blog navigation

blog posts

  • "Yes, we want" -- Who owns global English?


Comments Apr 22, 2010 6:22 pm

I'm adding this comment at the request of Salikoko Mufwene University of Chicagos-mufwene@uchicago.eduThe current reaction to the Yes, we want slogan reveals something important about how norms evolve in languages, viz., that speakers produce countless of deviations from the current norms (call them innovations if you want) but very few of them are adopted by other speakers to become new norms. This particular deviation from the Spaniard promoters of English just fell on the wrong side of the competition, at the cost of ridicule at the very least.The reaction is also informative about who is empowered to determine what is acceptable or not acceptable in a particular language. In this respect, it becomes relevant to bring up the distinction that Braj Kachru (at UIUC) has articulated between 1) the Inner Circle of English speakers (roughly native speakers in the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand), 2) the Outer Circle (corresponding roughly to speakers in former British exploitation colonies), and 3) the Expanding Circle (which includes any other territory where English has been adopted as a convenient lingua franca). It is unfortunately not always clear where speakers of acrolectal English in the Caribbean and users of English in continental Europe fit in this typology for ideological reasons that I need not get into here. In any case, divergences from the Outer Circle are tolerated by speakers of the Inner Circle (though not necessarily by all them), but deviations by speakers of the Expanding Circle are certainly discouraged. By Kachrus typology, Spain belongs in the Expanding Circle, and it has no business promoting English in a discourse that violates the current norm. Yes, the buyer is not always king or queen, and in the present case the seller/provider dictates the proper usage.Its another question whether English is not breaking up in the way that Latin did or has. Lets start with English creoles and pidgins, although these have been disfranchised as separate languages and therefore banned from the franchise of English dialects. They remind us of the time in the Roman Empire when, according to the late Edgar Polom, the Latin of the provinces was often derided by the Romans. However, we can also observe the divergence process in the indigenized varieties spoken in the Outer Circle, regardless of whether or not they are accepted as new national or regional dialects in the same way that new North American and Australian Englishes (among others) are. I personally consider all English varieties spoken outside England as indigenized, in the sense that they reflect adaptations to the new ecologies where English has been adopted as a vernacular or lingua franca just like Latin speciated through indigenization in various ecologies and its offspring have likewise diversified in other new ecologies.Should we really entertain the dream of a global English simply because English has become a global language? Would this be natural evolution? History shows that in the case of languages geographic expansion amounts to diversification of the ecologies of language practice and thereby to its speciation. I bet you a glass of Belgian beer that the fate of English is doomed to be like that of Latin.------Reply from Dennis: @Sali: Let's not wait that long to have the beer!

Reply to at 6:22 pm Apr 27, 2010 3:21 pm

I'm not quite clear as to what the critics of "Yes We Want" think would be correct English. "Yes We Want To"? But we're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, are we? Maybe it should just be changed wholesale to something like "Please Sir, May I Have a Little More?"

Reply to at 3:21 pm