Saturday 2 July 2022


Download audio file read by Glyn Moody.

English has never existed as a unitary language.  For the Angles and the Saxons it was a family of siblings; today it is a vast clan in diaspora.    At the head of that clan is the grand old matriarch, British English.  Rather quaint now, like all aristocrats left behind by a confusing modern world, she nonetheless has many points of historical interest.  Indeed, thousands come to Britain to admire her venerable and famous monuments, preserved in the verbal museums of language schools.  Unlike other parts of our national heritage, British English is a treasure we may sell again and again; already the invisible earnings from this industry are substantial, and they are likely to grow as more and more foreigners wish at least to brush their lips across the Grande Dame's ring.

One group unlikely to do so are the natural speakers of the tongue from other continents.   Led by the Americans, and followed by the Australians, the New Zealanders and the rest, these republicans are quite content to speak English - provided it is their English.  In fact it is likely to be the American's English, since this particular branch of the family tree is proving to be the most feisty in its extension and transformation of the language.  Even British English is falling in behind - belatedly, and with a rueful air; but compared to its own slim list of neologisms - mostly upper-class twittish words like 'yomping' - Americanese has proved so fecund in devising new concepts, that its sway over English-thinking minds is assured.

An interesting sub-species of non-English English is provided by one of the dialects of modern India.  Indian English is not a truly native tongue, if only for historical reasons; and yet it is no makeshift second language.  Reading the 'Hindu Times', it is hard to pin down the provenance of the style: with its orotundities and its 'chaps' it is part London 'Times' circa 1930; with its 'lakhs' it is part pure India.

Whatever it is, it is not to be compared with the halting attempts at English made by millions - perhaps billions soon - whose main interest is communication.  Although a disheartening experience to hear for the true-blue Britisher, this mangled, garbled and bungled English is perhaps the most exciting.  For from its bleeding hunks and quivering gobbets will be constructed the first and probably last world language.  Chinese may have more natural speakers, and Spanish may be gaining both stature and influence, but neither will supersede this mighty mongrel in the making.  

English is so universally used as the medium of international linguistic exchange, so embedded in supranational activities like travel - all pilots use English - and, even more crucially, so integral to the world of business, science and technology - money may talk, but it does so in English, and all computer programs are written in that language - that no amount of political or economic change or pressure will prise it loose.  Perhaps not even nuclear Armageddon: Latin survived the barbarians.  So important is this latest scion of the English stock, that it deserves its own name; and if the bastard brew of Anglicised French is Franglais, what better word to celebrate the marriage of all humanity and English to produce tomorrow's global language than the rich mouthful of 'Glanglish'?


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