Wednesday, July 2, 2008

NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS ONLY A MINORITY OF ALL THOSE USING LANGUAGE: WHAT IT MEANS

Wired For the past 18 months, teams of language police have been scouring Beijing on a mission to wipe out all such traces of bad English signage before the Olympics come to town in August. They're the type of goofy transgressions that we in the English homelands love to poke fun at. . .

But what if these sentences aren't really bad English? What if they are evidence that the English language is happily leading an alternative lifestyle without us?

Thanks to globalization, the Allied victories in World War II, and American leadership in science and technology, English has become so successful across the world that it's escaping the boundaries of what we think it should be. In part, this is because there are fewer of us: By 2020, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of the estimated 2 billion people who will be using or learning the language. Already, most conversations in English are between nonnative speakers who use it as a lingua franca. . .

It's not merely that English will be salted with Chinese vocabulary for local cuisine, bon mots, and curses or that speakers will peel off words from local dialects. The Chinese and other Asians already pronounce English differently - in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For example, in various parts of the region they tend not to turn vowels in unstressed syllables into neutral vowels. Instead of "har-muh-nee," it's "har-moh-nee." And the sounds that begin words like this and thing are often enunciated as the letters f, v, t, or d. In Singaporean English (known as Singlish), think is pronounced "tink," and theories is "tee-oh-rees."

Some grammatical appendages unique to English (such as adding do or did to questions) will drop away, and our practice of not turning certain nouns into plurals will be ignored. Expect to be asked: "How many informations can your flash drive hold?" In Mandarin, Cantonese, and other tongues, sentences don't require subjects, which leads to phrases like this: "Our goalie not here yet, so give chance, can or not?"

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