Friday, March 07, 2008

The end of English?

A lecture by David Crystal (who shouldn't really need any introduction to English Language students, but is a top language expert if you haven't been paying attention) to mark the start of Project English (see here) has suggested that English is fragmenting into different global dialects. He argues that with English being spoken by so many different nationalities around the world and the spread of English as a world language, that Indian and Chinese varieties of English may well start to become the global "standard".

We've had different varieties of English since the time the language started to evolve from different versions of Angle, Saxon and Jute way back in the 5th Century, and American English has long been established as a variety of English with international power and prestige, but the sheer power of numbers is what Crystal thinks will drive the language change of the next part of this century.

"In language, numbers count. There are more people speaking English in India than in the rest of the native English-speaking world. Even now, if you ring a call centre, often it's an Indian voice you hear at the end of the phone. As the Indian economy grows, so might the influence of Indian English. There, people tend to use the present continuous where we would use the present simple. For example, where we would say: "I think, I feel, I see" a speaker of Indian English might say: "I am thinking, I am feeling, I am seeing". This way of speaking could easily become sexy and part of global Standard English."

While the focus of our A2 Language Change unit is strictly on English as spoken in the British Isles, the processes of change that are at work globally could well be related to how our language is shaped back here in Britain. And if you;'re a teacher reading this and planning ahead, next years' s new AQA A spec for students starting AS in 2008-9 has a focus on global English.

The comments posted by Daily Telegraph readers, at the end of the article, make for a really interesting read: a mixture of reactionary prescriptivism ("Nigerian English is just nasty" - possibly written by a bitter Ghanaian flushed with patriotic pride on their country's independence day) and expert inside views on global dialects like Singlish and Hinglish. Worth a read.

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