Blame the Yanks.
For centuries, American slang has invaded the rest of the world with its jaunty words and phrases, with the likes of hang loose, hit the sack, and chill out. For just as long, the British have been annoyed at the reverse invasion, particularly the slippage of grammar, just one of the things they blame on Americans and their b.l.o.o.d.y television, music, and movies. Itas not just Beckhamas aI was likea but his casual grammar that annoys the English upper cla.s.s, yet seems to set just the right tone with his teammates, fans, and chroniclers.
In fact, so-called Modern English has been broken since its birth four centuries ago. Shakespeare recognized it in Henry V when he had the king plead with the young French princess to accept his advances with the words: aBreake [disclose] thy mind to me in broken English.a2 A few years later, Thomas Heywood, in Apology for Actors, called aour English tongue . . . the most harsh, uneven and broken language of the world.a More recently, the fracturing seems to have become an a.s.set. By 1984, the bits and pieces were well on their way to becoming the worldas premier language when Hendrik Kasimir, a Dutch physicist, wrote, There exists today a universal language that is spoken and understood almost everywhere: it is broken English . . . the much more general language that is used by the waiters in Hawaii, prost.i.tutes in Paris and amba.s.sadors in Washington, businessmen from Buenos Aires, scientists at international meetings and by dirty-postcard-picture peddlers in Greece.3 Amglish was partially certified in 1997 when the Linguistic Society of America formally declared it aincorrect and demeaning.a The Society is one of many such groups that just donat get whatas happening. There can be no doubt any longer that informal American English has become the lingua franca of the world. The more fractured it becomes, the more popular it seems to get.
The Power Factor.
When it came to spreading English around, of course, the Brits got a big head start. The key to the early expansion of language outside its birthplace was raw power, the strength to subjugate nations and dominate their trade. This was the path the language took to Australia, New Zealand, India, Kenya, and other British colonies, most of which later became independent.
India is an example of how English can be forced upon a non-English-speaking nation via military muscle. It was exercised through the Asian nationas legal system, business community, school system, and government agencies. No one knows how many Indians are fluent in English today. But Aharon Daniel, a native of India and world-renowned blogger on the subject, says, aAfter Hindi, it is the most commonly spoken language in India and probably the most read and written.a4 The United States has also used muscle to spread its brand of English, particularly in Puerto Rico and the Philippines. More recently, the Pentagon has established nearly eight hundred military bases around the world and taken on the mantle of the worldas policeman. But unlike the British in India and the j.a.panese, who forced their language on Korea and Malaysia during World War II, the Americans have not forcibly imposed their language on other nations.
The USA brand has flowed more from becoming the worldas first superpower in World War II. The war saw millions of GIs spread their four-letter words along with their Luckies, Camels, c.o.kes, Pepsis, Budweisers, Jeeps, Levis, and Spam to all who survived the rain of American bullets and bombs.
Behind all these brands was Americaas basic ability to supply enough equipment and supplies to outproduce the Germans and j.a.panese and to dominate the worldas economy ever since.
Among the major initiatives adding to the powerful appeal and spread of English, especially American English, were the huge Lend-Lease program in which the United States, before declaring war, supplied shiploads of food and other essential supplies to many countries opposing the Germans; the American occupation of j.a.pan and major parts of Germany, including Berlin, after the war; the Marshall Plan, which provided more than $100 billion in current dollars to Allied nations after the war for reconstruction; and the Cold War, a series of initiatives led by the United States to put pressure on the Soviet Union from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The linguistic effects of all this indirect diplomacy on people already in the English-speaking world were felt as far away as Australia. According to Sidney J. Baker, the author of a book on Australian slang, aIt was not until the war sent half a million American troops across the Pacific to Australia that Australians began to realize how little they knew about American slang.a5 The Cultural Invaders.
As military hostilities ended, a still more ma.s.sive invasion brought American pop culture, such as movies, music, radio, and TV shows, as well as consumer products of all types. Hollywood films, which had already gained many fans overseas with actors like Mickey Mouse, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and the Marx Brothers, took over the worldas screens in a serious way. And they have reigned ever since, even though Indiaas Bollywood produces more films.
Among the more popular American amba.s.sadors in this period were Ford, Chevrolet, Frigidaire, Maytag, and of course Glenn Miller, Fats Waller, and Benny Goodman with their jazz and swing. Although the lyrics were often superficial and nonsensical, they had enough pizzazz to be swallowed with great relish by foreign admirers.
Other major players included international media giants based in the United States. They saw big opportunities early and took maximum advantage of them. Among the leaders were Disney, Time Warner, and News Corp. All joined the race for dollars, leaving few people untouched by American language and culture. Lane Crothers, a professor at Illinois State University, explains how these firms came to spread so much pop culture to such a receptive world: The early transnational corporations that produced movies, music and television programs took advantage of permissive laws, an open culture, a diverse audience and ideal filmmaking weather to build global empires of audiovisual entertainment.6 This gave American producers an advantage in competing for the ma.s.s international entertainment audience that exists today.
Building Marketing Mojo.
The cultural invaders consolidated their beachheads by building promotional bridges in the form of marketing tie-ins, such as Mickey Mouse ears and Star Wars T-shirts, almost all accompanied by the American lingo. Other leaders were the industrial giants General Motors and General Electric, as well as the inviting images of Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders, Papa John, Starbucks, and other popular franchisers.
Over the years, American business firms have also contributed the power of employment by establishing branches, setting up phone banks abroad, and hiring workers far from U.S. sh.o.r.es to staff these operations, especially today in India, Latin America, and the Philippines, where wages tend to be low. The government has no recent numbers for outsourced jobs, but Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Ma.s.sachusetts, estimated in 2010 that 3.3 million service jobs will have moved offsh.o.r.e by 2015.
Too Much English Abroad?
Over many years of visiting foreign countries, my wife and I have often been frustrated by an unseen yet ever present language barrier: the nearly unanimous tendency of residents of those countries to respond in English to our questions in their own languages.
We always want to practice our foreign languages but find it difficult to do so because of this barrier. We attribute foreignersa determination to their desire to (1) practice their own English, and (2) show how multilingual they are. Many fellow travelers have confirmed the same problem.
Most people in other countries can readily recognize foreign accents and learning errors as they spar with usa"and wina"over language practice time. Dammit.
Wrapped up in all these diplomatica"and profitablea"bundles has been the popular lingo of the United States with its imaginative words and phrases, including hip, kooky, oddball, and more recently nerd and homie. Young people have led the way, with their consistent urge to appear awesomely cool by voicing just the right American words and phrases before their peers.
American English has increasingly dominated almost everything in the international spectrum, including communications, science, research, business, sports, navigation, technology, travel, and journalism.
Another big factor in spreading the language has been the British and American governments in their roles as presenters of newsa"as well as indirect propagandaa"to the rest of the world. As the war ended, the British Council was created presumably to promote English around the world. Or was it to offset the spread of American English? Thatas what Paul Z. Jambor, a teacher of English as a foreign language, says was the main reason. He calls it an example of English language imperialism.7 Other examples of what might be called indirect language imperialism have been the American inst.i.tutions known as Radio Free Europe (RFE), Radio Liberty (RL), and Voice of America (VOA). By selecting and editing news items and choosing interviewees, the United States cannot avoid the propaganda charge, but at least it is not the crude, overt kind. RFE/RL, which started in 1950, claims to reach twenty-one countries in twenty-eight languages. VOA, which was born in 1942, claims a daily audience of 125 million.
Since 1959, VOA has also offered a free course called Special English, which strips the formal language down to 1,500 words. By clicking on various icons on the VOA website, people can learn how to order coffee at three language skill levels, while instructors of English as a second language (ESL) can get free workbooks and other teaching aids.
Nothing can spread English like English itself. Todayas international flood of English words essentially began with the electric telegraph invented by Paul Julius Reuter, a German, in the mid-1800s and the first transatlantic radio transmission by Italyas Guglielmo Marconi in 1901. Reuter built a news service, later headquartered in London, that scored its first scoop with news of Abraham Lincolnas a.s.sa.s.sination in 1863.
British and American entrepreneurs eventually turned these foreign inventions into the international communications monster that we all recognize today. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), todayas largest broadcaster, began in 1922. American broadcasters soon jumped into the business, but none has come close to the international reach of the BBC as a disseminator of news.
Telecasting the news is even more American Englisha"oriented. CNN, based in Atlanta, was the first news network to broadcast worldwide by satellite, followed by BBC and Sky News, a News Corp operation. Other worldwide networks with English newscasts include France 24; Al Jazeera (Arabic), Deutsche Welle (German), TRT (Turkish), RT (Russian), and TV Globo (Portuguese).
British and American companies have also dominated the print form. Their combined efforts have resulted in blanketing the world with news and commentary. Todayas big news organs include the London dailies, the British Economist weekly magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune, which is owned by the New York Times and printed in Paris. The Journal, the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States with more than 2 million daily buyers, also has Asian and European editions.
Ad Words That Went Awry.
The Leo Network, an international ad agency, collects language mistakes that big companies make when they advertise worldwide. The boo-boos include: A Braniff airline ad suggesting aFly in leather [seats],a only to discover later that the word in Spanish for leather meant aFly naked.a Clairol advertising a curling iron called aMist Stick,a only to find out that the first word is slang in German for manure. Yet aMist Sticka has an unmistakable sound.
Coca-Cola advertising in China with the word Ke-Kou-Ke-La, then discovering that the word means abite the wax tadpolea or a afemale horse stuffed with wax.a Chevyas Nova, a GM car, whose name in Spanish means aWonat go.a The International Herald Tribune has affiliations with newspapers in many other countries, including Kuwait, j.a.pan, South Korea, Israel, Russia, Greece, Spain, Egypt, India, and Pakistan. The typical arrangement is for the local paper to circulate an English edition of its own paper with the IHT. Its circulation is relatively smalla"200,000a"but its influence on world affairs is considerable.
Books also have become conveyors of the language. Millions of people around the world have become fans of British and American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, T. S. Eliot, John Grisham, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, and Norman Mailer. For individual results, however, none can compare with J. K. Rowling and her series of Harry Potter books, with more than 400 million copies in circulation.
International Biz English.
Especially since the turn of the twenty-first century, English has been not only preferred but required for doing almost any business internationally. Sales presentations, conferences, and negotiations are now conducted almost entirely in some form of English, whether formal or informal.
For business, it is also obligatory to train employees, manage websites, do research, prepare advertising materials, and be able to converse with customers all over the world in English, if not also in their native language.
At Tieto, a Finnish company with international business, its English-language website offers the services of its 17,000 aexpertsa in solving information technology (IT) problems for business primarily in English. An attorney for the firm Feodor Bratenkov says, aIt would be just impossible to conduct any international business without having such a common means of communication as English.a8 In fact, many firms conduct their own cla.s.ses in English and even use it in interoffice memos. Almost every industry or large group also has its own special words and phrases that const.i.tute a unique dialect. Examples are Insurance English, Automotive English, Oil Industry English, Legal English, and even Illegal English, a term used to keep students from speaking English at Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont.
Inevitable in all corporate English, of course, is a shadow lingo, a type of corporate slang that author Lois Beckwith calls acorporate bulls.h.i.t.a Her 2006 book of that name says, aMore people than ever before are using more bulls.h.i.t.a9 The volume is filled with such terms as bring to the table, crackberry (addiction to a Blackberry phone), deets (details), feedback, focus group, gla.s.s ceiling, micromanage, and move forward.
Corporate Jargon Is Always Shovel Ready.
Here is my sampling mostly from Beckwithas book: When setting up a PowerPoint presentation, it is mission critical to circle the wagons before making a world-cla.s.s commitment. Every partic.i.p.ant will need some face time with a real people person and a chance to kick the tires of the plan to be networked. First, a heads-up about going for the low-hanging fruit and not considering the mission critical, which should be an excellent teachable moment. If you donat see a paradigm shift by the end of the day, you might be considered roadkill.
English in World Ads.
Similar terms are used to sell American goods and services abroad. In fact, American English is the most used language for advertising virtually anything across international borders, whether the advertiser is based in the United States or elsewhere.
Ads are usually tailored differently from country to country, not so much because of different languages but because of different customs and circ.u.mstances. They also must comply with the various laws and regulations dealing with decency and how much nudity can be shown in advertis.e.m.e.nts.
It pays to have an intimate knowledge of the local scene. The McDonaldas restaurant chain found that out through experience. In 1996, an adult comic magazine named Viz filed suit, charging that some ad words had been stolen from the magazineas TopTips column. McDonaldas settled the issue with cash in lieu of Big Macs.
Non-American companies also advertise frequently in English when seeking business from other countries. As a result, many of the magazines produced and sold in other countries, such as Italyas Panorama, are flush with advertis.e.m.e.nts for American products or services with product names and descriptive text in English.
For example, Panoramaas February 25, 2010, issue carried ads saying aBrother at your side,a aJames Bond Deluxe Collection,a the abusiness magazinea economy; aFusion = Fusiona for Infiniti cars; aMcCain: Itas All Gooda packaged food; aSpring/Summer Collectiona for a fashion item; aElegance goes sportya for the Audi A6; plus athis is it,a the headline over the lead story on Michael Jacksonas revival from the dead.
Humorous Uses of English Ads.
The Internet is full of ad images with imaginative uses of English that can cause a chuckle from expert users of the language. Bona fide samples from the Internet include: toilet womana"slip carefully; welcom turista"we spik inglish; be aware of invisibility; cautiona"b.u.t.t head against the wall; no parking above this sign; please do not empty your dog here; please donat make confused noise when chanting; do not gossipa"let him drive; foot wearing prohibited; toileta"stay in your car.
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Ads in English seem to have a special cachet. In Holland, a study by Jos Hornikx of Radboud University in Nijmegen showed that ads in simple English were preferred even over similar ads in Dutch and held their own when more complicated language was used.10 The advantages of using English for international advertising are numerous. One is the positive image created for the product or service; another is the chance that potential customers will use the ad to learn more English or sharpen what they already know. One study showed that students who frequently watch subt.i.tled TV and movies do better on translation tests. Not surprisingly, playing computer games in English also helps.
The distinction between ESL and EFL is important because standards for using English as a second language are usually far lower than those for acquiring fluency in a foreign language through a formal course. The difference has become a subject of debate among instructors, with some demanding the establishment of standards for EIL.
The issue was addressed seriously in 2009 by Ahmet Acar and Paul Robertson in an article for a professional language journal. Not surprisingly, they concluded that since todayas international English ais no longer viewed as a h.o.m.ogeneous language but as a heterogeneous language with multiple norms and diverse grammars,a setting standards doesnat make sense.18 Most of the language teaching abroad produces Amglish, not formal English. Thatas apparently all that many nonnative users want or need.
Amglish as a Bridge.
Amglish has also become a linguistic bridge for communicating between countries where it is not already the native tongue. In 2005, when Franceas premier Jacques Chirac met for the first time with Angela Merkel, the German premier, they reportedly conversed in Euro-English. The term refers to Standard English mixed with translating and learning errors by non-English speakers.
A Four-Letter Word for All.
The word is stop, the term for cautionary highway signs worldwide.
In almost every country, the familiar white-on-red sign warns motorists to come to a halt before proceeding farther because of a busy intersection or highway. The word got its international debut as a sentence ender in telegrams.
Stop signs were already widely used before 1978 when the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, the international body for bringing uniformity to travelers, voted to approve such use.
Another version of the bridge concept is the way young Scandinavians have come to use Amglish when communicating with Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish friends. Older generations were able to understand other Scandinavian languages without using bridge language. But English was not as prevalent then as now.
The bridge metaphor also works in China, according to Ji Shaobin, professor at Wenzhou College of Profession and Technology. aEnglish,a he says, ais not [only] the language for us to speak with Americans, the British or any other native speakers. Rather, it is the common language for us to communicate with j.a.panese, Koreans, Thais, Singaporans and other Asians and people from developing countries.a19 In India, the bridge syndrome is more domestic in nature. English serves as a sort of lingua franca among Indians who speak different languages.
Informal English also serves as a middle ground on international athletic fields. In 2006, World Cup Soccer required all of its referees to have a working knowledge of English because it was the language known best by players and coaches. Four years later, the refs were required to add a knowledge of obscenities in English in order for them to know when and whether to penalize a certain player. Or was it so some refs could add a little verbal abuse of their own?
English can also be a middle ground within mixed population groups, such as fellow employees in a business firm. David Rohde, a former writer for the Christian Science Monitor, described one such group in an Australian factory. It included Cambodian, Samoan, Maltese, Greek, and Latvian workers all complaining about their boss in the lingo they each knew to some extent. Rohde added that in Thailand, Russians, Pakistanis, j.a.panese, and Germans make phone calls to each other by shouting out numbers in English or asomething like it.a20 Europeas Second Language.
But the European Union doesnat want to buy a language bridge. Its policy has been to encourage many tongues over any one. It says every member nation should teach at least two languages in school, though it doesnat say which languages they should be.
Despite the EUas stand, private efforts have been made to devise a Europeanized Standard English in order to provide a common lingo that is easy to learn, uniform for diplomatic and trading purposes, and able to save substantially on translation costs. One of the areas of possible improvement cited is the fifteen different English spellings of the sh sound, namely the words: shoe, sugar, issue, mansion, mission, nation, suspicion, ocean, conscious, chaperon, schist, fuchsia, pshaw, fashion, and crucifixion.
A Euro Fix for English?
An anonymous online jokester says English could be improved enough to become the official second language of Europe with a five-year plan. In the first year, he would have athe letter s replace the soft c. Sertainly, this will make sivil servants jump with joy. The hard c will be dropped in favor of the k. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have one less letter.
aIn the second year, the troublesome ph will be replaced with f to make words like fotograf 20 percent shorter. In the third year, public akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent e is disgraceful and should go away.
aBy the fourth year, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing th with z and w with v. During ze fifz year, ze unesesary o kan be dropd from vords containing ou and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.
aForget the fifz year; it looks as if someone has spiked ze alfabet sup.a According to Juliane House of Londonas Guardian Weekly, the main reason the EU has not made English the official second language is that athe French with their traditionally superior position in Europe cannot accept the decline of their own linguistic power.a21 By 2001, 47 percent of EU residents already spoke English well enough to hold a conversation, according to a Eurobarometer survey.
The reason n.o.body has devised a simplified form of English that works for everybody is that it has to be naturally formed in the streets, in the suites, in the workplace. Planning canat help the language process.
World Conference Lingo.
Meanwhile, organizations dealing with global issues have quietly but surely made English the preferred lingua franca for conferences. Partic.i.p.ants must acknowledge its role as a bridge language not only for general sessions but for informal task forces. They confirm it each day with their mouths and mouses.
Such use of English for international meetings and conferences started in earnest with the United Nations, where English is the working language for all conferences and publications. For example, at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity that represented 190 nations and drew 15,000 partic.i.p.ants to Tokyo in October 2010, all the proceedings were in English.
John Fitzgerald, a lawyer for the U.S.-based Society for Conservation Biology, says that not only were all discussions in English but delegates who expected to have any effect on the proceedings had to have more than a casual knowledge of the language in order to handle the sophisticated questions that would arise. The usual pattern for such international conferences, he added, is to translate plenary sessions simultaneously into major languages but to use only English in subcommittees and task forces where the basic work gets done.
Other international conferences in 2010 that operated primarily in English included the Conference on the Future of Science that met in Venice and the World Conference on Computer Science that met in Cancun, Mexico. No longer does the language of the host city qualify if it is not English. There are more than 10,000 international organizations.
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