Mary Dejevsky: Native English, alas, is degenerating into a global dialect

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

It is easy to believe that, as native English speakers, we have a stupendous advantage over those who have to learn the lingua franca of our age. But there's a price to be paid for speaking the world's most widely spoken language from birth, and it is that you are vastly outnumbered by those who speak it as a second (third, fourth or fifth) language. And while they bawl out their Eurovision songs, present their learned papers, or chatter away in their multi-national groups, you – the native speaker – are the odd one out. You can – mostly – understand them, but unless you adopt a measure of English bilingualism, they can find it nigh impossible to understand you.

Now I should start by apologising to all those who find that my efforts to communicate in a foreign tongue grate on their ear – at least I try. But I'm starting to find the ubiquity of a lowest-common denominator English a bit tiresome. A few years ago, one strain of it was branded Globish (English in 1,500 words), and – of course – it's the possibility of reducing English to such basics that has made it so adept a means of communication. Increasingly, though, I find myself hankering for the sort of English which, say, makes the sequence of events clear by recognising a pluperfect tense, expresses diffidence or conditionality with the subjunctive, and inserts the correct tense after "since".

Many professional linguists would doubtless say that there is no such thing as correct usage, only custom and practice, and they would add – with a gentle rap on my knuckles – that language changes, as all living things are wont to do. But it would just be so, well, relaxing to be able to include the occasional subordinate clause and use idiom and irony in public discourse from time to time without the risk of being misunderstood.

At a conference last week, one contributor, whose English was beyond superlative, began by expressing his linguistic envy of the native speaker who was sharing the platform. He had no need to, but I understood what he felt. It is looking more and more as though the future will hold one English, a minority English, which is recognisably descended from the King James Bible and Shakespeare, and another, mass, English that is no more than a tool of basic international communication.

And the problem with mere functionality is that it is highly infectious and "good enough" leaves no incentive for improvement. How long might it be, I wonder, before complicated "native" English becomes exotic, and we join the rest of the world in talking to each other in Globish.

How Russia's '28 Up' flatters Britain

Bouquets have, rightly, rained down on Michael Apted for 56 Up, the latest in his ITV series that was built on the Jesuit saying: "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man." And in many respects his subjects have borne out the thesis, while reinforcing today's anxieties about Britain's poor record of social mobility. Against that, as one of the producers also remarked, the 56-year-olds mostly display admirable fortitude, regardless of their estate, with the less successful tending to blame themselves for not seizing the opportunities that came along.

On Monday, 56 Up was followed by the no less telling Born in the USSR – 28 Up. The subjects, all aged seven when the Soviet Union fell apart, have weathered changes of a ferocity unlike anything ever faced by Apted's Britons. A Kyrgyz had taken his young family to Siberia in search of work; two of the women had left children with their grandparents and rarely saw them. Several had seen violence, death, even murder and suicide, pass close by. One young man, unhappily adopted by a Florida couple after the first programme, was still not at home in his new continent, but had no one to return to. Only Anton, from a privileged family in Soviet times, seemed to have skated effortlessly to a pleasant job on a magazine.

Unintentionally, I'm sure, but 28 Up served to cast Britain's class-bound stasis in a rather more positive light, as evidence of reassuring, and historically remarkable, social stability.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss