Thursday, May 13, 2010

Global Englishes and the future of English

One of the big language debates currently raging around the world is about the ways in which English, as it spreads into new territories, changes to become something different from the English English we native speakers are used to.

Is this stripped down language actually English anymore? Should we be talking about Global Englishes instead - different varieties of English spoken around the world - or insisting that Standard British English be taught as an international language? And then, there's a more recent movement (ELF) which suggests that English is increasingly becoming a Lingua Franca, being used by speakers for whom English is not their first language, and that English as a Lingua Franca should be the umbrella term that covers this mode of communication, that basically (and I hope I get this right) anyone whose first language is not English and who is talking to someone else whose first language is also not English, will be using ELF, whatever variety they choose to speak in. In other words, while Global Englishes are specific varieties around the world (Singaporean English, Chinese English, Australian English etc.), ELF covers the broader function of the language being used.

Anyway, a recent book by Robert McCrum called Globish, takes a look at some of these arguments around English  and a lengthy extract appeared in last Sunday's Observer. Among some other interesting points, this one is probably worth a bit more consideration:

Today there is almost no limit to the scope of this subject. 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.

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