speakin’ the heathen chinee

Speculations on the future of the English language: a bandwagon I can’t help but fall on to.

I consider Denmark in many ways to be a bilingual country – sure, very few people speak English as their first language, but practically everyone speaks it as their second, and they do so with an immense amount of skill and pragmatic acceptance. To varying degrees the same is true throughout Western Europe, and it’s not difficult to find a community of people, few-to-none of whom speak English natively, who use English as a lingua franca on a regular basis. Since I tend to hang out in groups like this, I’ve noticed my speech patterns changing – I’ve absorbed some quaint British vocabulary, have made more use of that persnickity compound past tense, and my adverbs are sliding uncontrolledly around my sentences, conforming at one moment to American idiom, the next to directly translated German or some such. It’s all left me with the sense that the entire developed world, regardless of the way they speak to their families, has some sort of vital stake in helping to shape the future of English.

So I’m convinced that with increasing globalization, there will emerge some kind of standard non-native English dialect, with most of the difficulties ironed out and a few redundancies and random nifty words put in. If my Danish teachers are representative, the word “sibling” will have vanished, replaced probably by the odd German word “handy” which means “cell phone” and has no discernable roots in either German or English. The continuous tenses will go away, and so of course will conjugating (the Danes are especially bad about this, probably because Danish doesn’t conjugate). The details of this process, I’m not certain about, but I want it to happen so therefore I believe it’s happening now. Nice how that works, eh?

I think in a lot of ways I feel the same way about my native language as I do about my native country: bring on the immigrants! More ethnic food and funny words for me! Meanwhile, back Stateside, I’m rooting for the eventual proliferation of Spanglish, just so my descendants can have swear words that aren’t offensive around the world. If I’m not going to be able to speak the native language, I want to at least be able to swear with impunity, dammit!


  1. Lokki wrote:

    I lived in Japan for more than seven years. One of my fascinations was the language situation in my wife’s office.

    She worked in a shipping company which provided cargo space for shipping Japanese exports around the world. The office was filled with ‘foreigners’ who handled different ports around the world – A South American, a Belgian, a German, and so forth, with a the majority of the office staff being Japanese. At one point there was an Aussie, but he didn’t stay for some reason.

    The lingua franca (if you’ll permit) was English, this being the only languge that everyone knew.

    What evolved over time was a fascinating language based on English, but absorbing words from other languges of necessity. In short, if nobody knew the english word, they’d substitute and that substitution “Became” English.

    It wasn’t esperanto, but it was heading that way.

    I think that’s what we’ll find in 100 years. English will have many odd and peculiar dialects, but it’ll rule.

    I don’t think Chinese will work as it’s too hard for adults to learn to write since it’s not phonetic.

    For what it’s worth.

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