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Speak globish, not gibberish!
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 00:11

Have you ever noticed how a Japanese and a Korean can communicate perfectly well using about one hundred English words?  And when we come along and join the conversation, no-one can understand anything.  Our Queen's English is just too complicated and convoluted -- take for example the difference between "I stood him up" and "I stood up to him".  We cause great confusion to our friends who were in reality speaking "Globish" -- the dialect of the global village.

Globish is a concept propagated by a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Nerriere (quelle horreur!).  It should not be confused with utopian efforts like Esperanto.  It really is a form of "English-lite". 

When Nerriere was Vice-President at IBM, he observered the phenomenon of globish in his international meetings.  And so in his retirement, he has applied himself to the task and published a book "Don't Speak English -- Parlez Globish" and followed up with a handbook "Decouvrez Globish", both of which have been translated from the original French into Korean, Italian and Spanish, but not yet English.

In these books, he basically seeks to formalise globish, so everyone can be on the same globish page.  In his Nerriere's version, globish is a stripped-down, simplified form of English with a mere 1500 words, compared more than 600,000 in the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Globish uses the same standard grammar as English.  But when speaking globish, it is important to use short sentences, and to avoid humour, metaphor, abbreviation, idioms and cliches.  A liberal dose of hand gestures, body language and facial expressions should also be used.  Globish can be learnt in just 6 months.

Globish may indeed take off.  Nerriere has created Globish Solutions Inc. as a business arm.  An online interactive learning course, "Globish in Globish", which starts with 350 words, will soon be available.  And as many corporations now impose English as their working language, the market is surely there. 

Already non-native speakers outnumber native English speakers by three to one.  While India is often considered to have the world's largest English speaking population, only the elite really speak English.  Most speak globish.

Anglophones would also do well to learn globish.  As Nerriere say, "this is the way to get Americans to learn another language".   This would greatly help their own capacity to communicate with non-native speakers. 

In addition to globish, we also have singlish, taglish, chinglish and so on.  For example, Singlish is an English-based creole used in Singapore.  It is the first language of many Singaporeans, and the second language of nearly all the rest of the country's citizens.  The vocabulary of Singlish consists of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi and so on, while Singlish syntax resembles southern varieties of Chinese. 

The arrival of globish, singlish, taglish, chinglish and others reveals a complex phenomenon.  It is perhaps a similar to how Latin, the language of the Roman empire, gradually broke up into the romance languages of French, Italian, Spanish and Portugese -- while remaining for many centuries the language of the Catholic church and academia. 

The French are still upset that their language, which was the lingua franca from the 17th-19th centuries, has been supplanted by English.  All the more so, since English won the battle of the languages through the dominance of American popular culture and business.

It is tempting to think that English is a more flexible language than French, and that Anglo Saxon culture is more open to change.  But try as they might, the efforts of the Acadamie Francaise to protect the French language by putting it in a corset have not stopped it from changing, and developing a very rich argot, and its own franglais. 

We will not be around, but it would be fascinating to hear all the descendants of the English language even just one hundred years from now.  Languages are ultimately organic, living things.   



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