Friday, May 09, 2008

Hitchings, Henry. "One Language Fits All." FINANCIAL TIMES May 3, 2008.

What is the future of English? Here are a few statements that I’ve recently read, heard or overheard. “If you don’t speak English, you can’t feel part of the world.” “English isn’t much more than an ugly symbol of white supremacy.” “All this unchecked immigration is turning a once-beautiful language into some sort of mongrel.” “English is popular because it’s so accommodating.” “True English keeps getting diluted.” “In the future, we are all going to speak just one language, and it’s our one.” As such anecdotal evidence suggests, statements about language are typically freighted with political judgments. People characteristically identify their own language as precious – an embodiment of their heritage, a measure of their prosperity. They see other languages as rivals or dangerous intruders. And native users of English are particularly proud in their awareness that the language of Shakespeare, Adam Smith and The Simpsons is becoming the world’s sovereign tongue. Yet popular thinking about the language tends to be myopic. Books, articles and news items on the subject usually take one of three forms. First, there is the lament, which bemoans, for example, the decline of the semi-colon or the proliferation of split infinitives and so-called greengrocers’ apostrophes. The most celebrated recent example is Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Then there is the archaeological approach, in which the history of the language is quarried. Contributions to this field are sometimes historical (Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English) or more concerned with philology (Nicholas Ostler’s brilliant Empires of the Word). Third, and with more than a nod to this archaeological school, there is the curatorial method, in which linguistic oddities are individually displayed like museum pieces. Did you know that “kit” once denoted a wooden vessel used for carrying fish, or that “clone” comes from the Greek word for a twig? There have been numerous recent books in this vein, and the form also thrives on the internet. . . . Read the rest here:

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