This is a fascinating article. Or at least it’s fascinating to me, since I’m always interested in the various dialects–or in this case, reinventions–of English. All dialects of English (or any other language, for that matter) has differences that make it unique to that region. But to see this variation of English that’s combining other languages much more heavily to create a new language–I haven’t seen that before or seen it explained before as it is in this article. I’ve seen this sort of thing when reading Facebook posts from friends who are in either India or the Phillipines, mixing English with other languages. Those posts would never make sense to me, but they evidently do to the speakers in those countries. Even in North American English (meaning in American and Canadian English), we definitely have words that come from our Spanish-speaking and French-speaking neighbors as part of our vocabulary, as well as several words from Irish Gaelige, Dutch, and other languages that have blended into our own, but not so much that it’s a true variation like what’s explained here.
Is this the evolution of a new language? Or is the Singaporan hierarchy correct that “Singlish” and “English” are not the same, and try to maintain English as a primary, structured language? It’s a hard call to me. On one hand, this seems like a natural evolution. But at the same time, when trying to educate children to communicate in school and in business outside of Singapore, something closer to some sort of standard English will help them out more.
What do you think? Read the article, and include your comments below.
I apologize for not writing for quite a long time. I hadn’t realized how long it had been! I’ve been really busy all these weeks, deep in my professional work, my volunteer work, and working on me. It’s always tougher once the school year starts! My professional work is taking up a lot of energy these days, which is good only because it means that I’m deep into doing what I enjoy–working with content.
About a month ago, I went for Adobe CQ training. The company where I consult is using it to build and manage its new external website, and I’ve been included in the project! It’s a big step up for me, because I’ve been limited to internal sites until now. Having the chance to learn a new CMS, work on the external site, and work on a high-profile section of the external site is a big deal. The training was great, and all those who attended the training were rather excited to use Adobe CQ over the painfully clunky in-house CMS that we’ve been using (and will still have to use for internal sites for a while to come, so I’ll have to use both).
At the training, the trainer was from France, and we had another content strategist who was from the Brazil office. Both spoke fluent English. Over the course of the two days, I got to know both of them well (it was a small training group), and we talked about languages extensively. One of the interesting things about the company I work for is that it is a German company that is having its 150th anniversary this year, so you’d think that the official language of the company would be German. WRONG. Surprisingly enough, the official language of the company is English. When I found that out, I was surprised. And while there will be a German language website, as well as ones in Spanish, Portugese, and Chinese, in the breakdown of the new external websites, more areas would have an English website or translated English website option. Again, this surprised me a little–not that this is a bad thing. It works in my favor since my native language is English, after all.
In talking to the trainer from France, she said that the consultantcy she works for has her based at one of my company’s offices in Germany, so she usually commutes to Germany via a four-hour train trip, stays up there for four days, and then comes home on the weekends during this particular project. When she is in Germany, she speaks in English with the people in that German office. When she trained people on Adobe CQ in the German offices, she did her training in English. When she trained in Shanghai–her stop before the US–she did it in English. She said she took this job because it was in English, even though her native language is French, because it gave her an opportunity to use her second language and improve her fluency.
The fellow from Brazil was so fluent with an American accent that I almost thought he was an American of Brazilian descent who moved to South America. His English was impeccable, and he made so few pronunciation mistakes, that he reminded me of my husband’s accent, which is almost perfect, but there’s still a little something lingering there if you listen VERY carefully.
So, all this got me to thinking about conversations that have been going around in the last year or two about localization and the perception of English being the main language of the Internet, which are topics that have written about before. The impression I’ve been getting through many of the tech comm conversations has been that we should not assume that everyone is learning English, fluent in English even as a second language, and that English is not taking over as the predominant language it’s alluded to be. The message is that we need to neutralize the English we have because most of the world does not speak English, and this action will help with translation. That all makes sense to me. What makes things confusing to me is the implication that English should back off from trying to be the “international” language because perhaps it should be Chinese, or Spanish, or some other language that more populations speak, or that we need to concentrate more on making translation and localization work. I understand that implication as well, and generally I back that notion.
Perhaps my company is a rare case in that the official language of the company is something other than what the native language of where it’s located is. I remember a year or two ago reading about a company in Japan that was making all its employees–down to the mailroom and custodial staff–learn English at the company. The company I work for has been around for 150 years in Germany, so you’d think that there would be a lot of bilingual people in order to work between two continents, but that it would not be Anglo-centric, but rather German-centric. Yet, that’s not the case. I don’t know why they decided that, but it really got me to thinking. If one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, based out of Germany, has its official language as English, what does that really say? Is English really the predominant “international” language after all? Are there other global companies that are following suit? What does that mean for international English, or for that matter localization and translation efforts? Are we going to end up in a world like in Firefly where everyone spoke both English and Chinese, and no other languages?
I suppose it’s simply my own perception that sees it as confusing. On one hand, we’re being told to embrace other languages and appreciate the translation and localization process for the sake of understanding that English is not the predominant global language we think it is, and then on the other hand, we see proof that global corporations are shifting towards more English or predominant English usage. Did I read or encounter these companies as exceptions, or is this becoming the rule?
What are your thoughts? Post in the comments below, and let me know what you think.
Earlier this year, I was asked by the STC-PMC to write a two-part article about the differences and similarities between American and British English. Part 1 was published in February. Today, I happily saw that the second part was published in the STC-PMC bi-monthly newsletter.
David Crystal, author of English as a Global Language, has said that in the pursuit of a World Standard Spoken English (WSSE), American English seems to be the most influential in its development, as American grammar is now starting to influence contemporary British usage. He also discusses at length how different dialects will allow national and international intelligibility to start developing. He said, “If WSSE emerges as the neutral global variety in due course, it will be make redundant the British/American distinction. British and American English will still exist, of course, but as varieties expressing national identity in the UK and the USA.
Edmund H. Weiss, the author of The Elements of International English Style, also points out that there is clash when trying to come up with a standard version of English, namely between “…globalization, producing a one-size-fits-all solution for a diverse world of English speakers, versus localization, adapting and modifying this universal model for particular readers in particular locales.” Where English is a second language, Weiss demonstrates, the idioms and figures of speech end up resembling the language structure of the native language. Because of there are about 400 million native English speakers, and about a billion people who speak it as a second language or as a foreign language (for business or a profession), the importance of clear, unambiguous communication is undeniable.
There are many great resources available about this conundrum that can help put everything in perspective, especially in a world in which the Internet is starting to spread the use of English more and more all the time. Some good ones include:
· Do’s and Taboos of Using English Around the World by Roger E. Axtell
· Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English by Christopher Davies
· The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience by Edmond H. Weiss
· English as a Global Language by David Crystal
· Brit-Think, Ameri-Think by Jane Walmsley
So, what’s a technical writer supposed to do? The best thing to do is to be exceedingly careful of using slang or idioms that relate to one’s native English, and be aware of local usage used on a global scale. This isn’t an easy task at all, yet it’s an important consideration when translating English into another language, let alone trying to write for English speakers globally.
I’ve been a big royalty follower for 30 years. It started the weekend before the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, and it hasn’t stopped since that time. Nor has my interest in royals been limited to just the Brits. I’ve always been fascinated by any royals, no matter the nationality, and keep up with the “royal gossip” reading Hello Magazine online.
So, what does this have to do with anything, especially something related to technical communications? A friend of mine found the following article in the Telegraph, which talks about how the received pronunciation of how the Duke of Cambridge’s elders speak is starting to change to a more modern pronunciation, with less crispness and precision than in the past–more like how the Duchess of Cambridge and many average Brits speak.
To me, this fact is of notable significance. English, like any other language, is a constantly evolving language. While the same base language is spoken among those claiming to speak English, there are significant differences not only in pronunciation, but also in how it’s used. Those speaking English in India, Australia, and New Zealand greatly differentiate from their fellow speakers in Canada, the U.S. or South Africa. Heck, just within my own state of New Jersey, there are different pronunciations of certain words! Different vocabularies and different expressions are used often, but the foundation of the language is the same. This also applies to other languages as well that are used globally like Spanish and French.
This is an important thing to note, as rhetoric is a good part of technical communications. How language is presented in spoken word, whether by a recording, audio file or video file, can make a difference as to whether the message being delivered is clear to the audience. This also has an impact on the translation in technical communications. Recalling Val Swisher’s talk on Adobe Day, the choice of words when writing documentation that needs to be translated into other languages is critical. Using expressions or colloquialisms is frowned upon, as often these expressions cannot be translated directly.
However, I’ve also seen this happen within different English dialects. For the past two months, I’ve been teaching a virtual technical and business writing course to Asian-based employees of a very large global software company. Of all the students I had, only one was a native English speaker. Knowing that typically British English is used outside the Americas to learn English, I did my best to adapt my vocabulary accordingly. (Good thing I’m such an Anglophile and watch a lot of British television these days!) Even with that, I could hear from my students–who usually spoke English well–that certain nuances from their particular locales still came through their speech, and I don’t mean just accents. Students from India and Singapore were much more formal with their words and phrase choices than their colleagues based in Korea or Kuala Lumpur. There’s nothing wrong with that, but merely an observation. I also thought about how American English has changed. If one watches an American film made in the 1930s or 1940s, much of the rhetoric used was very different from today, much like the American equivalent of the Queen’s English described in the article above. There are still very good speakers in the U.S, but that crispness of speech is more relaxed and modern.
For me, I think my rhetoric holds up decently enough. I know that I will slide into some bad habits now and then, but not too often. I don’t have a pronounced “Jersey” accent that’s put forth on television shows, but I am a native Jersey Girl through and through. (You can judge for yourself on the home page of my e-portfolio, where I’m featured in a video for NJIT’s MSPTC program.) One of my younger sisters is an actress, and while she has had extensive elocution lessons, she doesn’t necessarily have a particular accent, especially a “Jersey” accent. So when a famous British actor met her years ago and spoke with her at a book signing, he swore she was from Sweden and not from New Jersey!
As we become more globally aware, thanks to Internet connectivity, we need to become more aware of how we communicate to each other rhetorically to make sure that we understand each other as clearly as possible. As technical communicators, we should be setting the standards and leading the way for others.
So as you speak to fellow English speakers that you know locally and globally, how does your rhetoric stand up to the rest?
For today’s “Blast from the Past” from my graduate school blog, I point out something that should be fairly known– there is no such thing as International English. There just isn’t. Roger E. Axtell wrote a marvelous book titled, Do’s and Taboos of Using English Around the World (1995, Castle Books) to prove the point. He gives a fantastic example taken from a Brigham Young University study posing the question,
What country is being described?
This country is about two hundred years old. It was colonized by England. The people are rugged individualists who value their independence in their large, not yet fully developed land. Their founders were strong pioneering men and women, and many of the modern inhabitants believe if they were faced with the same difficulties as today, they could overcome them as well as their forebears did. They love sports and the outdoor life and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. (64)
If you guess the US, then you’d also be partially right. South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada can also make that same claim. Additionally, there are lots of Commonwealth countries around the world that are also former English colonies that can speak a different version of the English language than these larger countries mentioned.
So, when I saw this reference below, while it’s all in good fun, I had to bring it up. It makes a big point that still holds now, more than a year after I’ve written it. Simplified English is still something that all technical communicators should try to achieve with any and all projects they do. It could literally make a world of difference in whether a concept is understood or not, especially in a world that’s communicating on a more global–and mobile–level every day.
Enjoy the good giggle.
Since last year, I’ve had an interest in the concept of “International English”, or, it might be argued, the lack thereof. One of the things that I had read through the sources of my International English podcast I had done for my PTC 624 class (found here) was that there was a theory that given enough time, there would be no commonality between dialects of English, and that these different dialect would become new languages unto themselves.
My thinking is that despite the fact that there are some colloquial differences between British English, American English, Australian English, South African English, etc. that the base language is still the same. It’s no different in other languages, where different South American, Caribbean and Mexican Spanish dialects are still generally understood by someone living in Spain.
Well, I guess I was proved wrong when I saw this clip on SNL this past weekend. It is a parody of many of the modern-day British gangster movies that have come out in the last decade or two. Watch this, and tell me if that divergence of the English language hasn’t already happened:
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