English:a language facing technological challenge [Archives:2006/938/Viewpoint]

April 17 2006

Me speak English, you no English?

“v r going 2 da movies. r u in? bring ur gr8 camera.”

With the advancement of communication technology, people invent new methods for communication every day. For example, SMS has become a favorite medium for exchanging short messages, often in newly invented English like the message above.

A British Council report last year revealed that non-native English speakers now outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. Not only does that make English the most global language, it also gives wide space for inventing new variances in the language. A few years ago, the question was whether to use American English or British English in education or formal communication. Today, there is African English, Arabic English, Indian English, Spanish English, etc. The original language has merged with the identity of the people thereby giving birth to distorted forms of the Queen's English, so to speak.

One can debate at length whether this is a good or a bad development. I remember a joke about the difference between British and American English. A British man and an American were waiting for the lift/elevator to arrive. The American asked if the elevator was working and the British man replied:

– “You mean the lift.”

– “No, I mean the elevator.”

– “You mean the lift.”

– “We invented the machine, man.”

– “Yes, but we invented the language!”

I presume our British man would have a greater problem to deal with now. Can the language withhold its original script against the tide of millions of non-native speakers?