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Bangalore changing to Bengaluru says that English will keep on pulling itself together

This sounds like the kind of thing that our own Michael Jennings is fond of saying:

“I was recently waiting for a flight in Delhi, when I overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now do I realise that they were speaking “Globish”, the newest and most widely spoken language in the world.”

That’s journalist Ben Macintyre, quoted by Robert McCrum, in a recent Guardian piece about the global evolution of the English language. But, McCrum then asks, will English, having spread so widely, and like Latin before it, then fragment into distinct languages? Or will the effect of what is loosely called globalisation mean that enough English speakers who start with their local variant of English will want then to move towards a more internationally tradeable, so to speak, version of English, and make the effort? Will they try to add some of that grammar and structure that Ben Macintyre spoke of? And will global standard English, particularly as spoken by the more globe-trotting sort of American and in due course by most Anglos, itself hold out its hand, as it were, making its own effort, and come half way to meet Globish, to ensure that English, although changing faster than ever before, nevertheless remains one language, or at least one linguistic continuum? Will English, in other words, keep on pulling itself together? Note that Ben Macintyre had no problem understanding the Globish that he heard in Delhi, and would presumably have no problem speaking like that.

My guess is that there are powerful unifying forces at work here, as well as fragmenting forces. What follows began life as a separate posting, and was mostly written before I encountered the above article. Consider the way that the English names of cities in the east have taken to changing themselves.

I’m thinking of how Pekin turned into Beijing, and, in India, how Mumbai and Chennai stopped being Bombay and … Madras, was it? Well, if the Indian Premier League television cricket coverage is anything to go by, there’s another Indian city name change in the pipeline. Bangalore is soon going to be called “Bengaluru”. The Bangalore IPL cricket team was still,this year, being called the “Bangalore” Royal Challengers. But the city itself was already being called by the commentators: Bengaluru. Most tellingly, on the map that the IPL television output uses to show where the next game was being played, it said Bengaluru, not Bangalore. Next year, will the team be the Bengaluru Royal Challengers? Or perhaps the Bengaluru something else completely? I shall be most interested to see. And I’m guessing: yes. Apparently, this switch was “officially” decided upon in 2007.

I often hear grumbles about this stuff from fellow Brits. After all, we don’t have to call Paris “Paree”, or Munich “Munchen”, or Rome “Roma”, just because the people who live in Paris and Munich and Rome might prefer us to do that, what with Paree and Munchen and Roma being what they call these cities themselves. So, why do we put up with this Beijing Mumbai crap from the Indians and the Chinese?

There is a definite whiff of post-colonial guilt about the difference in response. When we Brits call Paree “Paris”, we are not humiliating defenceless tribesmen whose country we used to lord it over, so we feel no need to bend over backwards to be linguistically polite, to salve past wounds. I’m sure there is a bit of that going on.

But the case of India makes me suspect that something else is also going on, less guilt-based and more real. In India, English is very widely spoken, especially by well educated people. One of the biggest reasons for the rise of private sector education in India is that Indian state schools often insist on not teaching in English, but Indians who are ambitious for their children know that learning English is an essential part of making it, in India and in the world. Certainly the cricket commentaries coming out of India of those IPL games are all presented in English, with only the odd smattering of what I take to be Hindi or Gujerati, when they are interviewing a cricketer who is much more fluent in Hindi or Gujerati than he is in English, and the occasional insertion of what seem to be local catch phrases in the local lingo, often greeted with loud cheers from the crowd. Nevertheless, India, and especially Indian cricket, is a predominantly English-speaking affair, or so it would seem. The big name Indian cricketers all seem to speak English fluently, albeit with their own distinctly Indian accents.

Brits talking about Paris, and French people talking about Paree, are two ways of saying Paree/Paris that happen inside two separate linguistic bubbles, so to speak. Hence there is no tendency for the one usage to collide with the other, and for one of them, potentially, to win. When a Frenchman fluent in English talks, in English about Paris, he says “Paris”, just as I say Paree when talking about Paris in French. I also, when speaking French, say “Londres” rather than London. But Bombay and Mumbai are two usages that happen within the same language sphere, the Anglosphere. Someone like me, who had got used to “Bombay”, constantly got used to listening to and reading about “Mumbai” in settings where everything else made sense, except that. What’s this “Mumbai” thing?, I found myself asking. Pretty soon I learned. And the IPL cricket commentaries, for me, settled the matter.

Going back to that post-colonial guilt vibe, I don’t doubt also that plenty of Indians are rather pissed off about how Bombay is now Mumbai. I am sure there are local nationalistic political considerations at work here, which not all Indians are happy about. In fact I know there are. But that’s irrelevant. That “Mumbai” confuses Englishmen like me is surely, for many Indians, a feature not a bug. Mumbai is India taking charge of its own destiny, instead of still having it dictated by now-absent foreigners. If that’s about right as a description of the local politics of this, then I get why that would be. But even if you think that Bombay has changed into Mumbai for bad and bombastic and shallowly nationalistic reasons, change to Mumbai is nevertheless what Bombay has done, or been made to do.

Single names, within a single language area, are, I suggest, like natural monopolies. One name is bound the win, and the only point at issue is: which one? If Indians, for whatever reason, good, bad or ridiculous, have decided that Bombay will be Mumbai from now on, or that Chennai will be Chennai rather than Madras, or that Bangalore will also now change to Bengaluru, then there is really little point in Englishmen like me trying to resist this arrangement. If I want to watch the IPL on my television, and I definitely do, then I had better get used to the new names.

As I say, I originally I had no thought of mentioning the debate about Globish, and about whether Globish will break the English language into pieces or merely change it rather a lot, in a posting about Indian names for cities. But it seems to me that what I had already written about these place name changes is relevant to what McCrum writes about. Note that it was television that got me used to Mumbai rather than Bombay, and which will get me used to Bengaluru instead of Bangalore. No IPL cricket on the telly (IPL on British telly being a classic manifestation of globalisation), and no regular dealings between Indians and Brits of any other sort, and we Brits would just carry on calling Bombay Bombay, and ignore any Indian changes to such words. But such an isolated world is not the one we now live in.

Latin, I surmise, fragmented because the Roman empire itself fragmented. Europe had no televised broadcasts from the Coliseum to hold things together,linguistically. True, the British Empire is over, as a centralised political entity. But it has not fragmented in the way that the Roman Empire did. “Globalisation,” Roman style, got weaker during the so called Dark Ages, and with it the hegemonic hold of Latin as a single language faded and local variants of Latin mutated into lots of local languages, even though the posh version of Latin as enshrined in old writings by long dead Romans survives to this day (even though nobody is very sure how to pronounce it). But in the absence of such a general civilisational retreat, I now surmise that the story of English will go differently to the story of Latin. I am not saying that there won’t be such a retreat, again, although I personally see little sign of such a general retreat now. I’m just saying that if such retreat doesn’t happen, then surely English will remain, approximately speaking, English. It will still be recognisably one language.

I’d also say that if the day ever does dawn when those Frenchies start seriously telling us Anglos that from now on we must say Paree rather than Paris, even when talking English, that will be a sign that English is starting seriously to conquer France. French annoyance about “Paris” would arise because French people are talking English on a massive scale, and are finding themselves all having to say Paris all the time. Zute alors! Let us all say Paree! All as in us and you Anglo bastards,who all now speak the same universal language. (If the French speak it, it must be universal.) Ditto if the Germans start demanding Munchen instead of Munich, although I wouldn’t put it past the Germans to change Munchen to Munich, even in Munchen, in order to keep in line with their new language.

Not that I think it will actually be happening any time soon, but I would gladly see Paris totally seen off by Paree, if that was part of the linguistic price demanded from us Anglos, in exchange for our language conquering France.

Further surmise. Could that Pekin to Beijing change mean that English is now, already, in the process of conquering China?

67 comments to Bangalore changing to Bengaluru says that English will keep on pulling itself together

  • Actually, English speakers do have trouble speaking ‘Globish’. They instinctively add both vocabulary and grammar structures over what they feel is a familiar language, making their speech more difficult for others to follow.

  • I was in a train just leaving Odessa recently, and a Ukrainian in the same compartment complimented me on my excellent English.

    This is not as silly as it sounds. He had asked me where I was from, and I had said I was Australian. His experience of Australians is that they often speak highly accented and idiomatic English, and he told me this and commented on the fact that I was not doing so. The interesting thing is that in the presence of non-native speakers, I now pretty much unthinkingly myself switch to speaking more slowly than my natural speech, and with a very neutral accent and uncomplicated grammar and vocabulary. In short, I switch to Globish myself when appropriate, and I suspect most well travelled English speakers do, regardless of where they come from. It has to be learned, though. Native English speakers who are not used to speaking to non-native speakers tend to do what the other Australians my Ukrainian aquaintance described: simply speak in their own idiolect.

    This is normal. We all understand multiple dialects of our native language, and we all switch from one to another depending on where we are and what we are doing.

    McIntyre is entirely wrong when he says that Globish has no grammar or structure though. This sort of belief is largely just snobbery. Trying to “simplify” your own idiolect into Globish without trying to understand the rules of the dialect you are trying to simplify into is another way to not be understood.

  • I have a lot of the same impressions about Korea that Brian seems to have about India. There are near-constant spelling reforms there – not in Korean but in the way foreigners are supposed to transcribe Korean words into their own languages. It was such a constant annoyance to me and my coworkers that I’m afraid I eventually snapped and stated that I would not read any student essays where “Pusan,” as I was used to spelling it in English, were spelled “Busan,” as the South Korean government preferred. I told them that the day they stopped calling the US “Mi-gook” (as it’s pronounced in Korean) would be the day that I would accept Korean guidance on how English words like “Pusan” should be spelled.

    It won the argument, but I suspect it lost the greater battle, because I suspected then and still suspect now that the entire POINT of these spelling revisions was to annoy native English speakers. It is, if I can appropriate what Brian said about India, that Korea is taking charge of its own destiny instead of still having it dictated by now-absent foreigners. It’s a petty way to do it, but there aren’t a lot of options on the table.

    Notwithstanding – I resist these things as long as seems reasonable. Pusan is still Pusan to me, the Sea of Japan is the Sea of Japan (nothing about calling it the “Gulf of Mexico” has ever confused me about its ownership, after all), the Ukraine still has a definite article in front, etc. I agree that at some point the new change just becomes standard, and you end up adopting it, but there’s no reason to jump ahead in this line!

  • Alice

    “Actually, English speakers do have trouble speaking ‘Globish’.”

    I’ll second that! I still feel embarassed about the time a Venezuelan lady had to help me out by translating what I said to some Arabs in English — into English! It is astonishingly difficult for the native speaker to simplify statements adequately.

    Maybe “Globish” is destined to become something like the Lingua Franca of the Crusades — OK for getting someone who speaks a different language to point you to the nearest blacksmith, but strictly functional. And when the need went away, so did Lingua Franca.

    I wonder what language Chinese transplants use to speak to the natives in East Africa? Maybe “Globish” will get some competition before long.

  • Bruce Hoult

    I was going to come and say that dropping down into “globish” is hard, but I see that’s already been said a few times. It’s bad enough when one goes to the USA but in September I traveled for the first time to Europe. I was with a group including Swedes, Danes and Russians who were all happily speaking globish to each other and of course I had no trouble understanding them[1], but sometimes it was very difficult to make them understand me. Apparently I used too many words they didn’t know and my sentences were too long and complicated.

    [1] except sometimes understanding *when* something they were talking about happened, or was going to happen, or might have happened.

  • JC

    I just don’t get it. I thought that th UK would be an English speaking country, but there are all the Manxmen, Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh claiming that they must have independent languages. Christ, I thought I spoke Spanish. I’m understood in all parts of Mexico, Madrid, Barcelona, Guatamala, and Chile, plus; in Rome and Lisbon and Rio can understand and be understood, using what I think i9s Spanish. Imagine my surprise, then, when I find that those are all different languages. Who’da thunk that Spain now has 5 official languages in addition to Basque (which, as my brother who has lived there informs me, sounds much like the grunting of neanderthals and is spoken by exactly no-one except that guy in the corner discussing with his mates where they’re going to ambush you on your way back to your hotel).

    I just don’t get it. Every little quibble, every raised hackle, makes communication more difficult, but the selfsame folks that insist on greater “intercultural understanding” are the same blokes what insists that ivvery distinction be respected, and positively revel in the continued fragmentation of that one thing which defines Humanity – the use of language.

    I just don’t get it. And I don’t really think I want to understand. I’ll start to go along when the Kennel Club changes those damn yappy lap dogs to Bejingoise.

    And maybe not then, either.

  • zlkdgwng3obvbgh

    Voice of America radio has some broadcasts in “special english” ie simplified english easier for non native speakers to understand. I wonder if that influenced what is now called globish.

  • Nuke Gray

    Don’t you come the raw prawn with us, you drongoes! Us Ozites want a fair suck of the source code! If you forenners would just leave our strine lingo alone, we’d be as happy as a shark in a kiddies’ pool!
    Maybe those manxmen like having a local tongue, as a way of defining an ‘in’ crowd, us versus them outsiders.

  • Dan DeLong

    I’ve lived in New York, Maryland, and Alabama, and have adjusted without much difficulty. My strangest experience with English speakers was in Glasgow listening to a teenager speaking with a thick Scots accent while using Hindi inflection. That makes me appreciate the difficulty of programming a cell phone for speech recognition.

    Yeah, yeah, I know there are many accents in Scotland. Been watching Taggart…..

  • Richard Thomas

    It’s absolutely true. Ever since moving to the US, I’ve found myself adapting to the very cut-down version of English they use here. Sometimes I really miss the richness of English English but when I speak it, I often get blank stares.

  • Richard Thomas

    I was replying to Michael Jennings.

  • Richard Thomas

    It won the argument, but I suspect it lost the greater battle, because I suspected then and still suspect now that the entire POINT of these spelling revisions was to annoy native English speakers. It is, if I can appropriate what Brian said about India, that Korea is taking charge of its own destiny instead of still having it dictated by now-absent foreigners. It’s a petty way to do it, but there aren’t a lot of options on the table.

    Joshua, I think it is more likely that, as happens with so many other government departments, that when you create a “Department of foreign spelling” (or whatever), once the work is done, the job then becomes to make more work.

  • Pity me! As a native speaker of Ornate, I have quite enough work to do keeping to Plain. Globish would be the second mark on the dial.

    As for how any self-styled journalist – i.e. a guy whose business is language – can take seriously the notion that an actually spoken dialect could be ‘without grammar or structure’… well, just call my gob a smacked one!

    How far actual ‘Globish’ is presently a single dialect, rather than a sort of general description of how local negotiations of limited English tend to end up sounding, I’m not qualified to say. If I had to guess, I’d expect different foreign grammars to be borrowed from in different instances – which might confuse observers who are reading more unity into the phenomenon than actually exists.

  • I don’t doubt also that plenty of Indians are rather pissed off about how Bombay is now Mumbai.

    Indeed. “Mumbai” is the name of the city in Marathi, the official language of the state in which it is situated. But India has somewhere around 400 widely spoken languages, and only 28 states, each of which has an official language – thus giving the speakers of over 90% of the languages the opportunity to feel like oppressed linguistic minorities.

    In this particular case, one of the languages most widely spoken in the area around Mumbai is Konkani. Konkai actually is the official language of a state, Goa, but is also widely spoken in the coastal areas of the much larger states on either side, Maharashtra and Karnataka. I once read a splendid rant by a Konkani speaker about how “Mumbai” is an insidious example of Marathi imperialism, the city was founded by the British and was therefore legitimately called whatever we chose to call it, etc.

    All of which is particularly ironic when talking about one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, especially the one that is probably Shanghai’s only serious contender for the title of world cultural capitalof the twenty-first century.

    Re: “Globish”. I don’t speak it, but I have lived outside the UK for over ten years now, and even when I do speak with other native English speakers they are often speakers of other dialects – Irish, Americans, Indians. I do very much notice that my English as a results has tended to move towards an averaged-out generic standard and away from British English.

  • Chuckles

    Steven Pinker has written in many of his books and articles on the subject of pidgins and creoles, how they form, the grammatical rules thereof and their evolution.

    As mentioned by Random above, the ‘News in Standard English’ of the VOA and BBC may well have influenced the development of Globish, at least in terms of the vocabulary, and hence the universal usage. Others like Fanakalo tend to be more eclectic in the vocab, and more focused in the application.

    I suspect that the great and ongoing renaming of cities and streets so loved by the pomo, pc and revisionists is indeed ‘make work’ but also in lieu of actually doing anything constructive. The removal of the reminder of the ‘hated’ colonial past is certainly often cited as a reason.

    In India, I think that English, Minglish or whatever form was always the common language as well as the language of Govt. and administration?

    In days of yore, computer types of differing nationalities usually conversed in Fortran, so computer languages may well play a part. Algol need not apply.

    And the opposite often applies, I have had several extended conversations in German only to belatedly discover that the casual acquaintance and I are both native English speakers.

  • Owinok

    “I wonder what language Chinese transplants use to speak to the natives in East Africa? Maybe “Globish” will get some competition before long”.

    Alice, There are not that many Chinese people in E.Africa yet and they often have to speak to those you refer to as “natives” in English. And while at it, I may add that I have been to Beijing and found that outside academia and professionals, the Chinese do not speak English well. Indeed, many average E.Africans speak English much better than the average Chinese I encountered in markets and streets around Beijing. So unlike T. Friedman, the idea that one has to learn Mandarin to participate in the global economy in the future is overstated. But what do I know? I have not written any best selling book.

  • manuel II paleologos

    I work with many Indian software developers. They all call it Bombay except for the Marathis. They do mostly seem to say Chennai though instead of Madras, but not all.

    The odd thing about Bengaluru is that the linguistic base for calling it that is a little dubious, from reading I’ve done in the past. But in practice it’s still Bangalore, and in any case the difference isn’t much more than spelling (like Calcutta/Kolkata).

    And if the IPL use it, then better get used to it, as you say.

    Personally I could happily listen to Indian-English all day; it’s dazzlingly inventive and a joy to listen to.

  • @Bruce: I was going to come and say that dropping down into “globish” is hard, but I see that’s already been said a few times.

    The principles of internationalised English are simple. Two very important principles are as follows:
    * Use each word with its literal meaning. Do not use idioms such as ‘out of the blue’ to mean ‘suddenly’ or ‘unexpectedly’. Do not use multi-word verbs such as ‘put up with’ to mean ‘tolerate’.
    * Use simple grammar. For example, instead of a long sentence that has many clauses, use 2 or more sentences.

    Initially, to speak or to write internationalised English is difficult. However, with practice, the use of internationalised English becomes easier.

    Many organisations use internationalised English. Other terms for internationalised English are ‘global English’, ‘international English’, and ‘worldwide English’. Nerrière’s Globish is only one version of internationalised English. A direct competitor to Nerrière is Grzega, with his ‘Basic Global English’ (http://www.basicglobalenglish.com).

  • Andrew Duffin

    I treasure a memory of some early EU meeting where Mitterand and Kohl found they could most easily communicate in English. Our Maggie was mighty amused.

  • Thanks for all the stuff about Globish. Most enlightening.

    Does anyone have an opinion about whether English will fragment, the way Latin did in Europe?

  • The switch from Peking to Beijing in China is different to the situation in india, I think. China has a very different system of writing to us, and there are various systems of Romanization that have been used over the centuries. “Peking” has changed to “Beijing”, but the most common Latin spelling of every other name, place, and word has changed also. The Chinese name of the city (北京) has not changed at all.

    The complicating factor in India is that English is used locally by a significant portion of the population, so a change in the English name of the city is also a change in the name of the city that is supposed to be used by the locals. Local politics therefore comes into it in a way that doesn’t happen in Chinese, particularly in cases (Mumbai, Chennai) when the new name is a different name entirely from the old name.

    There are many, many football clubs in Europe and around the world with names entirely or partly in English due to the clubs being founded by Englishmen. (This can get mixed up with local politics too. General Franco required all Spanish clubs to have Spanish names, and some of them changed their names back to English with great joy after his death).

    It would be kind of charming if one or two Indian cricket teams retained their older names in the same way, but I fear that the clubs are too short of tradition to do that.

  • So unlike T. Friedman, the idea that one has to learn Mandarin to participate in the global economy in the future is overstated.

    Chinese is not dramatically harder to learn to speak than any other language, but it is incredibly hard to learn to read and write. For all this extra effort, you end up being able to do something that from a practical point of view has no greater utility than learning a writing system based on 26 Latin letters. Chinese writing has great aesthetic and cultural significance, but it is also a huge impediment to the spread of the language around the world. For this reason alone, Chinese as a global language is simply not going to happen.

  • NM

    What Michael and others described is code-switching and occurs quite often in multilingual communities.

    An interesting example (also related to the discussion above & Brian’s question about the fragmentation) would be the case of Singapore:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Singapore_English
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singrish
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code-switch

    “There are two main forms of English spoken in Singapore – Standard Singapore English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English, or Singlish. It is common to see Singaporeans code-switching between Standard Singapore English and Singapore Colloquial English.”

    It seems though that Singlish is officially (and in situations like job interviews) discouraged in this case.

  • the other rob

    Globish reminds me, to some extent, of Koine (or Common) Greek, which emerged as the de facto language of the armies of Alexander the Great (and, later, Phillip II of Macedonia).

    Many of the same elements appear to be present: people with disparate native tongues seeking a common means of communication, a language in a dominant position globally and the emergence of a simplified, easily learned form that, while not particularly suited to artistic outpouring is good enough for practical purposes.

  • Brian,

    English would already have split if it had not been re unified by electronic communications. On this one island we have English and Scottish, two forms which were well on the way to two completely different languages. Arguably it was only political union which prevented this.

    American and British English have been converging, in usage, even if not in accent, for most of the 20th Century, and so are Australian, and NZ. I don’t know enough about SA to judge. I suspect Singlish and Manglish are going the same way. However, this is only as a result of electronic communications. Subtract them from the stew and of course English would fragment.

  • and the emergence of a simplified, easily learned form that, while not particularly suited to artistic outpouring is good enough for practical purposes.

    I think it is possible to start in that place and gradually learn more until you are in a place that is suited to artistic outpouring though. The literature and other culture that exists in English in all its forms is immense and magnificent. Learning a basic “Globish” variant gives you a glimpse of that, and once you have grabbed hold of it you can go to lots of interesting places, in terms of both using this variant of English as a stepping stone to other variants, an in terms of helping this variant itself evolve into something more suited to great artistic outpourings. (Is the enormous body of literature now being written by Anglophone Indians part of this? Maybe).

    I think also that many people who do learn that basic English do so because it is necessary to appreciate much modern popular culture. In the crunch I think this trend is at least as much about culture as it is about commerce.

  • Millie Woods

    English is a dominant language in the world today because not only does the anglosphere include about half a million native speakers but it is the most vibrant producer of intellectual content as well from both native speakers and second language users of the tongue. As a bilingual Canadian who taught at the Universite de Montyreal I can attest to the fact that educational material in English particularly in the pure and applied sciences is dominant even at French language institutions. Speaking as an erstwhile linguistics prof I can explain one reason for the dominance of English in the world today. The phonetic structure of English gives prominence to the vocabulary items that carry the message whereas in my other language, French, the message is carried in mots phonetiques where content words are not stressed but part of a sequence as opposed to the me Tarzan/you Jane quality of English. So messaging in English is a lot more easily acquired.

  • Millie Woods

    Sorry for the boo-boo – the anglosphere number should read half a billion!

  • That pretty much answers the question of why the Imperial Roman brought through the time machine busted a gut laughing when he encountered a bunch of modern day doctors, lawyers, and scientists trying to talk to each other in Latin. I didn’t envy him having to explain the soiled toga to his wife when he got back, no sir.

  • Before going on and on read Derek Bickerton, Bastard Tongues on the power of pidgen. English will continue to evolve in its homelands and will continue to flourish and evolve elsewhere so long as its native speakers have anything others want or admire.

  • tim maguire

    I’d never even heard of Globish until reading this essay, now I’m going to have to poke around the internet and try and find an example of it.

    As for your question, it’s entirely possible that English will become something like German–with most people speaking two versions of it–High German and their local variant. Mutually intelligible but quite different.

    Also interesting is your thought piece on Latin. Latin broke up into individual languages the way it always happens. Languages evolve. When linguistic groups spend generations more or less in isolation from each other, their speech evolves into separate languages just as animals evolve into separate species. So we get French, Spanish and Italian just as we get lions, tigers and house cats.

    That can’t happen right now because of globalization, but another Dark Age would make it possible. And there will be another Dark Ages–there have been several in the past and there will be more in the future. That’s the way these things go.

    Civilization develops in a “three steps forward two steps back” pattern, with advancements and declines but an overall emphasis on progress (stone age, bronze age, iron age,…computer age) and there’s no reason to think that pattern has stopped. So the next dark age will probably not be as dark as the last, but, again, there will be a next.

    Much of our current knowledge will be lost only to be rediscovered later. Globalization will stop and regionalism will reemerge. For a time. And English will likely be the next Latin, with Britain, America, Australia, India, etc. each speaking a different language that traces its roots to English. Well, maybe India will drop English as an official language, but future linguists will note that Hindi contains many English words, much as English contains many Hindu words today.

  • Petronius

    The idea of Simple English comes from the 1930 degvelopment of Basic English, where you could get by with about 850 words and a simplified sentence structure. more here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_english

    There is also an effect in two people using each other’s language. During the Apollo/Suzoz joint US/USSR space mission in the 70s, during docking the American astronaut spoke Russian while his Soviet counterpart spoke English. The idea was that if the non-native speaker made a grammatical mistake the native speaker could more easily sort out what he really meant. (ie; “Firing the retro-rockets are I”) How much of this is taking place in Globish?

  • mojo

    “Globish”?

    I thought they called that sort of thing “pidgin(Link)

  • M.L.Johnson

    I’d be happy if the standard became P.G.Wodehousian English, which I understand is Edwardian Londonese strained through the mind of a literary genius. It would make for a happier and more humourous world!—MLJ, Bahamas

  • I like Globish speaking. I can with almost foreigners speak. I speak Globish for a long time. Since French exchange. Last year I speaked with Japanese railway employee. I speaked Globish. He speaked Japanese. His wife was translator. Now I know everything about AC overhead line electrification in 1920s.

    One problem. After speaking Globish I am tired. I fall asleep on train.

  • Joe Blow

    Were I a leader in a developing country, I’d encourage the BoBos to make fools of themselves by adding nonsense syllables or just plain jazz scat to the name of my country and its cities, just to see their discomfiture. Sure, Bengalaru is an interesting pronunciation, but I’d make all the UN Panjandrums call it Benglaru-diddly-doo-wop, and insist that it was a racist offense of the highest order if they called it anything else. just to skewer their patronizing silly mindset.

    Plus it’d be amusing watching the Beeb presenters try to say “Benglaru-diddly-doo-wop” with a straight face. It seems to me if we can’t beat the tranzis, we should at least mock them mercilessly.

  • Rob

    As an American, I have no trouble communicating in British English. I just toss in a few “tut, tuts” and change declarative sentences into rhetorical questions. It’s as easy as that, isn’t it?

  • English is evolving into the new “lingua franca”.
    The standardization of air traffic control worldwide on a subset of English was step one.
    The dominance of English language media (Hollywood movies, US and UK TV, music) was step two.
    The development of the Internet by US defense contractors and universities, making English the working language of the technical people who run communications infrastructure, is step three.

    It is obvious to anyone but those with a political axe to grind (like those who choose the language of Los Conquistadores over that of another European colonial power) that English is the global language. To make those folks happy, we’ll have to change the name.

    “Glish”. It even has a politically-correct backronym [Global Language International Standard for Humanity].

  • OregonJon

    The main western road northward from Mumbai’s business center is Peddar Road. The Bank of India, owned by the government, has a Peddar Road branch. While the rapid popularization of Bombay to Mumbai is well noted the government long ago changed the name of Peddar Road to Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg. No one, including the authorities, pay any attention to the official name as Peddar Road it remains. Equally amusing is that Peddar is a misspelling of the name of a former British municipal commission named Pedder. Go figure.

  • KimW

    I have no doubt that for years to come the cry of “pass the Bangalore Torpedo” will echo through the militaries of the worlds.

  • If you really want to take it to extremes, it’s not Beijing, it’s 北京. It’s not Bengalura, it’s ಬೆಂದಕಾಳೂರೠwhich is readable if your computer shows the lovely cursive letters of Kannada.

  • Sorry, I know it’s not a name change, just the ‘official’ transliteration from Chinese into latin script, but 55 Days at Beijing just doesn’t work for me.

  • Speaking as an erstwhile linguistics prof I can explain one reason for the dominance of English in the world today. The phonetic structure of English gives prominence to the vocabulary items that carry the message whereas in my other language, French, the message is carried in mots phonetiques where content words are not stressed but part of a sequence as opposed to the me Tarzan/you Jane quality of English. So messaging in English is a lot more easily acquired.

    This is true of every language, in fact. It’s a well-studied corollary of a universal called “Zipf’s Law.” The original “law” stated that “given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. (Wikipedia)” But it also seems to roughly apply to the relationship between the frequency of a word and its length/phonological complexity – hence the corrolary. It seems hugely unlikely to me that French would be an exception to this, but if it is then only because it’s exceptional. Which is to say, English is not special in this regard.

    Zipf’s book, by the way, was called “Human Behavior and the Principle of Least-Effort.”

  • Chinese is not dramatically harder to learn to speak than any other language, but it is incredibly hard to learn to read and write. For all this extra effort, you end up being able to do something that from a practical point of view has no greater utility than learning a writing system based on 26 Latin letters. Chinese writing has great aesthetic and cultural significance, but it is also a huge impediment to the spread of the language around the world.

    It is an impediment, yes, but I doubt very seriously it’s a dealbreaker. If a langauge is going to spread, it’s going to spread – and Chinese seems likely to spread. Remember that English spelling isn’t exactly intuitive either – it certainly involves a lot more memorization than German, Dutch or even French. And yet there you go – a lot more money is spent each year learning how to communicate well in English than any of these others. If people feel the need to learn Chinese, they will.

    And actually, I think the writing system is a lot easier to learn than you suspect. I picked up the Japanese writing system – which is arguably more complex than the Chinese one – in no time (and yes, that includes Kanji) – by emphatically NOT using the rote memorization methods that Japanese kids use in school, but rather a creative rapid memorization technique that I learned in a book written by (what else?) an American exchange student:

    http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Kanji-Vol-Complete-Characters/dp/0824831659/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273705751&sr=8-1

    My handwriting ain’t so great, but I picked up what it takes Japanese students 6 years of elementary education to learn in three months.

  • seguin

    One of my closest friends in college was from Bombay. He told me that almost no one his age calls it Mumbai…the younger folks do now, though.

    Although if I think about it I don’t think I have any Marathi friends…they’re almost all Malayalam with the above exception.

  • Alice

    “Remember that English spelling isn’t exactly intuitive either”

    Yes, but Globish is almost entirely a spoken language — a lingua franca. So spelling does not really matter.

    Non-native written English is a whole other matter. One of the sweetest examples I ever saw was on the road leading out of Almaty, Kazakhstan into the wilds to the east. A large road sign marked the city limit, with a message in Russian, Kazakh, and English. The English version read: “You are leaving Almaty. Good luck”.

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    Even in the US, there’s differentiation in the pronounciation of place-names using foreign language loan-words;

    St. Lewis or St. Louie?
    Nu Or’lens or Nu Or’leens? ..or Nu Or’le’ans?
    Ke’beck or Qwe’bek?
    Cal’e'for’ni’a or Cal’a'forn’ya?

  • CBI

    At professional meetings I often interact with Indian nationals. Invariably, they use the English names for cities (e.g., “Bombay”), and not the mixed-pronunciation term (e.g., “Mombai”). In terms of the above essay, they are speaking English and not “globish” — which appears to me to be more-or-less a form of what used to be called Basic English.

    Just another data point.

  • “they are speaking English and not “globish” — which appears to me to be more-or-less a form of what used to be called Basic English.”

    Why do you mean “globish”?

    http://www.articlesbase.com/currency-trading-articles/automated-forex-trading-system-several-tips-to-choose-the-best-one-2314235.html

  • @Alice – I was responding to Michael Jennings’ assertion that the Chinese writing system is hampering its chances of becoming a global language. I suspect that he overestimates the effects of writing system here – both in terms of the relationship between difficulty of writing system and likelihood of adoption, and in terms of the difficulty of the Chinese writing system in particular. Thus, writing was the relevant point at hand. Just because most people here are talking about ‘Globish’ doesn’t meant that everyone is.

    As for spoken languages, there is of course nothing about the Chinese writing system that would prohibit its being adopted as a spoken language. In general, this is how languages spread: they first acquire a larger number of speakers, and only later does literacy in them spread. But English is a kind of exception here, since a lot of people are now required to learn it in school, and thus their basic exposure to the language is accompanied by literacy lessons. Probably this is what Mr. Jennings meant by saying that the Chinese writing system would get in the way: it will be discovered that it is not a hit in the classroom. More accurately – that the level of performance one can reasonably expect from pupils at state schools will not be sufficient for this writing system in this language. That is true enough – but I would still say that this is not a problem for Chinese getting itself adopted as a/the global language. If people find that it is profitable to be able to read Chinese, they will learn to read Chinese.

    My personal opinion: Chinese is NOT on its way to becoming the global language – but this has everything to do with my prediction that China will never be an economic or political superpower (at least, the PRC won’t) and nothing to do with the complexity of the writing system. That is, it is a political opinion and not a linguistic opinion. Linguistically, there is nothing stopping Chinese from replacing English that I can see – including the writing system.

  • Joshua: You may be right that learning to read and write Chinese is less difficult that I think, and the point that people will do what is in their economic interests (or even more in the economic interests of their children) is of course true. (One story going on in the world at the moment is dramatically improving literacy in rural India, driven by private small scale schools that are pretty much entirely off the radar of the governments and NGOs who think it is their job to encourage literacy). I lack the expertise to say how difficult it actually is. From experience, though, one does bump into expats in Asia from time to time who have lived in Chinese speaking places for a few years and can speak quite decent Chinese, but who have essentially no reading and writing skills. Perhaps they have simply not had the economic necessity to learn.

    Of course, even if it is particularly difficult to learn to read and write Chinese, it is perfectly possible for an alphabet based script for Chinese to come into being in parallel to traditional characters. Other Asian languages (Vietnamese, Malay/Indonesian) are written with Latin script. However, the existing system of writing in China is so connected with China’s sense of its own nation and culture that authorities are likely to strongly discourage the existence and use of such a think. Perhaps it is this kind of inflexibility that I was actually getting at. Perhaps also it is this kind of inflexibility that makes the rise of China as a superpower unlikely – a point on which I generally agree with you.

    Reading this thread some more, I am struck by one other point. Several people have mentioned that the creation of a simplified version of a language (“Globish” or whatever) is largely about spoken communication and not written communication. This has been true in the past, but it is not true now. This may above all be the big thing that has changed. Thanks to the internet, people with common social, economic, or cultural interests are communicating with one another by writing to one another in English. The original linked to article gives an example (taken from the book “The Prodigal Tongue”, by Mark Abley) of “Latvians and Macedonians, Indonesians and Peruvians, Israelis and Egyptians” who sign up for the official online forum of the rock group Coldplay.

    It may be that this is a fleeting moment, and that good machine translation will make this unnecessary before long, but I doubt it.

  • Michael,

    We are not going to get quality machine translation until we have solid artificial intelligence which is capable of evaluating context. I am afraid that when that happens we will be concerned about more than which language is to dominate.

  • Millie Woods

    Counting Cats, re machine translation – been there, done that already. MIT and Russian institutions were in the foreground and they found that scientific data, legal theory etc and in short any text which was rigourously objective translated easily but when it came to figurative language it was quite another story. Jokes circulating ast the time included faux translations of sayings such as the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak rendered as the wine’s good but the food’s awful; or out of sight, out of mind as blind and insane. Well you get the picture. BTW this was all going on in the late seventies

  • Kristopher

    Looks like ‘Merican is about to become the default world language.

    Yall really do need to clean up your ‘Merican if you want to be comprendayed. That brit accent is way too difficult.

  • Alice

    Joshua wrote: “Just because most people here are talking about ‘Globish’ doesn’t meant that everyone is.”

    You seem a little touchy, Joshua. Even in standard written English, a person who looks hard enough for disrespect will probably find it.

    Interesting thing about “globish” is that there are no subtleties in it at all, and therefore no possibility of that kind of misunderstanding. I had not thought about that before as an advantage of “globish”. Thank you, Joshua, for pointing it out.

  • With regard to machine translation – it’s actually a hot topic in Linguistics again. This year marks the fifth year in a row that the ACL (Association for Computational Linguistics) has had a special sub-conference devoted to it. Current approaches tend to be statistical, though, which avoids a lot of the problems with non-literal meaning. It does this by taking phrases as chunks and using the most likely translation – where the most likely translation is gathered from a corpus of aligned sentences. Of course, statistical approaches have other problems – which you can see for yourself by trying the mother of all statistical translation engines, the Google translator. We’re probably not any further than we were in the 70s, we just make different kinds of mistakes now.

  • Alice –

    When you’re responding to a comment that I made about one topic as though it were about a different topic, no effort is required to see the disrespect. To quote Buffy, “I didn’t jump. I took a tiny step, and there conclusions were.”

  • “Chinese is not dramatically harder to learn to speak than any other language, but it is incredibly hard to learn to read and write”

    Chinese language is hard to speak and hear because it uses tones as part of the language and Westerners use tones to add embellishments. It goes into a different mental bucket.

    Reading and writing Chinese is easier than it might seem. There is a lot of structure to the symbols. The language degrades very gracefully with words and symbols that you don’t know because you’ll still recognize the parts and very often get a good idea about the meaning from the parts.

    Japanese is far more difficult than Chinese because it uses two alphabets along with the symbols, which have multiple “Chinese” pronunciations and one or more “Japanese” pronunciations. It has male speech and female speech, and then plain speech and polite speech and humble speech and honorific speech.

  • “Remember that English spelling isn’t exactly intuitive either – it certainly involves a lot more memorization than German, Dutch or even French. And yet there you go – a lot more money is spent each year learning how to communicate well in English than any of these others.” – My two pennies as a non-native speaker of English, who has studied French, German, and Russian: more memorization for spelling – marginally (probably not true for French – monsieur? eau?). But English grammar is remarkably easy – absence of genders and cases for nouns and adjectives, a remarkably simple verb tense system, etc. When I first came to the USA, I was immediately faced with a reverse Globish dilemma of sorts – speak correct American English (“Where are you?”) or speak like the locals (“Where you at?”).

    For what it’s worth, here’s a website where ordinary Chinese people offer foreigners free accommodation, tours, lessons in Chinese cuisine, calligraphy, etc., in exchange for (mostly) English lessons. I am not aware of similar sites in any other country, although that may be my omission, and could change – but tells something about eagerness to learn English in China.

  • Chinese eagerness to learn English? For a while this was one(Link) of the most popular television shows in the world, purely as a result of Chinese interest in learning English.

  • Japanese is far more difficult than Chinese because it uses two alphabets along with the symbols, which have multiple “Chinese” pronunciations and one or more “Japanese” pronunciations. It has male speech and female speech, and then plain speech and polite speech and humble speech and honorific speech.

    The only argument here that seems plausible in support of the conclusion that Japanese is “far more difficult than Chinese” is that Japanese Kanji have more than one pronounciation. The fact that there are two additional alphabets is a non-starter: both of these alphabets are phonetic, so you simply learn to read them the way you would any other. It helps greatly that they hugely resemble one another, such that learning one means you’ve more or less learned the other. And as for which to use when, the patterns are really not much more complicated than when to use itallics and quotes in English. Hiragana is for grammatical inflections and replacement for Kanji; Katakana is for emphasis and foreign words. As for male speech and female speech, plain speech and polite speech and honorific speech, as far as I know these are sociological realities that have to be expressed in any language. Far from being more complex in this regard, Japanese makes the task much easier by formalizing these relations into the grammar. In other languages, you just have to “get a feel for” which words and phrases are acceptable in various contexts, etc.. It can only be done by experience. In Japanese, by contrast, they’re there in the grammar book – and thus it is much easier for a learner to identify when he’s in a polite context, for example, in Japanese than it is for other languages. And of course you leave out that Japanese does not use tones in the way that Chinese does, and so is not in your “different mental bucket.” And in fact Japanese is phonologically quite simple: all syllables are consonant-vowel, the vowels themselves are basically all cardinal vowels, there are no consonant clusters, etc.

    Japanese’s reputation for difficulty is almost entirely undeserved, in my experience – a cherished Japanese cultural myth with little basis in reality. But then, I’m also one of those people who think that the idea that some languages are objectively “more difficult” than others is complete hogwash. It’s all a function of what your native language is. Humans from all parts of the world have roughly the same mental processing capacity, and languages make tradeoffs to stay within that range. For example, languages like English that have fairly rigid word order rules will economize on inflection, whereas languages like Turkish and Japanese that have a lot of inflection will tend to allow a lot more freedom with word order (this is a tendency – there are some exceptions). A language that is complex in some ways will be simple in others, and whether a given (second/foreign) language is more or less difficult for a given individual to learn will depend entirely on what that individual’s native language is.

  • naman

    I wonder what the Esperanto advocates think of globish?

  • Nuke Gray

    Esperanto is for planners and statists! I’m surprised that Communists worldwide haven’t adopted it as CommonTongue!
    English is an evolving language, the natural language of capital and change. Globish, as a descendent of English, would be anathema to them!

  • Globish reminds me of another project called “Basic English” Unfortunately this failed, because native English speakers could not remember which words not to use :)

    So it’s time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations.

    As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto

    Your readers may be interested in the following video at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  • We have no real need of any planned languages, Brian. We have English, which will mutate into whatever it mutates into :-) Installed base trumps ease of use.

  • English as the international language – that’s an urban legend!

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential. As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

  • English as the international language – that’s an urban legend!

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential. As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)