If English continues to assert its dominance as a global language, will the standard be that of the old English-speaking world or a new English-speak? Will your grandchildren speak Globish?
Languages change. But written languages, such as English, tend to change slowly. Tens of thousands of writers and editors in academic, professional, and business positions enforce a standard that is reasonably constant.
But spoken English is another matter. It is casual, spontaneous and unfiltered by editors. Why should non-native speakers bother with what native speakers regard as correct? Their main aim, after all, is to be understood by one another.
Barbara Seidlhofer, professor of English and applied linguistics at the University of Vienna, says that the English spoken by non-native speakers “is a natural language, and natural languages are difficult to control by “legislation”.
“I think rather than a new international standard, what we are looking at is the emergence of a new “international attitude,” says Seidlhofer, “that is the recognition and awareness that in many international contexts people do not need to speak like native speakers. It’s a new international assertiveness.”
When native speakers work in an international organization, some report their language changing. David Crystal, the author of English as a Global Language, has written: “On several occasions, I have encountered English-as-a-first-language politicians, diplomats, and civil servants working in Brussels commenting on how they have felt their own English being pulled in the direction of these foreign-language patterns . . . These people are not ‘talking down’ to their colleagues or consciously adopting simpler expressions, for the English of their interlocutors may be as fluent as their own. It is a natural process of accommodation, which in due course could lead to new standardized forms.”
“When you have more people writing and speaking a language, you will have more variations,” says Steven Moore, Co-Founder and Dean of Global Business English, a web-based company that offers instructional modules, written coaching, and verbal coaching. “I think we might see something like Nadsat, the verbal language Anthony Burgess created in A Clockwork Orange. Nadsat is mostly English with some Russian words, some Cockney rhyming slang, phrases from the King James Bible, and words that Burgess invented.
Nadsat is not so much a language as an argot,” says Moore. “The words are inflected in English patterns regardless of their language of origin. Alex and his droogs are capable of speaking standard English when they want to. Nadsat is really a vocabulary of extra words used for semi-private communication or to describe the world as they see it.”
Perhaps written English will eventually make these accommodations too. Today, having an article published in the Harvard Business Review or the British Medical Journal represents a substantial professional accomplishment for a business academic from China or a medical researcher from Thailand. But it is possible to imagine a time when a pan-Asian journal, for example, becomes equally prestigious and imposes its own “Globish” grammatical standards on writers. Its editors might change “the customer feels” to “the customer feel”.
Native English speakers may shudder but they are in a continually-shrinking minority.