Archive for Language

The Dilution of The English Language

The Dilution of The English Language

“The internationalisation of English has begun to provoke a two-fold enervation. In many societies, imported English, with its necessarily synthetic, ‘pre-packaged’ semantic field, is eroding the autonomy of the native language-culture. Intentionally or not, American-English and English, by virtue of their global diffusion, are a principal agent in the destruction of natural linguistic diversity. This destruction is, perhaps, the least reparable of the ecological ravages which distinguish our age. More subtly, the modulation of English into an ‘Esperanto’ of world commerce, technology, and tourism, is having debilitating effects on English proper”.

George Steiner “After Babel”, 1973.

This quote illustrates the corruptive effect that globalization has, not only on minority and “indigenous” languages, but also on the lingua franca of the modern era, English. When meeting with a client or colleague who speaks another language, one party must make a concession to the other. If you consent to speak their language, then you are at a disadvantage, particularly if you do not speak their language very well. The same is true for them if they attempt to speak your language. Many people feel obliged to speak broken English in corporate scenarios, both as a gesture of good will to English speaking clients and also to demonstrate their English skills . This approach can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings. When speaking a second language, you may not realise that you have made a mistake and that much of what you have said has been misinterpreted.

The most obvious antidote to such misunderstandings is to hire a professional interpreter. Simultaneous interpreters can attend meetings and provide real time translations for smooth and accurate communications. This is how high level corporate and political meetings are always conducted, but low level businesses seeking to invest abroad, sometimes try to make do without. The assertion that English is can serve as an international lingua franca like Latin and Mandarin have in the past is politically incorrect.

Whenever a language is used to communicate internationally, it is because the associated culture of that language has achieved military, economic or cultural dominance, and its popularity as a means of international communication is dependent on the maintenance of that dominance. With the obvious threat posed by modernity and globalisation to some endangered languages, its no surprise that the spread of English is met with hostility by some people. As English absorbs cultural influences from around the world, it changes, and becomes diluted. The simplification of English into a modern day Esperanto seems ever more likely, as it serves as the language of quick and cheap, trans-cultural and international communication. This poses the threat, however, of creating more misunderstandings rather than less. Professional translation services are still the safest and most effective way to get the message over the language barrier without breaking anything.