As English Spreads, Speakers Morph It into World Tongue

By David Rohde, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 1995 | Go to article overview

As English Spreads, Speakers Morph It into World Tongue


David Rohde, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IN India, people created the word "prepone" as the obvious opposite of postpone. On the Internet, a form of cyber-English has sprouted with such words as "net-surfing." On MTV Latino, the word coolisimo defines hip for a continent.

In Britain, meanwhile, editors of the Oxford English Dictionary are struggling to keep up with the "morphing" of the mother tongue.

What centuries of British colonialism and decades of Esperanto couldn't do, a few years of free trade, MTV, and the Internet has. English dominates international business, politics, and culture more than any other language in human history, and new words are melding into English at a frenetic pace.

"English is probably changing faster than any other language," says Alan Firth, a linguist at the University of Aalborg in Denmark, "because so many people are using it."

More than 1 billion people are believed to speak some form of English. For every native speaker, there are three nonnative speakers. Three-quarters of the world's mail is in English and four-fifths of electronic information is stored in English.

As more nonnative speakers converse with each other, hundreds of impromptu varieties of English are taking on a life of their own around the world.

But the uncontrolled, global germination of so many "Englishes" has some worried. English purists, led by Britain's Prince Charles, bemoan the degradation of the language as they see it.

Multiculturalists, meanwhile, say the blitzkrieg-like spread of English effectively commits "linguistic genocide" by killing off dozens of other languages.

These differing views lead to the question: Is the world taking English by storm or is English taking the world by storm?

Tom McArthur, editor of the Oxford Companion to the English Language, says that in 20 to 30 countries around the world, English is merging with native languages to create hybrid Englishes.

"The tensions between standard English and hybrid Englishes are going to become very, very great," says Mr. McArthur, who calls the process neither good nor bad. "We are going to have to keep on our toes. Some standard form of English {should be maintained} ... as a tool of communication."

Linguists see three main "Englishes" forming along with dozens of offshoots.

One includes Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where distinct dialects of English are already spoken by about 350 million people.

A second includes South Asia and such African countries as Kenya and Tanzania, where pidgin Englishes -- in numerous forms -- are dominant.

And a third is broken English use for basic communication in the rapidly industrializing regions of East Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and the Mideast.

THE spread of English has given rise to interaction between foreign peoples that would have been considered remarkable only a few years ago, according to linguists.

In a Sydney factory, Cambodian, Samoan, Maltese, Greek, and Latvian workers take orders, talk about their families, and complain about their bosses to each other in their own broken English.

In Thailand, Russians, Pakistanis, Japanese, and Germans make phone calls by shouting out mispronounced numbers in English to exasperated Thai operators.

One of the largest sources of new terms is computers, according to linguists. In more than 100 countries, Internet users jabber in English -- or something like it.

To many nonnative English-speaking computer hackers, a computer term such as "hardware," has only one meaning -- computer equipment.

"Hardware is one of those words, it means, I don't know," laments Dinko Novoselec, a database operator in Zagreb, Croatia, when asked for another definition. "Some kind of tools for digging the earth or something like that. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

As English Spreads, Speakers Morph It into World Tongue
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.