english as a Global LanguageEnglish existing as a global language is an interesting idea. english does exist in many parts of the world as a common language, but in many cases it’s not “english” as a native-english speaker knows it. In some parts of Southeast Asia for example, english has been combined with the local languages and is becoming a sort of pidgin language. If you spend a short time in these countries, I think you tend to view the difference in spoken english as a result of the local accent, and an incomplete education in english. But the more time I spent in those countries, interacting with people there, I started to view it as more than just “poor” english.
What really made me see the difference was in the written english; when I started to get work emails from my Asian colleagues that were written the way they speak, I started looking more closely at what was going on. After sitting through presentations and reading endless reports, I realized that they don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way they speak english. Since they all say the same thing (which I consider making mistakes), to them it’s not incorrect. So even when I would try and correct them, they still go back to the same word (that doesn’t exist in english), or tense that they used before. And their use of the (wrong) tense and the same (made up) words is consistent!
So it becomes hard to argue with an entire country that has adapted english for their everyday use and tell them that it’s wrong. If they don’t think it’s wrong, then it’s not. They have even managed to change the meaning and redefine certain english words. The word does exist in english, and the fact that the definition is in the dictionary as something completely different has no bearing because an entire culture all knows it as something else. They have no reason to change their thinking and start to speak and write english the way that I would, because they all understand each other and it generally doesn’t create any problems with their everyday affairs. When I had to interact with them for work and socially, we could always understand each other and exchange information successfully.
This is interesting from an anthropological perspective as a study of how and why language evolves. Where I might view it as a corruption of the english language, many languages that are recognized as separate languages in their own right have evolved from combining english and one or more other languages. So even if we take it as “evolution” instead of “corruption”, it still creates an interesting dilemma for teaching english. If I ever had to teach an english class to anyone like my colleagues (or their children
), I wouldn’t even know where to begin. If all of their peers are speaking a different version or adaption of english, then how can you tell them something is incorrect? At some point, it becomes more than just an “ingrained” error. And furthermore, what would be the point of trying to change their habits and way of thinking to get them to communicate in english like I would (unless they had plans to go the US or the UK and communicate only there and among that culture from then on)?
While I can appreciate that native english speakers can travel throughout the world and spread the gospel of english by teaching it according to their own “native” rules, I think it’s also important to realize that english will change and evolve the more it is used in different parts of the world. Teaching someone english as I know it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will communicate with that english the same way I would. They might choose to adapt it to their own culture and use it in a different way according to different rules. Globally, english could take many different forms and it would be hard, even as a native english speaker, to say what is correct or incorrect.