More Global Language Monitor silliness

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Feb 5 04:25:25 UTC 2006

On 1/29/06, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> As if their inane annual word lists weren't bad enough, now the Global
> Language Monitor has hoodwinked a New York Times reporter into buying
> a whole truckload of nonsense...
> -----

And now Mr. Payack has pulled his snow job on the Times of London...

The Sunday Times        February 05, 2006

Chinglish – it's a word in a million
John Harlow, in Los Angeles

CHAMPIONS of the English language are about to mark a momentous point
in its 1,500-year history — the creation of its one millionth word.

The growing use of Chinglish (Chinese-English) and dozens of other
ethnic hybrids has pushed the number of words in the language to
986,120, according to Paul Payack, a Harvard-educated linguist
monitoring its growth.

Chinglish terms include "drinktea", meaning closed, derived from the
Mandarin Chinese for resting; and its opposite, "torunbusiness",
meaning open, from the Mandarin word for operating.

While some are amusing to the British ear, others are abrasive. Public
toilets for disabled people in Beijing are marked "deformedman" and in
Hong Kong "kweerboy" denotes a homosexual.

The Chinese government has vowed to sweep Chinglish from road and shop
signs before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but is fighting an uphill

Payack, who works for Global Language Monitor, a San Diego-based
consultancy, said 20,000 new English words were registered on the
company's databases last year — twice as many as a few years ago. Up
to 20% were in Chinglish.

According to Payack, the one millionth word is likely to be formed
this summer, confirming the domination of English in the global
linguistic order.

French, which was the language of diplomacy in the 19th century but
went into decline in the 20th, is said to contain just 100,000 words.

"Global English is no longer just dominated by either British English
or American, but is running free and developing uniquely regional
forms," said Payack.

Chinglish and up to 60 cousins such as Spanglish (Spanish-English),
Japlish (Japanese-English) and Hinglish (Hindi-English) owe their rise
largely to the internet.

Thanks to its influence a language that evolved in Anglo-Saxon England
now reaches billions of homes in the developing world, where it is
radically transformed for local taste while remaining recognisably

New words are also spread — although rarely created — by celebrity
"transmitters" such as Madonna and Snoop Dogg, who is credited with a
form of rap-speak known as "shizzle".

"The creators of new words usually remain anonymous, except for
President George Bush's Bushisms such as 'misunderestimate'," said
Payack. "Those are special."

Payack's databases are compiled by computers combing through sources
such as newspapers, television programmes and internet blogs.
Shakespeare is also scrutinised.

Payack claims to have identifed a "tipping point" in 1994, when the
trickle of new English words became a flood. Mosaic, the first
user-friendly web browser, was invented around the same time.

Although it excludes proper names, Payack's database includes
text-message words, which are evolving as consumers start buying
reading matter over their mobile phones. "This is changing their
language too," said Payack.

He believes that English has triumphed because it is open to change.
French is less so: its purity is watched over by the Académie
Française, a literary body that defines the French language. Between
1997 and 2002 there was a 24% drop in the use of French in European
Union documents. English increased by 32%.

Professor David Crystal, the author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of
the English Language, said the statistics spoke for themselves. "In
the 1960s, 250m people spoke English, but now it's closer to 2
billion, or one in three people in the world.

"That English became the first truly global language in the 1990s is
beyond dispute, but there is debate about where it goes from here.

"Does it splinter into a loosely connected family of English
languages, which become mutually incomprehensible again, like old
Latin, or do we develop a standard global English that can be
understood by all? We don't know what will happen."

In his latest book, Words, Words, Words, Crystal, who is honorary
professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, argues
that the British routinely underestimate their own linguistic
abilities. "I computer-analysed The Sun newspaper and discovered it
used about 5,000 different words," he said. "People underestimate its
sophistication because of its slangy headlines. And a British
broadsheet uses about 8,000 different words — about the same as the
original King James Bible.

"The average Briton uses about 40,000 words, although not all every
day, and can understand another 20,000. The richness and flexibility
of English ensures we shall never be at a loss for words."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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