Tales of Dearing do
by Samuel Jones
The current issue of the Economist includes three articles on the subject. In the UK, we are 'God's Worst Linguists' (subscription only) and 'as bilingualism becomes the norm worldwide, the future of English has moved', shifting from native speakers to a more global picture in which the majority of users have learned or developed it as a second language and in various different contexts and to varying degrees of fluency. Meanwhile, Brussels is 'babelling on' as 'more official languages could eventually mean less diversity'.
In the UK, diversity is somewhat of a confused point in relation to our linguistic competence. Monoglot we may be in the contexts of international business and global markets, but there are over 300 languages spoken in London's schools. As Beijing musters its English-speaking abilities before the 2008 Olympics, Tower Hamlets alone is the home of almost as many languages as there will be competing nations in 2012.
As commentators have pointed out, there are several big issues in all this:
· If more and more people are speaking English as well as their own language, why would people in an increasingly inter-related world employ people who speak only English?
· As new forms of English emerge, influenced by the different social, national and other contexts in which they are used, will native speakers slip out of the loop?
· What can we do with the real linguistic variety that we have and what cultural opportunities are we missing?
Overall, we need to get over what has become a frequent fascination in English's prevalence the world over, and we need to go beyond gulping at our lack of language skills. The question is what we're going to do about it.
Some, like the former Vice-President of IBM, Jean-Paul Nerriere have proposed 'Globish', a more widely intelligible form of English with its nuance removed. That could be missing the point - it's not so much about enforcing comprehension as it is coming to grips with diversity. We need to find a way in which policy-makers across the board (and not just in relation to Education), come to recognise just what changes in the English language will mean, and how we can shape things to respond to this.