I found this article in Newsweek, about the emergence of a language called “Globish” (a simplified English) to be very interesting. It came in a strange couple of weeks where there were some calls (in an admittedly politically-one-way-and-not-the-other newspaper–see how far I’ve come, I know now the way to read the British press) against the “Americanization” (Americanisation?) of “The Queen’s English” here in Britain, stories here and here.
I found myself (as I often do, thank goodness) at a dinner party tonight with an American couple here temporarily, along with myself here nearly 4 years (already?) and a colleague from Northern Ireland. (NB This was after having spent the hours of the US-England Soccer/Football match Saturday night with a group of mixed couples plus me, all of whom had lived in both places but where the men happened to be British and the women happened to be Americans living in the UK. It was great fun as no one could divide their loyalties perfectly and we were all just interested in the match, and probably we were all happy with the 1-1 draw.) But I digress. The American couple new to, and temporarily in, the UK had plenty of questions for me, the long-term transplant, and my colleague, the native (UK but not English) son. It was a fascinating evening.
My American colleagues were not yet used to the diversity of accents that exist in the UK and beyond, and for this I recommend listening to the audio clips of English spoken (with the same paragraph) at the Speech Language Archive. Having lived abroad for a number of years, I can now pick out countries–roughly–but am still not able to discern the regional accents within the UK (aside from Glaswegian, which I still find difficult but distinctive). When I listen to the audio clips on the archive, I’m comforted by the Minneapolis sound, expectant at what I’d hear in Brooklyn or Boston and I know the South a bit when it comes to the US. I still find the Irish accent easier to understand than anything traditionally ‘British’ and I’m sure there are historical reasons for this in the US.
But my point, and I do have one, is that the English language is fluid. English may be named for England, but it is a language that has emerged in the global marketplace as something that we can all speak with each other. Trying to protect the ‘Queen’s English‘ is a mistake, as is trying to guard against ‘Americanisms’ in the language since the point of ALL language is communication. If this means that we all settle on the lowest common denominator and speak some form of ‘Glob-ish’ I’m all for that. Although I work hard to instill in my younger charges a sense of grammar and punctuation that fits with the old rules, I am happy to concede to a language that allows for the most broad and encompassing of communication skills and I hope that we can all do the same.
I don’t wish to see languages die, and I know that that is a problem in the global language marketplace. But having lived abroad, and having learned new words and new expressions even within my own language (two countries separated by a common language and all of that), I wonder if the best only comes about when we all can communicate with each other and perhaps that involves some simplification. I’d be happy to know that my straight-forward American-ish comments were received in the spirit in which they were offered, free of the nuance that comes with language in it’s mature form. I make mistakes all of the time in this context–I offend the English unintentionally due to my manner of speaking. For this reason, I welcome a back-to-basics “Globish” form of communication, should it actually exist, if it meant that we just used a small vocabulary to express simple concepts across country lines. There may be reasons to salvage more nuanced versions of a language for communication within groups, but how nice would it be to see the less nuanced language flourish for the benefit of the global economy?