Monday, August 14, 2006

Globish-es v. English-es.

As a teacher of English myself, I may be biased, but it seems to me that pretty much any sensible mind will agree that the spread of English as a de facto global language is a reality.

In this NYTimes article, there are estimates that from 500 million to a billion people now speak English in the world. I agree that the number is likely to get higher in the next decade – they say p to 2 billion people. The point of the article, however, is that proper English may soon be overwhelmed by the English of nonnative speakers. There may be more people who speak a simpler form of English than the English of English native speakers but I do not believe that Globish (i.e. the simplified version of the English language that uses only the most common English words and phrases) is going to take over.

The main reason is that Globish is actually a very loose phenomenon and there are many types of Globsh. In essence, everyone finds different strategies to communicate what they mean through English because everyone faces different obstacles. The idea that this simpler form of English should be codified is absurd. Codifying languages certainly appeal to the French but I think one should have a more liberal approach and let the language evolve on its own. (which is also why Esperanto was a failure)

One of the examples used in the article is that you’d use “speak casually to each other.” for “chat” which actually implies you know the word “casually”. I can tell you that most of my (French) students will know the word “chat” (because of “chat-rooms” often used by Internet users in France) but not the adjective “casual” or the adverb.

If people use instinctively some Globish it is because they don’t know the norm or the standard, so how could some new norms or some new codes – even simpler ones – help them? They will find ways to learn the English they need to communicate.

Certainly, the grammar used by most nonnative English speakers is often approximate and simpler. The number of words they use may be minimal (but even most native English speakers also use only a fraction of the words available to them). In fact, there are many Englishes anyway and I believe that the notion of A pure Englih is a myth.

Indeed, native English speakers can certainly "not assume that the entire world is as fluent as they are", but I do not believe that they are going to have to learn Globish either – especially since the U.S. is dominating the economy. They may just need more patience when they talk to foreigners.


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