A quick post on a subject of no genuine importance yet great cultural concern!
The English I speak and write is...well, English. As opposed to American or Indian. I do use Americanisms frequently, and occasionally switch from one dialect (is that the correct term?) to another. But in general, my default English is of the English variety.
One thing every English-speaker will have noticed is how much variety there is within this language. Many will also note how protective some groups or nationalities are of their language - be it English, Arabic, or any other. So this article on the BBC website entertained me greatly.
From an English English perspective, I have wondered at the ignorant use of baseball terminology myself. Not that I have anything against baseball beyond its inherent inelegance and crushing dullness. But it is displacing gradually the proud tradition of cricket metaphors in English, such as "by close of play", "playing a straight bat" or "bowled him a googly" (the latter of course now replaced directly by "threw him a curve-ball"). I use both kinds, but I would hate to see the latter disappear. At least Indians know their cricket, bless them.
Another difference is in pronunciation. Ever since the Gulf War of 1990-1, English people have been pronouncing the word "patriot" in the American way, because of the American missile defence system with which the public became familiar at that time. In the British pronunciation, "pat" rhymes with "fat", In the American, "pat" rhymes with "fate" i.e. "pate-ree-ott". It's been irritating me for twenty years so far, just because it doesn't seem to fit with English pronunciation in general. The first time I heard an English newsreader use the American pronunciation in a context away from missile systems, I almost choked. That one is well on the way to becoming standard.
But the emphasis of words is different too. The Australian habit of a rising tone at the end of a sentence even when it is not a question, has invaded English English via afternoon sitcoms since the eighties (the "idiot interrogative" as I once heard it described by comic Rory McGrath, I think - he should get a knighthood for that). But even more pervasive is the subtle change in emphasis: For instance, "GArage" as used to be the English English, is now becoming "gaRAGE". And for decades, the English have been saying "ICE cream" rather than the English "ice CREAM".
In fact, in English English people used to say "iceD CREAM", but the "d" has been dropped, as is popular in America. Simplifying such words seems to be something of an obsession. Iced tea is now "ice tea" (check your Lipton can - a British/Dutch company too!), which if you think about it, is as illogical as it is ugly. One simply cannot make tea from ice. Only make tea, and then ice it afterwards. At which point, it has been iced, surely? Although I'm told that "iced" now means "murdered".
Anyway, as Mr Engel's article concludes, the incomparable promiscuity of English is a large part of its success. English has adopted words from Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and a hundred others and that's without even looking at European languages. It seems that now English is being passed back into English. And there is no point in worrying about it. There are so many dialects of English now, both official and unofficial, that the pretence of any "original" or "standard" English is long destroyed. Here in Oman, apart from English, American, Canadian and the all-pervasive Indian English, there is a local dialect too. I maintain that it's simply wrong, but I am swimming against the tide:
- "out" instead of "outside" e.g."are you out?" meaning "are you waiting for me outside?" rather than the traditional meaning of "are you not at home at the moment?".
- "down" instead of "downstairs" e.g. "i am down" meaning "i am on the ground floor" rather than our metaphorical standard "I am feeling depressed" (is that American or English by the way?)
- "sleep" instead of "go to sleep" e.g. "did you sleep?" meaning "have you gone to sleep?"; the continuous meaning having been lost.
and my pet hate:
- A land. Not in the sense of a country (e.g. "a foreign land"). Here, the indefinite article is added regardless, e.g. "I have bought a land close to the beach". Which should be, correctly "some land", or "a piece of land", or best of all "a plot of land".
To an instinctive pedant like me, bad English is annoying and I do my best to fight it at every quarter. And let's not even mention that in general, Omanis (if you'll pardon the Americanism), can't spell for shit. At the same time, I can't help but notice that Arabic is absorbing English at an astonishing rate. That doesnt' irritate me so much as it seems to be used more consciously, and people know that it is technical or colloquial rather than real Arabic. Apart from the obvious "internet" etc., there are some real beauties coming through: recently a good friend of mine was very tired and described himself as "metkansel". To non Arabic-speakers, this is a reflexive verbal noun derived from the English "cancel" and therefore meaning "self-cancelled". What's more the meaning of "cancel" to which it refers is actually "written off" in English English e.g. "I crashed my car and it's totally cancelled". So a new colloquial Arabic word come into being that is grammatically Arabic but based on an Omani dialectic usage of an English word. Brilliant.
Not everyone thinks so. In this globalised linguistic minestrone, by clinging in desperate futility to an impossible purity of the language, the French are gradually strangling theirs to death. English is growing, French is shrinking. And they can pass all the laws they like, but "le weekend" is in French to stay. I think the rate of change and growth in modern English is unprecedented. Sometimes it's annoying. I'm told that split infinitives are now officially allowed (as opposed to allowed officially), depriving the obnoxiously grammatical of a stick with which to beat others. I do resent that a little. But language is a living, breathing thing that evolves and changes constantly. There is no point in fighting it. At least not for too long.
English and every other language will grow, shrink, import, export and most of all, change relentlessly (I simple will not say "relentlessly change"!). There is no way back. Today's bad English will become tomorrow's standard. I think they now call that "pwnage".