English as the global lingua franca? Not going to happen

Monday, January 26, 2009

From English Next: Native speakers as a percentage of the global population for major languages. As English native speakers decline in comparison to those that use it as a second language, the chance of the emergence a new version of the language unsanctioned by these native speakers rises.

Not with English as we recognize it, that is, and the sooner we realize this the better. Take a look at this article today detailing the problem:

Monsieur Nerriere is a retired French businessman who one day in the course of his work made a fascinating observation.

In a meeting with colleagues from around the world, including an Englishman, a Korean and a Brazilian, he noticed that he and the other non-native English speakers were communicating in a form of English that was completely comprehensible to them, but which left the Englishman nonplussed.

He, Jean-Paul Nerriere, could talk to the Korean and the Brazilian in this neo-language, and they could understand each other perfectly.

But the Englishman was left out because his language was too subtle, too full of meaning that could not be grasped by the others.

In other words, Monsieur Nerriere concluded, a new form of English is developing around the world, used by people for whom it is their second language.

I don't agree with his conclusion (that a language called Globish based on 1500 English words is the answer) but his observation on the phenomenon certainly is correct. This is what happens when the ratio of L1 (mother tongue) to L2 (second language) speakers drops below a certain level. That is, at a certain point native speakers of English cease to be the envied authority on the language and turn into a hindrance. If there is a meeting of people from ten different countries, all except one using English as a second language, what use is the last one person that speaks the language perfectly? No lesser authority than the British Council points out the same thing:

The new language which is rapidly ousting the language of Shakespeare as the world’s lingua franca is English itself – English in its new global form. As this book demonstrates, this is not English as we have known it, and have taught it in the past as a foreign language. It is a new phenomenon, and if it represents any kind of triumph it is probably not a cause of celebration by native speakers.

Anyone who believes that native speakers of English remain in control of these developments will be very troubled. This book suggests that it is native speakers who, perhaps, should be the most concerned. But the fact is, that the future development of English in the world is now a global concern and should be troubling us all.

Some examples of this in practice are the relaxing of grammatical rules such as article usage, as well as approving new terms without the input of native speakers.

WE ALL STRYKER! <-- What does that mean? From the COEX Convention Centre in Seoul, where most international investment/scientific/medical/etc. conferences take place. An example of L2 speakers not minding the garbling of a language they don't speak as a first language.

Here's one example:

Ubiquitous exhibition enter incorporating state-of-the-art IT technologies and cumulated know-howsExhibition floor trench that supports diverse facilities
Ubiquitous is a buzzword in Korea that has really caught on with the general population, and a word I had never seen in use until I came here. Note also the pluralization of know-how.

Here's another example of both pluralization and bad article usage:

In the contrast with many researches on orbital ordering in 3d and 4f electron systems

What makes this especially hard to control is the fact that a search term like "many researches" turns up 109,000 hits on Google, so if you're using English as a second language and aren't sure if this is correct, a search there will give the impression that yes, you do pluralize research and thus you can say "one research, two researches, three researches..." when this just isn't the case.

Nevertheless, if you are using English as an L2 and are reading a paper written by someone else using it as an L2, something like pluralizing the word research or using the wrong article isn't going to make a difference, because the information you glean from the report is the same. It's only we L1 speakers that feel uncomfortable reading something like that. If English continues in this way as a global language the situation is only going to become worse; there will eventually be one non-standardized version of English for those using it as an L2, and another kind of seemingly uptight and snooty version reserved for L1 speakers, using terms like "bereft of" and "unbeknownst to".

The British Council also predicts that English will fail to reach the status of a universally spoken language, and that in 2050 it will still be the predominant language but that other languages will be strengthened regionally and we'll be no closer to the goal of a single universal language. With this happening, I doubt that this new English will reach a point where it becomes standardized, and instead we'll see a continuation of the current stalemate. My proposal for solving this is a language like Occidental. Other ways to counteract this include attempts to strengthen the status of other strong regional languages like Spanish (if you're good at Spanish you may want to contribute to their Wikipedia a bit more for example), because the sooner people realize that English is not going to attain the status of a global L2 the better, and we can begin to work on bringing about a real global L2 that is easy to learn, and more suitable than the current contender.

Edit: two more examples of L2 usage fun. Expect a lot more of this in the future:

Korea Sparkling replaced the previous "Dynamic Korea" motto used by the government to promote the country some two years ago now. The design cost a ton of money to create.

This is a conglomerate called Doosan with revenues of some $20 billion. They have a brand of apartments called "Doosan We've".


Anonymous said...

There is no language called "Chinese". Well done.

Unknown said...

The buzzword "ubiquitous" comes from the technical terminology "ubiquitous computing" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubiquitous_computing], which was created and propagated by *native* English speakers. "Ubiquitous" was certainly a very rarely known word before being spread out with that terminology.

We can say the same for the word "ubíquo" in Portuguese; it was only rarely known before the expression "computação ubíqua".

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Common usage rules to a certain extent, but these examples are awful. Bad English is bad English.

Antonielly said...

The buzzword "ubiquitous" comes from the technical terminology "ubiquitous computing" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubiquitous_computing], which was created and propagated by *native* English speakers. "Ubiquitous" was certainly a very rarely known word before being spread out with that terminology.

We can say the same for the word "ubíquo" in Portuguese; it was only rarely known before the expression "computação ubíqua".

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