I love reading and writing about Shakespeare (check out my columns on "Macbeth," "Measure for Measure," and "Othello"). So I read with interest "Global Business Speaks English” by Harvard Business School assistant professor Tsedal Neeley in the May 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review. For all the talk of the value of diversity in the workplace, the article makes clear that diversity of language means zero in international business.
The numbers don't lie: English is spoken at a useful level by 1.75 billion people worldwide. That’s one in every four people. The article drives home this point: English is the fastest-spreading language in human history.
Neeley queries whether Mandarin will be next and answers her own question: not by a long shot. English has too much of a head start, and Mandarin is just too difficult to learn.
And English, in my take, is popular because it is simple (subject, verb, object) and democratic (no gendered nouns). Neeley adds another layer: To be effective, a speaker needs to know only 3,000 to 5,000 words.
All of this means, according to the article, that more and more companies are designating English as the company's official language and mandating that employees learn it or face demotion or dismissal.
The question for lawyers: How does this stack up against the regulations of the EEOC? Pretty well, actually. EEOC rules, set out at 29 CFR 1606.7, state that English-only rules at the workplace are legal, provided good reasons support them. These can include the need to perform cooperative work assignments or the need to communicate with co-workers who speak only English.
The future is here, and, for many of us, it has a familiar ring to it.