Showing posts with label global English. Show all posts
Showing posts with label global English. Show all posts

Is Americanization speeding up?

Today I got to hear myself on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth talking with host Michael Rosen and anti-Americanism-ist Matthew Engel.

This is just a picture. Click HERE for the program(me)!
Biggest regret: that I completely blanked on the fact that sidewalk is originally a British word. Had to go home and read about it in my own book manuscript. I also regret that they cut a bit I said about British music artists singing in their own accents. (So please read this instead. I think the producer/editor might have thought that the reference to grime music would be too much for the Radio 4 [orig. AmE] listenership.)

But listening now to Engel repeatedly saying that American English influence on British is constantly increasing, I wish I'd pointed out this:

The 20th Century is often called "The American Century". The 21st Century is looking a lot less American. To be sure, it's not looking like the British century either. That came the century before.

American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so [And I mustn't forget the Marshall Plan, which my colleague just mentioned to me.] America was inventing and manufacturing all sorts of things and putting names on them and selling them everywhere. Two world wars and the cold war had Americans stationed all over the world using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries. The 21st century is looking rather different.

The 20th century brought us talking pictures and television. Radio, the most affordable form of broadcast, remained a more local proposition--though the recorded music could be imported. (Though the word radio, well that's an Americanism.) The 21st century is the time of the internet and of personali{s/z}ed entertainment. The popular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download. Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don't like what you're seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud (or other things I'm too old and [orig. AmE] uncool to know about) and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. People go on the internet and meet each other and talk to each other, meaning that there's more opportunity than ever for there to be exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media. The slangs that young people use are sometimes local to their school or area and sometimes particular to an international online gaming community or music fandom. The notion of community, for many people, has internationali{s/z}ed. Language is moving in different ways now than it ever had the chance to move in the 20th century.

In the meantime, all indications are that the US is becoming politically more isolationist and more of an international pariah. Are its words going to flow so freely abroad? Will there be a taste for them?

The American century has happened. I don't know whose century this will be (please, please not Putin's), if indeed it will be any nation's century. (Better a nation's century than a virus's century, though.) American words will continue to spread to other parts of the world, but I can't see the evidence of Engel's strong claim that the imbalance between US and UK word-travel is increasing faster than ever.

At the start of the 21st century, British words seem to be entering America in greater numbers than they were a few decades ago. Much of this has to do with journalism and how international that's become. The online versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are extremely popular in the US. There are more US fans of Doctor Who now than in its Tom Baker days. Harry Potter is the single most important thing that's happened to children's publishing in the English-speaking world in my lifetime, and though the editions sold in the US are translated into American to some extent, it's actually only a small extent. Americans are reading and hearing more British English than they have in a long time.

The scale(s) is/are still tipped in American vocabulary's favo(u)r. But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of reason to believe that the degree of the imbalance is rapidly increasing. Yes, the number of American words in British English constantly increases, but there's more westward traffic now, more UK coining of managementspeak, and new local youth cultures making their own words in Britain. The tide hasn't turned, but there is (mixed metaphor alert) (orig. AmE) pushback.

And if English continues to be popular as a global lingua franca (due to its momentum, rather than the foreign and cultural policies of the UK and US), then more words may be coming from other places altogether.
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who speaks Global English?

I just read "A global reach for mind and mouth", an article in the 8 June Times Higher Education Supplement by Nick Saville of the Cambridge University English for Speakers of Other Languages program(me). They're the people who make up (some of) the exams that non-native speakers of English take in order to have their ability in English certified. The article concerns a study that Cambridge ESOL commissioned on the future of the English language, and says:
Demos [the thinktank that did the study] paints a picture of a world in which English is presently dominant as the leading language of international commerce and government. This position has largely been consolidated by English being the predominant language of computing and the internet. However, of the estimated 1.3 billion speakers of English in the world, there are only 330 million native speakers -- and this puts Britons in a minority within a minority.

The report says, moreover, that the UK had rested on its laurels and that its approach towards English is more suited to days of empire than to a world of global commerce and travel. The British have failed to address the need to learn other languages adequately (we have the lowest levels of bilingualism in the European Union) and are equally disdainful of those who speak other forms of English than our own, especially new varieties such as Spanglish (a Spanish-English dialect), Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) or Singlish (a Singaporean, Malay, Indian and English melange).
It goes on to discuss how Cambridge ESOL copes with this. I started reading this article expecting something completely different than what I got, however. The article takes up about 3/4 of a tabloid page and never once mentions American English (or the United States or North America) by name. It doesn't mention any other nations whose main language is English either, but in discussing the role of English in the global marketplace, it just seems weird not to namecheck AmE--particularly in pointing out the spread of English through computing and the internet and British disdain for other varieties of English.

American English: the elephant in the global English living room.
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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)