The first steps in a language turning into a pidgin

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary. Around here is the best part of the city to live in if you have the money.

We're having a nice debate over at the forum at right now about a post of mine two days ago about why I don't believe English will be, or should be the world's second language, and I've written something that I should probably include here as well because it details a process that isn't seen all that much outside of countries that use English as an official or native language - the process by which a language used by L2 speakers alone can morph into something else in a fairly short period of time without a native speaker present.
Well, the way it works is this: if there is a native speaker always on hand to make sure that the English usage is mostly up to par, then the mistakes are going to remain pretty minor. The native speaker's influence usually prevents any real degradation from happening. What's interesting though is when you have a situation with a large group of nations interacting in English but without any native speakers present. Imagine for example that this is the subject:

"The following was revealed under the court and criminality studies of bones, held on January 24-26 of 2009 with participation of the scientists of the National Academy of Science and leading specialists of the medical expertise and pathological anatomy of the Azerbaijani Health Ministry..."

so the subject is this so-called "criminality studies of bones" (it's a meeting of forensic scientists, we'll say). None of the people there are native speakers so they all pick up on this sort of terminology, and now they're talking about and exchanging information on the subject, using terms like the above, along with "residuals of people" instead of "remains", now the word "damage" is being used as a countable noun - "numerous damages" instead of "much damage" - and all the rest...but they're still getting the information they need and the conference is a success.

Now let's say you're the only native speaker at this conference, and you're being asked a question about the "criminality studies of bones". Do you decide to correct the speaker and everybody else, effectively turning a conference on forensics into a grammar class, or do you just go along with it and answer the question even though it's grammatically incorrect? This is the pressure I'm talking about that comes with being a native speaker in the extreme minority, and it's worlds apart from simply encountering a different type of English in another country like the US or Australia. The difference is that in this conference they have kind of seized onto these terms because they look correct and it's the term they've decided to use at the moment to convey the information they need, whereas in a country that uses English as an L1 the terms used are known by everyone that knows the language. That is, if you ask anyone in Canada what Saran Wrap is they'll all give you the same answer, but if you ask a group of L2 speakers about whether a certain term is correct or not they won't all respond in the same way, because they're not sure.

There are quite a few non-linguistic threads there as well that I find interesting, such as one on whether North East Calgary is a safe place to live or not by someone planning to move there. The short answer to that is that the city is pretty safe overall but certain neighborhoods just aren't very good places to live, and that you can't tell by quadrant alone. New inhabitants of the city should always live either downtown, Kensington, or close to a C-Train station, preferably in the NW or SW.


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