Writing: Its History and Future

Clare Alsharif

With the printing press, the use of written communication spread both physically and economically from the upper levels of society into the lower levels of society. Now, we are at the beginning of the computer age and it has already affected our written communication in numerous ways.

With the birth of the Internet, international business has become easier- resulting in more multinational companies leading to the spread of English. It is the dominant language for international communication and is the most widely studied second language (L2) in the world (Olsson, Kokkinakis, & Tingsell, 2012). Additionally, English is the fastest-spreading language in history with one in four people now speaking English at a useful level. (Neeley, 2012). In fact, many international companies, like Airbus, Samsung, and Microsoft , use English as their official corporate language in order to improve corporate communication and performance. As reported by Warschauer (2000)
  • 85% of international organizations have English as their official language
  • 85% of the film industry is in English
  • 90% of academic articles in some fields are published in English
In the world today, there are more English language learners (ELLs) than native English speakers (NES). The result of this is that English is more likely used between ELLs with different native languages (Olsson, Kokkinakis, & Tingsell, 2012).   This affects how English is used in terms of dialects, language, culture, and context. ELLs who use English daily for business generally use it for presentations, negotiations, and critical analysis. Consequently, ELL learning should be project-based with the emphasis on functional interaction, not native-like proficiency. However, some standards are required for communication to be effective.

According to Warschauer (2000), regional or local versions of English are more common than the standardized norms of American and British English. They can have their own lexical patterns, intonations, grammar, and spelling. As a result, a knowledge of multiple dialects of English is needed for international business. There are also different standards of “correct” English. All of this combined leads to questions about how written English will be affected by the growth in international English and the use of the Internet.

Many people think the “correct” use of a language should be defined by common usage, not by the standards set by academics. Others point out that standards make communication easier over time and space. The rapid increase and wide spread use of English, as aided by computers and international organizations means there has to be a balance between “common” localized English and standard English . Just as the decision of many school districts to stop teaching cursive has resulted in its usage decreasing and possibly dying, so the lack of use of capitals and punctuation on the Internet might be slowly causing them to become obsolete. Will the Internet affect spelling rules and encourage the acceptance of emoticons and acronyms as standard writing? Only time will tell. 

As teachers, we must prepare our students for the future. Possible points of consideration in writing include:
  • The value of teaching cursive writing in today’s computer driven environment
  • Functional English versus native English
  • The multiculturalism of English
  • Context of the ELL’s usage (academic, business, pleasure, location)
  • Knowledge of multiple dialects and standards of “correct” English
How these different factors will combine in the future to shape written English is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, there will eventually be a standard written form that will enable people worldwide to communicate efficiently and effectively. The status quo can be comfortable but limiting. Perhaps, written English will be simplified as a result of accepted common usage on the Internet. Change is good when it unites and empowers people.


Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2011). An introduction to language (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Neeley, T. (2012). Global business speaks English. Harvard Business Review (2012, May) Retrieved May 30, 2013 from http://hbr.org/2012/05/global-business-speaks-english Olsson,

E., Kokkinakis, S.J., & Tingsell, S.,(2012). Everything I read on the Internet is in English: On the impact of extramural English on Swedish 16-year-old pupils’ writing proficiency. Retrieved May 30, 2013 from "http://hdl.handle.net/2077/30417

Warschauer,M. (2000, Autumn). The Changing global economy and the future of English teaching TESOL Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3, Autumn 2000  511-515. Retrieved May 30, 2013 from http://www.gse.uci.edu/person/warschauer_m/docs/global.pdf

Clare Alsharif is an ESL instructor at Rockford University.
ITBE Link - July 2016