Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Does one language fit all?

There is an excellent article by Henry Hitchings in the Financial Times essay section on the future of English. It includes this wonderful line which made me smile,"[English] is the lingua franca of computing and technology, of science and medicine, and it is prominent in international business and academia."

Something rather interesting is happening with English at the moment. Sometimes I rather wonder whether English is becoming the language of old testament Babel, offering everyone the illusion of perfect understanding. I called a presentation about the language service I work for "From Babel to Pentecost" - a way of trying to say that we need linguistic diversity, not just different ways of looking at the world but different ways of describing it and conceiving it, different ways of dreaming about it as well.

Actually what Hitchings shows through his reading of books about the past, current and future role of English is how native speakers of English are being overtaken by non-native speakers. Native speakers may actually already be at a disadvantage in international discussions. International English is more utilitarian than native English but it may be a better tool for communication.

He also points to David Graddol's study English Next? Available only as a downloadable pdf from the British Council. It tries to look at what may happen to English over the next couple of generations - more about this and the other books mentioned in the article when I have had time to read them.

Hitchings ends by stressing that English is changing and that mono-anglophones are also likely to be challenged by the shifts in the global speaking of English.

"... native English speakers tend to be complacent about learning foreign languages, because there is a common perception that proficiency in English is “sufficient”. Other people will make the effort to learn English – so do we really need to reciprocate? But the more widespread the ability to speak English becomes, the less distinctive a skill it will be. If speaking English becomes a basic requirement for doing business, advantage will accrue to those who can speak other languages as well – the monoglot Briton or American will seem comparatively unskilled."


David Harkness said...

Interesting post, which I came upon via Google. Not sure how Mr Hitchings will feel about being Hichtings, though!

Jane said...

Such a shame I can't type!
Thanks I'll correct it!

Jane said...

And do read the Graddol pdf - I've just printed it out and it is very interesting

Lac19 said...

Haven't read 'English next' but the future of English might be related to this: "Today India is the world’s largest English speaking nation." See more here.

Jane said...

Graddol particularly mentions Indian English but als the fact that the rate of change in the use of English is sicuh that siblings only 5 years apart may have very different exposure to English.
Thanks for the link to the article about Indian English, I think I knew about 25% of the words!