Do you see the simplification of English as an International Language as a digitisation?
- For Teachers
A word of comfort to those of you who are unhappy about an important and so far unique and unprecedented linguistic development underway in the world and the present shift in English identity to a world property or world identity.
The rise of a global English doesn't mean the loss of a geographical identity. People in Britian remain British, those in the US stay American. A model is Switzerland. You can be German, French or Italian but you are ultimately Swiss. Even now the term Spanish is misleading because it doesn't consider the Catalans and others.
Although I still believe the loss of a linguistic identity has far more advantages than drawbacks, other languages in the world won't be spared. A much more disasterous fate is awaiting them. It will also free us from the shackles of nationalism and arrogance. We will save time and energy which we still put into translation. A global English might overrun and replace lots of languages (alas Francais what has become of la grande nation). So everybody in the world will acquire a new linguistic identity. I wonder, what's wrong with that? After all languages come and go. This is a rule of nature. Just think of what happened to Latin. It gave birth before it died to a number of daughters Like: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese....
On the other hand a lot of people are worried that the English invasion will bring with it American and English culture. They believe it's a kind of cultural colonialism. The whole world will be Anglo-Saconized or Americanized. Even in China people have already started eating MacDonald's hamburegers. So there is no reason to worry that Chinese (Mandarin) one day will be a more powerful language than English. Chinese sounds are more difficult to the people's of the world. In addition it's writing system is cumbersom and not suitable for international communication. Human beings have always lamented the demise of the present. Shelly's "West Wind" makes way for a new life.
I always say language is the basis for all human interactions. No thinking is possible without language. I wonder why linguistics and language have not got the attention and focus they deserve till now. After all, human knowledge and science is only possible through the medium of language . What we are doing now is only possible because we have a language.
Acquiring a new language opens new perspectives on life and broadens our
minds. our identity is still based on language. However, in case of English and because of its international role the idea of identity might get lost or is in deed on its way to be lost (it is becoming a world or a human identity). Yet, English culture and literature can only be seen in English. That's why although translation is a brilliant discipline it cannot overcome its deficiencies. Just imagine translating Shakespeare or Coleridge into Dutch.
In short, language is superior to all other disciplines and is always first in sequence. It is knowledge, pleasure, emotions (mind and body or body and soul in one). After all we are not only heads but bodies too.
Density and Speed
One question which doesn't leave my mind is: Can the human language we
know cope with the information density and the speed we are experiencing. As you know, information is growing and coding or packing information into language is necessary. Informal language uses more
verbs. So it is more verbal or verbose (i.e. information density is low). Academic language tries to avoid verbs as much as possible apart from some basic ones like: be, have and a couple of other high frequency verbs. So nominalization is a feature of Academic English because of the problem of information density. You can do more operations on nouns than on verbs. For example you can count nouns, use adjectives with them (describe them) etc..But nominalization means using nouns and as you know most of them, at least the academic ones, are of Romance origin i.e. very long words (multisyllabic). What will be if this information density grows to such an extent that the present human language is no more capable ! of packing information. On the other hand human language is slow for communicating messages. You need more time to pronounce long Romance words. Will there be a new communication medium to cope with the problems of density and speed. The more you think of it the more fascinating it becomes.
Ambiguity, Density, Identity and Speed
Now I would like to extend the ideas of density and speed which I touched upon to two additional important phenomena which are part and parcel of human language.
Some people complain about the imprecise use of language.If human language won't suffice to code information in the future due to information density and speed and of course due to misunderstandings (ambiguity) then the analogue language we have now might make way for a digital language . Nowadays, everything is becoming digital. Why not human language? Of course, I don't mean changing human language by prescription but by convention (This has been at least the custom so far). Once human language is digitzed or replaced by a digital (computer) language (whether prescribed or agreed on), not only ambiguity ends but also beauty and mysticism and culture of human heritage. This means there will definitely be advantages of density, speed and clarity but I am afraid a lot of disadvantages as I already
mentioned will ensue foremost among those is reduction. Digital data is
compressed or zipped. Compression means losing part of the information
which is beyond human perception. Thus! , Digitalization means reducing
human language to two modes, there is current or no current, a duality of yes and no like vending machines or computers. It is always a win/lose situation (there is no win/win case). This is an economic principle. If I spend two hours on reading at home I might lose two hours of conversation with my friends. We have to make a decision and
Identity Another problem of human language is identity. Identity doesn't only help us to belong to a nation and provide a profile but also create big human conflicts. Just take nationalism which is not only based on skin colour and facial features but also on language.
There are different peoples (nations) in the world: In the Middle East there are Arabs, Turks, Kurds or Persians.In East Asia there are: Chinese, Koreans, Vitnamese. In Germanic Europe there are: the English, the Germans, the Dutch etc. In Romance Europe: the French, the Italians, the Spanish. All these People look alike in their own parts of the world and it is difficult to
tell them a part like one cell twins but they have lots of conflicts mostly based on nationalism (language identity). Using a digital language might solve some national conflicts. Human relations will probably then be based on economy and not languages.
Evolution Perhaps one day we will cease to be bodies or at least some parts of our bodiees will be left as remnants based on a different anatomy (giving way to big heads) in the process of human evolution.
The problem is not one of technology as much as that of growth .The pace
of information growth is scaring. This is in deed a gloomy picture (at
least to us now). Our biggest problem and enemy is ultimately growth not
only that of information. Every thing is growing: world population is
growing, pollution is growing, economy is growing. People usually think
it is positive but any growth means more consumption and more damage.
This means we have to set priorities. I personally find it difficult to
cope with the information overload. Sometimes I develop interest in a
variety of issues and I find myself lost. It is really difficult to make
a choice or a decision.
Maths or translating language into a digital or formal language can only
substitute natural language by means of reduction. Reduction means parts
of our analogue language (like intonation and other features) are lost
because digital or mathematical language stops the language flow, creates boundries and compresses data as I already mentioned. So because of information density, speed and the possible need for a language which doesn't allow ambiguity. The language we know now might change or be replaced. I mean human beings have already thought of a language like Esperanto void of identity based on linguistc differences which has caused a lot of human suffering. I am not saying this is what I personally prefer. I know the price we have to pay but our present language has to cope with the big challenges it is going to face in the future.
Of course language forms thought, in other words thought is only possible through language. But language can be anything. It can be signs (it is ultimately signs: semiotics) or digital signals. So whatever noises we make it is language.
Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 21-Jul-2005 at 14:14.
Do you see the simplification of English as an International Language as a digitisation?
Well Tdol, I hope you could write a bit more so that I know exactly how to answer. As you know English is experiencing a situation unprecedented in human history. Alongside this development there is another development, that of information overload and growth. Any digitization is mathematical which means reduction, poor in meaning and beauty. The advantage of digitization is it is precise (not ambiguous) to some people. To me precise language loses one importan language trait: metaphor, multiple shades of meaning. The skill of writing something but implying something else will be lost. Just imagine we understand everything literally:
Question: Have got the time?
On the other hand how can the present human language cope with the future speed pace and information density? There must a kind of a tool to take on this challenge. But any digitization is certainly simplification, reduction and language poverty.
If you mean English as a global language is simplification I would say never. It will only be a new type of English which might replace the traditional BE and AmE models. The steering wheel might be handed over to this International English. People have already stopped to be so pedantic as not to mix the two versions. It wouldn't matter. In a sense if you mean communication will be the goal not accuracy I would say: yes. We are already experiencing the age of SMS texting or sentence level communication. Even the sentence level is further simplified to silly words or abbreviations like "lol".
Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 25-Jul-2005 at 11:50.
The rise of a global English doesn't mean the loss of a geographical identity. People in Britian remain British, those in the US stay American. A model is Switzerland. You can be German, French or Italian but you are ultimately Swiss.
It will also free us from the shackles of nationalism and arrogance.
You contradict yourself here. If the rise of a global English doesn't make people lose their cultural identity then it certainly won't destroy nationalism and arrogance.
On the other hand a lot of people are worried that the English invasion will bring with it American and English culture. They believe it's a kind of cultural colonialism. The whole world will be Anglo-Saconized or Americanized.
And they are completely right. How many films do you see a day? How many of them is of American origin? How many of them spreads the American values? You know the answer.
A global English might overrun and replace lots of languages (alas Francais what has become of la grande nation). So everybody in the world will acquire a new linguistic identity. I wonder, what's wrong with that?
They are cultural values. But languages are not only disappearing, but new languages are emerging as well! So I don't think that translation will lose it's ground. English won't remain a world language forever after all. Russian was a world language too only a few decades before. Only time will tell what happens.
Another problem of human language is identity. Identity doesn't only help us to belong to a nation and provide a profile but also create big human conflicts. Just take nationalism which is not only based on skin colour and facial features but also on language.
I mean human beings have already thought of a language like Esperanto void of identity based on linguistc differences which has caused a lot of human suffering.
Well, conflict seems to be a part of human nature. Humans usually have to form groups, this can be based on everything e.g.: language, nation, sports team, a way of dressing, religion, social standing etc... Losing nationalism and languages won't solve anything because we will form new groups and create other conflicts between each other. A few thousand years ago in Rome you might get oppressed only because you were poor. Rich people vs. Poor peopke. That was typical. You saw many people fighting over a football match, I assume.
Unfortunately, most people aren't individualists like you seem to be or me. So wars are going to continue...
Have you ever read Asimov? He had a great impact on me! I dream of a society like Solaria. That would be paradise.
Thanks for your post "Happy puppy" what a nice name?
I'll come back to you after a week since I am leaving for Brussels Today. I'll then discuss this interesting issue with you further. Have a nice time.
Suppose extraterrestrials landed on our Earth I am sure they will be greatly surprised to find that people on a small planet like Earth cannot communicate freely and direct (without the help of an intermediary i.e. an interpreter or a translator). Their astonishment will grow further when they find out how much suffering this linguistic diversity has caused so far. People's nationalities have been defined foremost on linguistic grounds. Languages create different identities and cultures. This on the one hand makes the world more interesting but on the other hand prepares ground for tragic conflicts. The loss of a linguistic identity doesn't necessarily mean the loss of a geographic or ethnic identity but it will mean one obstacle being removed.
I would like to elaborate on this issue by drawing a comparison from economy. In Europe, we used to have different currencies and in a way it was a nice feeling to see foreign currencies when we were on holiday but no one can deny that the introduction of a single currency has also solved a lot of problems. The advantages of a single currency certainly outweigh the disadvantages by far if any. The EURO has set an example and paved the way for a single, at least, official European language. People can go on using their languages but we need a common European or world language to make us strong in unity. People are afraid of the loss of cultures and languages. However, cultures and languages have never been static. They are destined to change. In the age of globalization, information and communication technology, satellite TV and fast travelling we have certainly come closer. We can save more time and energy when everybody can communicate without any linguistic barriers. I hope one day it becomes history and we can say: A long time ago people on our Earth used to have different languages and we wonder how they managed without a single world language.
English has already become global and no more the property of a certain community. Nobody feels at a disadvantage when speaking English. It's no more Germanic in quality because it has incorporated vocabulary from nearly all languages in the world. This makes English indeed global. Every nation can find a bit of its linguistic heritage integrated into English. Moreover, its writing system has no diacritical points as in some languages which make them difficult to use, pronounce and communicate in writing. English has become a powerful tool and rich; it has become simple and complex at the same time. Gender is nearly non-existent because the article remains "the" whatever the gender and the position in a sentence is. There are no difficult case endings and sounds as in lots of other langauges which sometimes constitute insurmountable barriers. We can express any idea most powerfully and precisely. It has reached the level of maturity and deserves the label of a global language. In addition, it sounds beautiful and appealing to the ear or at least acceptable and learnable by the majority of people.
Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 08-Aug-2005 at 22:20.
Well I don't know where to start becuase I feel I could talk for hours about this matter, however I'll try to stick to the most important points.
On the existence of one universal language
I love languages and english is one of my favourite ones and to me it does sound beautiful (well depending on who's speaking it) but I do believe that having different languages is beautiful and knowing how to speak several of them is simply fascinating so it preserves the beauty of human nature. I mean, I am sure you speak more than one and don't you just feel that some languages are better when expressing certain ideas than others? Sometimes it's difficult for me to stick to one language when I feel another one expresses something much more precisely. And on top of this, are we prepared to have one language? I am possitive we weren't in the past, I mean they tried to keep latin as the official language, but people were actually talking something else and only an elite were able to write and speak latin. I know that this happened before mass communication and globalization but look at what happens today with arabic!!! It is forbidden to write in syrian or marrocan or egypcian, but the majority of the population of the arab world can't speak nor write "proper" arabic. Shouldn't they just be allowed to have their own language?, as far as I know lebanese people can't communicate with marrocans anyway, simply because they don't understand each other. So even if some of us are prepared to accept one language, is it going to work for everybody? will it ever work?
On the evolution of languages
OK Everybody agrees that languages change and that it is the way it has always been. Words are borrowed from one language to the other, they travel and come back and borders become blurry. However, should we allow languages to drift completely free? Don't misunderstand me, I am not a purist, but just to preserve the beauty of languages I wouldn't agree with an uncontrolled drift. For instance, do you agree with what's going on in the U.S. with the spanglish phenomenom? I think it's just a slaughter of both languages. I agree with borrowing from another language when this foreign language offers a more elegant solution to a problem, but not when it adds just meaningless redundancy. Spanish has a latin word for carpet (tapete), an arabic word for it (alfombra) why add "carpeta" as another option ?(I've heard it, and it's just terrible), moreover the word "carpeta" means something else in spanish. So, even though the english language is becoming international in that nobody owns it, are you ready to accept all the changes that the different "english" speakers will bring with them? If we don't unify, spelling, pronunciation and grammar, this international english might again evolve to several different languages.
On the level of difficulty
I couldn't agree more with the fact that english is easy to learn and with simple structures that make it acceptable by the majority. However I am sure that you agree that it's pronunciation is really messed up. Wouldn't it be easier to standardise a phonetic language?
I don't have the answers to any of the questions that I've asked, and sometimes I don't even have a strong opinion on many of these issues (other than those clearly expressed here) but they're just things that I think of and I wanted to share them with you Jamshid and with the rest of you as well.
Last edited by edinohio; 10-Aug-2005 at 21:25.
Well I understand your concern about the loss of linguistic diversity and I agree that all languages are beautiful and it is part of human nature to build social groups and languages of their own. However, this beautiful linguistic diversity has an ugly side. As I already mentioned it is the source of tragic human conflicts. In addition, linguistic barriers make communication difficult. What I plead for is to go on with present languages but we still need a global language accepted and adopted by all nations. It is important not to link nationality and identity to language. Then we can hopefully say goodbye to patriotism and nationalism.
English is experiencing a shift unprecedented in human history. It doesnít only mean domination and victory for the people who are speaking it as ďa native languageĒ but it also means loss of English identity because it has become world property. There are no native speakers in English any more.
As far as Arabic is concerned we should realize there are different Arabic languages or language groups. Standard Arabic is not better or more valuable than any dialect. After all the present Standard Arabic was itself a dialect in Saudi Arabia, more precisely the dialect of the Prophetís tribe. Itís a pity that the dialects havenít been given equal importance so far. But a standard Arabic makes communication easier. Thanks to the media like radio, Satellite TV, the press more and more people can communicate in standard Arabic. As you know Arabic would have suffered and split up like Latin were it not for the role of standard Arabic as a holy language I mean as the official language of Islam. It has become lingua franca in the Middle East after destroying its sister languages like Aramaic. It has become a rich language from a relatively poor language meant only for the desert life. Even now Arabic is borrowing western ideas and concepts by translating them into Arabic. The language of the press, economy and science is highly western in its concepts. Some vocabulary didnít even exist a short time ago.
Finally, if you interfere with language change you violate the rule of democracy in language. Itís always the dictatorship of the majority and the most powerful. There is nothing wrong or right in language. What was correct some time ago is right today and what is correct today can be wrong tomorrow.
A global Englsih will bring enormous advantages:
Direct and fast communication when linguistic barriers fall.
No room for partiotisma and nationalism based on linguistic differences.
Save time and money which we invest in transaltion and engineering software adapted to different languages
Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 11-Aug-2005 at 19:04.
Well, I see your point and I do understand and agree on the great advantages that a global language would bring. I also think that if we are to have a global language, it should definitely be english but as I mentioned before, are we ready? will we ever be?
I personally believe that it's an ideal situation but I doubt we'll get there anytime soon.Let me be the devil's advocate for a while
Let's say we reach that point, I see several problems
You mentioned that we shouldn't violate the democracy of language, so this new global english should be let free to accomodate the different cultures and culturalisms of all its speakers. So, how would you stop it from evolving to different languages? Well, you might say, like having the standard arabic or the standard latin (in the past). So you're then fixing rules regardless of what people speak to have a standard english. We also have to consider that the whole world is not yet globalized, so how do you reach everybody, so the language flow is such, that we don't all end up speaking different english derived languages?
Thanks for you post and your interest. Let me now comment as follows:
1. Maybe we are still not ready yet but the pace of English dominance is increasing even without noticing. You can now even draw annual comparisons on languages and see the rate of English infleuence. So not only people of non-English descent are worried about the dominance of English/American language and culture but the English and Americans themselves are worried about what will become of English. Their tragedy is even more dramatic because this involves the loss of linguistic identity.The pace of language change used to be very slow but now it has increased enormously.
2. You are right with your prediction that a global English might also split into different languages. However, there is one important difference. Now global communication is fast and ubiquitous, practically any time and any place. We have already become a 24-hour society and a global village. So the degree and pace of any change will be much differnt. People are often afraid of new shifts in their lives and are often worried. Retrospectively the picture is not that dramatic.
3. The Arabic language has in a way experienced something quite unique in the world. It's still a living language and the only remaining sacred language of a major religious group in the world. The languages of Christianity, Judiasim and Budism are dead now and can only be found in scripts. This is one of the reasons why Arabic hasn't changed so much and why people can still understand an old text like Quran which goes back to the seventh century. In comparison the gap between old English, Middle English and Modern English is wide.