spread beyond Britain it has continued to change, and to change in different ways in different contexts. It has diversified to such an extent that some scholars suggest that it is no longer accurate to talk of a single ‘English’; that instead there are many different English languages around the world today.
At the same time, however, English exists in the world today as a means of international communication – as a way for people from different social groups to communicate with each other – and to fulfil this function it would seem that variation in the language needs to be curtailed to a certain extent. That is to say, if the language becomes too diverse it will not remain mutually comprehensible across different social groups. So we have two impulses at work that are seemingly incompatible, or perhaps even in conflict, and the question we are faced with is how to render them as consistent, as both being part of the existence of a single entity we call ‘English’. This is one of the central issues in English language studies today – and it’s a very modern issue because it has come about as a direct result of the unprecedented position that English now occupies in the world: as a language with global scope which is implicated in the history and present-day existence of societies all around the world.