UK: The Future of the English Language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 19 13:14:31 UTC 2006

The Future of the English Language:
 The policy implications of changes in English

This work examines the implications of current trends in the English
Language for policy agendas. Run in association with Cambridge Assessment,
and ESOL Examinations at the University of Cambridge, it will identify not
only areas in which policy makers will have to change to meet the
challenges posed by the emergence of variants of English - Englishes - but
also how government and others can work with providers to take advantage
of the many opportunites that 'Englishes' present...

 Tales of Dearing do

On the back of last week's Dearing report into language learning in
schools, the UK's linguistic competence is back in the newspapers and,
once again, we are reminded of the monoglot mire into which we could well
fall. The current issue of the Economist includes three articles on the
subject.  In the UK, we are 'God's Worst Linguists' (subscription only)
and 'as bilingualism becomes the norm worldwide, the future of English has
moved', shifting from native speakers to a more global picture in which
the majority of users have learned or developed it as a second language
and in various different contexts and to varying degrees of fluency.
Meanwhile, Brussels is 'babelling on' as 'more official languages could
eventually mean less diversity'.

In the UK, diversity is somewhat of a confused point in relation to our
linguistic competence.  Monoglot we may be in the contexts of
international business and global markets, but there are over 300
languages spoken in London's schools.  As Beijing musters its
English-speaking abilities before the 2008 Olympics, Tower Hamlets alone
is the home of almost as many languages as there will be competing nations
in 2012. As commentators have pointed out, there are several big issues in
all this:

    If more and more people are speaking English as well as their own
language, why would people in an increasingly inter-related world employ
people who speak only English?

    As new forms of English emerge, influenced by the different social,
national and other contexts in which they are used, will native speakers
slip out of the loop?

    What can we do with the real linguistic variety that we have and what
cultural opportunities are we missing?

Overall, we need to get over what has become a frequent fascination in
English's prevalence the world over, and we need to go beyond gulping at
our lack of language skills.  The question is what we're going to do about
it. Some, like the former Vice-President of IBM, Jean-Paul Nerriere have
proposed 'Globish', a more widely intelligible form of English with its
nuance removed.  That could be missing the point - it's not so much about
enforcing comprehension as it is coming to grips with diversity.  We need
to find a way in which policy-makers across the board (and not just in
relation to Education), come to recognise just what changes in the English
language will mean, and how we can shape things to respond to this.


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