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Global English are Belong to Us
May 31, 2010 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Global English are Belong to Us

The Globalization of English. Robert Crum first reported on it in the early 80s for the PBS/BBC series “The Story of English.”  Back then, Crum thought he was seeing English at the peak of its glory and influence, but ready to split apart at the linguist seams, fluttering down into mutually unintelligible variants.

Since then, English has exploded across the internet, facing-off every other language in the world. A global media pushes English in some form or other into every home on the planet.

“At the dawn of a new millennium the phenomenon of English seems more vivid and universal than ever before…. The world’s varieties of English range from the ‘crazy English’ taught to the Chinese-speaking officials of the Beijing Olympics, to the ‘voice and accent’ manuals issued by Infosys and Microsoft at their Bangalore headquarters. Thus, English today embodies a paradox. To some, it seems to carry the seeds of its own decay. In the heartlands of the mother tongue, there are numerous anxieties about its future: in the United States, language conservatives agonise about the Hispanic threat to American English. But simultaneously, and more stealthily―almost unnoticed, in fact―the real challenge to the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible comes less from alien speech than from the ceaseless amendments made to English in a myriad daily transactions across the known world. Here, global English, floating free from its troubled British and American past, has begun to take on a life of its own. My prediction is that the 21st-century expression of British and American English―the world’s English―is about to make its own declaration of independence from the linguistic past, in both syntax and vocabulary.”

But Jean-Paul Nerrière, a French-speaking former IBM executive and amateur linguistic scholar, thinks the center will hold, if only it’s dumbed down enough.

In 1995, Nerrière noticed that non-native English speakers in the Far East communicated more successfully in English with their Korean and Japanese clients than native-speaking Brits or Yanks on the business prowl.  Afterwards, he developed Globish, a subset of Standard English that he argued is naturally used by non-native English speakers in the context of international business.

My professional opinion: the non-native speakers thought they understood each other better, or drank more when they were doing it . Alcohol is the WD-40 of international business, stripping the rust from the mighty gears of global commerce. A drink is worth a thousand words in any language, as drunks are wont to say.

Nerrière figures about a drink and a half―or 1500 words total―for all you need to know in English. I find this encouraging; if I learn just one word a day, I’ll be able to out-talk this guy in less than two years. Now Globish isn’t a controlled language, but more of a sketchup, a mashup modeled on the simple rules of the personal patois English language that learners all seem to share. No statistical or scientific basis for this, just English without the hard parts. My casual impression is that it has the longest legs of any of the dialects of the simple English movement.  Might makes right in languages, and that you can to tell the Marines.

So rather than laughing at those mistranslations, maybe native-English writers and marketing mavens should start thinking ROI and write as simply as possible using a restricted, drink-and-half vocabulary. Since most of what you read on the Web is gawd-awful anyway, it couldn’t hurt. Also in the “couldn’t hurt” department is a four-minute YouTube video that will explain the titular reference, All your base are belong to us. Good background on this important off-topic subject.

Later, alligators.

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