Divided by a common language?
by Samuel Jones
In a world in which Englishes are the norm ... Salman Rushdie rightly pointed out that 'the English Language ceased to be the sole possession of the English some time ago' ... tempering of variation like this poses some difficult questions. When, for instance, is standardisation of a common language necessary, and when is it not? Culturally speaking, diversity is surely necessary - it allows for idiom and the expression of specific values. Writers across history, from Shakespeare to Robert Burns and Mark Twain have made rich use of this. However, as David Crystal and others have pointed out, there are instances in which the differences of meaning in English can be disastrous - security, 'police-speak', and air traffic control are but few of the areas in which commonality is essential.
These issues clearly pose challenges in policy areas that vary from education and culture, to security and science. In the work we are doing at Demos, we are examining what the policy implications might be.