On the 5th of September 1977, the American spacecraft Voyager One blasted off on its historic mission to Jupiter and beyond. On board the scientists who knew that Voyager would one day spin through distant star systems had installed a recorded greeting from the people of the planet Earth.
A brief message in fifty-five different languages for the people of outer space plays a statement from the Secretary-General of the United Nations an Austrian named Kurt Waldheim> speaking on behalf of 147 member states in English.
The rise of English is a remarkable success story. When Julius Caesar landed in Britain nearly two thousand years ago, English did not exist. Today English is used by at least 750 million people, and barely half of those speak it as a mother tongue.
Some estimates have put that figure closer to one billion. Whatever the total, English today is more widely spoken and written, than any other language has ever been. It has become the language of the planet, the first truly global language.
Three-quarters of the world's mail and its telexes and cables are in English. So are more than half the world's technical and scientific periodicals: it is the language of technology from Silicon Valley to Shanghai.
English is the medium for 80 per cent of the information stored in the world's computers. Nearly half of all business deals in Europe are conducted in English. It is the language of sports and glamour: the official language of the Olympics and the Miss Universe Competition. English is the official voice of the air and the sea, and of Christianity: it is the ecumenical language of the World Council of Churches. The largest broadcasting companies in the world (CBS, NBS, ABC, BBC) transmit in English to audiences that regularly exceed one hundred million.
English has no equals! Dispute it if you can!