Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Prof David Crystal's talk on "the future of Englishes"
Professor David Crystal (above, in glasses, with a white beard) - probably the UK's most famous linguist, who gave evidence to a Parliamentary committee on bureaucratic jargon in government - recently gave a (June 2012) talk at the University of Westminster on "the future of Englishes."
Key points of Prof. Crystal's talk were that American English had developed within days of the first Elizabethan mariners arriving in the New World, when they started writing letters home with new words to describe new concepts - "moccasins", "skunk", etc.
While even 20 years ago, non-native speakers would have been ridiculed for their very different intonation, Prof. Crystal notes that with non-natives now outnumbering native speakers four to one, we don't even notice a very different intonation in English anymore.
Correction (03/07/12): Did I really say "we don't even notice"? Yes I did. What I meant to say, of course, based on my possibly imperfect understanding of what Prof. Crystal said, was that we hardly comment on a different intonation in English anymore, even if we do notice it. There is, of course, a difference.
Prof. Crystal also quoted the Earl of Leicester's travelogue of his tour of Europe in 1582, in which he mentioned useful languages - Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, but definitely not English, which has "no use beyond our shores." English didn't even have a literature, with "Father Chaucer" already incomprehensible after just 200 years. This was, of course, a very short time before two developments put English on the map - obscure Midlands poet William Shakespeare began writing sonnets, and the first English adventures in the New World of America started.
I was at Professor Crystal's talk in my capacity as news and features editor of EL Gazette, global newspaper for the English language teaching industry, and put a question to the Professor about the likely effect that the wearable simultaneous translation computers currently in development will have on English as a lingua franca.
Prof Crystal told me he reads every issue of the EL Gazette and that he'd noticed my byline was "all over every issue."
The EL Gazette now has a Twitter feed twitter.com/elgazette and there's now an online tutorial on how to register with EL Gazette digital and search its back issues.