August 06, 2006

ENGLISH IS FLOWING EVERYWHERE. It's unstoppable, though some countries try to ban it. (Iran just outlawed "helicopter" -- the word.) But with maybe a billion people speaking it now, English is the future.

But the danger is that proper English will be overwhelmed by the English of nonnative speakers, he acknowledged. “This is not English as we have known it, and have taught it in the past as a foreign language,” he wrote. “It is a new phenomenon, and if it represents any kind of triumph it is probably not a cause of celebration by native speakers.”

Leave it to a native of France — a country that itself in the 1990’s briefly required that 3,000 English words be replaced by French ones — to suggest that this simpler English be codified.

Jean-Paul Nerrière, a retired vice president of I.B.M., calls his proposal Globish. It uses a limited vocabulary of 1,500 words, taken from the Voice of America, among other sources, which can be put together clumsily to express more complicated thoughts. Little concern is given to the complexities of grammar, and he proposes that speakers of Globish say the same thing in different ways to make up for difficulties in pronunciation...

“Globish is not a language, it will never have a literature, it does not aim at conveying a culture, values,” Mr. Nerrière wrote in an e-mail message. “Globish is just a tool, practical, efficient, limited on purpose.”

The linked article says the native English speaker might be at a disadvantage, because you'd know so many words that aren't on the limited list. But would English in the Globish form really take over and remain constrained?
The typical conversation in Globish could be grating to a native speaker, but get the job done between, say, a Kenyan and a Korean trying to navigate a business deal or asking for help at the airport check-in. For nephew, there is “son of my brother/sister”; kitchen is “room in which you cook your food”; chat is “speak casually to each other.”

Hmmm... well, I'm seeing in this article that "chat" is another one of the words that Iran saw the need to ban. I think the kind of crisp short words used in web-writing are going to spread and people won't confine themselves to a tedious word list that requires them to construct clunky phrases containing boring filler like "in which." There will be some sort of global English, but I think it's likely to be, not Nerrière's 1,500 building blocks, but the kind of clear, straightforward English that makes for good blog writing. And you can write real literature in this language. Man, Nerrière annoys me. His vision of the future is no fun at all. It's infuriatingly desiccated! Or should I say it is so dry it makes me mad.