Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Prof David Crystal's talk on "the future of Englishes"

Updated 03/07/12

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 and there's now an online tutorial on how to register with EL Gazette digital and search its back issues.


Bill Chapman said...

"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." I'm afraid this simply isn't true. Ask around. Ask your neighbours. Ask friends about the Indian callers to the UK who tell you that your computer is infected with a virus. I think that's what they want, but I can't really understand them.

Native speakers do indeed notice a French or Spanish intonation which renders comprehension impossible. I'm afraid the professor is guilty of wishful thinking. Of,course, some native speakers are more sympathetic than others, but incomprehensible is incomprehensible in any language.

Unknown said...

I do agree that native 'Englishes intonationS' are different to non-native ones but comprehensible most natives may well not be! (Esp. to the bulk of non-natives)

DC said...

I'm afraid Matt Salusbury is the one guilty of wishful thinking, not me. I never said any such thing. On the contrary, in my talk I actually gave examples of the different prosodies of English speakers around the world, and suggested that this was one of the main ways in which English was developing. I would appreciate a correction before this myth travels further.

EnglishTeacher365 said...

Very interesting. Where can we find more information about theses devopments in the differing prosodies of English? And have there been any attempts to categorise them into good/bad, intelligible/unintelligible, ugly/attractive, etc?